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Road to the Cheltenham Foxhunters


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I was reading the Lydia Hislop Road To Cheltenham article that she writes every week which is on the RacingTV website and it got me thinking that she will never write about the Foxhunters. So I thought it was worth doing one myself to keep an update on what horses are likely to run and also who has and hasn't qualified for the race in the build up to the big one in March. Obviously should there be any bets along the way then they will go up as well.

So let's start with the horses that have already run and of those Top Wood is the most prominent in the betting. Having finished 2nd to Pacha Du Polder in 2018 and then 3rd to Hazel Hill last season he is surely going to be heading back to Cheltenham in March. He landed the Aintree version in April and he is surely going to have a leading chance again this season despite being a 13yo. He reappeared in a handicap at Ascot last month when finishing a cracking 2nd to Militarian off 139. That was a great first run of the season and he has gone up a couple of pounds in the handicap on the back of it. He is a best of 16s at the moment and although I don't want to take it right now he could make e/w appeal at those sort of odds closer the time. In the same race at Ascot Minella Rocco was a well beaten 8th. His trainer has suggested he will be going hunter chasing, but he looks out of love with the game and I would want 20/1 for him to even qualify for Cheltenham at this stage let alone win it.

Black Hercules is also a 16/1 chance and Patrick Mullins is now the owner. He rode him in a point-to-point at Boulta last month and he finished a neck 2nd to Arctic Skipper. That one had the benefit of already having had a run so it was a decent enough effort given he hadn't run since January 2017. He doesn't appeal at this stage and would have to prove his stamina over this sort of trip, but he is one to keep an eye on as he is likely to improve for that run. Finishing 2nd has also meant it doesn't count towards qualification for the race. 

Ucello Conti has been out already, but it was only a novice rider race he ran in on Sunday so this might not be the aim for him. He wasn't given the best of rides in my view last season when 5th and although he pulled up at Aintree and Punchestown he did win at Fairyhouse in between. Even so as things stand it is hard to see how he can improve on his 2019 effort at this stage.

Burning Ambition has gone the handicap route like Top Wood who he was 2nd to at Aintree last year. He looks a thinker to me though and given he didn't stay in 2018 it is hard to see them sending him to Cheltenham. His run at Wexford in October wasn't great either.

We have had one hunter chase in Ireland so far and It Came To Pass landed it in November at Cork. That came after he unseated at the first in a point the week before. He ran in this race back in 2016 when falling late on when still travelling OK on what was only his 5th ever run. He hasn't been back since although he was going to be well beaten by Caid Du Berlais at Punchestown when unseating in May. He only won be a head at Cork, but the quotes from his trainer were interesting after the race. Eugene O'Sullivan said that they thought he would need the run so for him to win was a good effort. He will be seen over Christmas either in a hunter chase or a point and he added that Cheltenham was the aim. He probably needs to find some improvement, but he hasn't had much racing so there is every chance he might find some. His next run will tell us more.

The horse he beat was Wrong Direction and that was only his 4th ever start. It seemed an odd move to then run him in a handicap chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday and he got very tired when not seeing out the 3m5f trip. He ran well for a fair way though, but he was only off a mark of 120 and he would have to find around 20lbs to have a chance of winning at Cheltenham. He could do, but a hard race at such an early stage of his career doesn't seem the most sensible move to me.

Yanworth is in the betting with a couple of firms, but he looks set to go for the Cross-County race after winning at Punchestown last month.

Ravished was a cheap buy for Joe O'Shea having won a hunter chase at Wetherby in March and finishing 2nd at Hexham in April. He was really well backed by connections at Cottenham on the opening day of the season and he bolted up by 30L in a quick time. He had the useful Arthur's Secret in 3rd although he probably needed the run. Ravished ran on Sunday at Larkhil and was beaten a length by Southfield Theatre. His trainer is bullish about his chances at Cheltenham, but as much as he should add to his hunter chase win at Wetherby it is hard to see based on his two runs so far this season how he will suddenly be good enough to land a blow in this at the age of 12.

Speaking of Joe O'Shea he of course trained Road To Rome to finish 4th in this last season after running up a sequence in points and hunter chases. He suffered a very bad injury in a point in May and the talk was he might not even race again. I've seen nothing to suggest we are going to see him this season so needless to say I suggest no one even considers backing him at 16/1 as you are likely to lose your money.

Other bits and pieces I do know includes the fact that last seasons winner Hazel Hill is likely to reappear at Chaddesley Corbett on the 27th in the same race he won last year. Dave Maxwell was interviewed the other day after a win at Wetherby and he stated Bob And Co would be his Foxhunter horse and that has led him to be cut into 12/1 2nd favourite. I have to say though that his French form isn't anything that special and his stamina at the trip has to be a big question mark at the moment. It wouldn't surprise me if we saw him in the first hunter chase of the season at Taunton next month. It is fair to say though that I would want to see how he gets on over here before even considering him for Cheltenham.

The other interesting news is that Don Poli is likely to run at Wadebridge on Sunday. A high profile purchase for Darren Yates it was suggested by Dan Skelton that he would be going hunter chasing. Sensibly he is being trained by Nick Pearce who works Dan as that means he can run in points and in theory that should make it easier for him to qualify for Cheltenham. His last good run was back in February 2017 when 3rd in the Irish Gold Cup although he has only run 5 times since. He pulled up in 3 of those though and may as well of been in the Grand National last season. Sunday will tell us plenty as to how much ability he maintains and as to if Cheltenham is a feasible target or not. 

I am just going to give a quick mention to Earth Leader. He looked a very progressive horse last season when winning at Fontwell and Stratford and he made a winning reappearance on Sunday at Larkhill. I thought he looked a 130 horse last season and given he turns 7 next month there should be more to come. He isn't in the betting at the moment and he does have to prove he can stay 3m2f so it could be Aintree is the better target, but if he did prove his stamina he could be a contender for this.

So as you can see even at this early stage quite a lot has already happened and I will update this thread as the season goes on starting with Sunday if Don Poli does turn up at Wadebridge.

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Time for the 2nd update after last weeks action where we saw Wishing And Hoping enter the Foxhunter picture for Hazel Hill's trainer Phil Rowley. Readers might remember the horse when he was trained by Alan King under Rules where the furthest he ran over was 2m5f, but he has shown that the Cheltenham trip shouldn't be an issue with what he has done in points in 2019. He won a couple of races at Chaddesley Corbett last season including winning the Lady Dudley Cup over 3m2f in April. Now it wasn't the strongest renewal of that race, but he did bolt up by 25L. What he did at Ffos Las was even more impressive though as he ended up being the only one to complete the course in the fastest time of the day as well. He made pretty much all and put in a perfect round of jumping. Midnight Folie who ran up a sequence earlier in the year under rules was the only one who tried to keep late on but she was well behind when pulling up at the last. The good round of jumping is important because when tried in 3 chases in 2016 he fell in two of them. Obviously that query will still be there when he does go under Rules, but he has proven he stays and handles any ground as it was testing on Sunday. His trainer reported that he could easily run at Cheltenham along with Hazel Hill and at this stage he has every right to be in the Foxhunter picture. 20/1 with Bet365 seems the right sort of price at this stage.

Speaking of Hazel Hill Rowley confirmed in today's Racing Post that he is still on course to return in the race he won last year at Chaddesley Corbett on December 27th.

Bet365 have now added Earth Leader at 25/1 and again that seems the right sort of price as well as we wait to see if he can prove his stamina, but as mentioned in the first post I think he is a really promising horse.

Finally Don Poli skipped Wadebridge last weekend and will instead go up north to Alnwick on Sunday.

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I am sure everyone knows that Don Poli won on his pointing debut at Alnwick on Sunday and it was great to see pointing on the front page of the Racing Post.The race is up on You Tube for those who want to watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51gXrX1zuQI

His price was mainly unmoved with the bookies although William Hill cut him from 33s into 25s. Visually on the whole it looked fairly impressive as he won easily and was able to eased down on the run in, but I still have concerns about him. During the race his jockey had to niggle him a couple of times to keep him interested and if he needs to do that in what was a pretty weak race run at a slow pace, then you have to be worried about what he will be like in a much better race run at a quicker pace. My feeling at this stage is that he might well thrown in the towel at Cheltenham and decide he doesn't want to know. He won by 12L, but to be honest he ought to have done given the opposition. The 2nd home was a horse called Dark Mahler who was beaten 30L by Ballotin in a Southwell Hunter Chase in May. Connections will know the northern pointing scene isn't as strong as other areas and it was a good decision to find a weaker race. The time wasn't especially quick either although the slow pace and the fact he was eased down might mean the time is a bit misleading on this occasion.

I am sure Nick Pearce would have left a bit to work on and that he will find the best opportunity to make sure Don Poli qualifies for Cheltenham. He now either needs to win a point or finish 1st or 2nd in a hunters chase. At this stage though I couldn't be backing him and certainly want to see how he gets on against better opposition.

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The entries are out for Chaddesley Corbett and Shantou Flyer who was 2nd to Hazel Hill last season is also entered in the Mens Open and fingers crossed they both turn up. Shantou Flyer is still owned by Maxwell, but is now trained by Rose Loxton.

Update to say that the meeting has been abandoned which is a real shame as I was looking forward to going and watching the possible clash. 

What we do get though is a Boxing Day thriller at Down Royal which pretty much as all the main Irish hopes set to clash.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Time to recap what has happened since the last update,

The day after the last update Top Wood ran at Haydock and wasn't anywhere near as good as he was at Ascot the previous month. He has won in heavy ground in the past so hard to say that was the reason, but maybe he does prefer better ground than that now. I suspect it wasn't his true running though and he will do better next time.

Boxing Day saw a hunter chase full of talent on paper at Down Royal although most of the big names disappointed. First thing to say is that Edwulf is not eligible for hunter chases in Britain this year and Skybet should not have him priced up. He drifted during the day and actually opened 4/1 on track before going off 3/1 joint favourite, but could only finish 3rd behind surprise winner Dylrow and Billaway. Neither feature in the betting and given the winner was a 2miler under rules you would have to think if he comes over here it will be for Aintree not Cheltenham. The 2nd was making his seasonal return and he remains unexposed so it will be interesting to see how he progresses and he reversed form big time with It Came To Pass. 

Coastal Tiep was pulled up at Cheltenham last year, but did finish 4th at Aintree. He was a fairly well beaten 5th here but it was a decent enough seasonal return. Black Hercules was disappointing in 6th especially as he was very well fancied compared to his stablemate Billaway. It Came To pass didn't get into the race at all and Ucello Conti was pulled up after making a mistake. He was found to be slightly lame after the race so you can put a line through his run here although I still can't see him improving on his performance last year at the age of 12. Amazingly Burning Ambition was really backed and was the other joint favourite. He unseated rider at the 6th so it was too early to know what he would have done, but I struggle to see him lining up at Cheltenham and I would imagine it will be Aintree again for him.

All in all unless something comes from left field in Ireland in the next couple of months I struggle to see the Irish winning the Foxhunters this year at this stage. Given this is always one of the leading trials for the big names to be so disappointing doesn't bode well for their chances come Cheltenham.

Ravished won at Cottenham again in the last point of 2019 and he did it well again although I still can't have him as a Foxhunter winner at this stage whatever the trainer says. Of more interest at Cottenham was the fact Art Mauresque won on his pointing debut for Tom Malone and Will Biddick. It was a comfortable success from Bletchley Castle and although that form will need to be improved on it was a pleasing effort. The worry at this stage is he is unproven over the Foxhunter trip and was mainly running over 2m5f under rules. To me he hadn't appeared as if he would appreciate the step up in trip so the 16/1 with Bet365 doesn't appeal at this stage and hopefully we will get to see him in more of a stamina test on his next start. He obviously still needs to qualify as well.

As long as Oddschecker can be trusted last year's 2nd Shantou Flyer isn't in the betting, but the Dave Maxwell owned runner won at Larkhill today in workmanlike style. Given he was so bad on his seasonal return last year at Warwick the fact he was workmanlike wouldn't concern me although given Maxwell decided to ride at Plumpton I can't help thinking that Maxwell doesn't see him as a possible Foxhunters winner and that we may see him trying to mop up some of the minor hunter chases instead to give him more wins under rules.

Hazel Hill was entered at Larkhill, but he looks like he will head to Taunton instead on Tuesday for the first hunter chase of the season. Maxwell has a couple of entries including Captain Cattistock who is a 14/1 chance for the Foxhunter. Alcala is also entered for Paul Nicholls who is a best price of 25/1 for Cheltenham. Hazill Hill's stablemate Wishing And Hoping is also entered but I would imagine he won't run if Hazel Hill does.

Just to confirm as well that all my hunter chase previews for the upcoming season will be free on Punters Lounge again as per last season and the first race preview will be up tomorrow at some point.

Update - Hazel Hill is not declared for Taunton.

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I have dealt with Wishing And Hoping in the Taunton thread so I won't repeat that here. Hazel Hill looks set to run in a point on Sunday and I have just read that the Irish hunter chase that was known as the Raymond Smith that was run at Leopardstown has another new home this year and will be run at Naas on Sunday 26th January. No doubt all the leading Irish hopes will be lining up there.

Just so it is all in the same thread below is what I wrote about Wishing And Hoping.

A great start to the season with a winning tip and a superb performance as well. He galloped them silly and despite jumping out to his left pretty badly at some fences the result was never really in too much doubt. This effort clearly backed up his 3 pointing victories and he is a very good horse. His trainer was quoted after the race though that Cheltenham 2020 might be a year too soon for him and I have to say at this stage I agree with him. Obviously he needs to go left handed, but I still worry about his jumping which was pretty bold at times and I can just see him coming to grief at the fence coming down the hill. Despite his age he is unexposed and as I said in the preview he had only had 3 runs over fences prior to today so there is plenty of scope for improvement to come as he gets more experience. It also suggests to me that he thinks Hazel Hill is a better horse at this stage. Speaking of which it is worth remembering he was really patient with Hazel Hill so it is no surprise to see him talking about doing the same here. For me there are two races I would target. First would be the Walrus at Haydock where the ground is often testing and as he proved at Ffos Las that would hold no worries for him. The 2nd, and it seems odd talking about the last day of the season on the first day, would be the Stratford Foxhunters. Stratford suits front runners and it would be a good building block on the way to the 2021 Foxhunters. He is 12/1 for this year's renewal and needless to say that doesn't appeal at this stage given the doubt about him actually running in the race.

 

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Don Poli and Hazel Hill were both in action over the weekend and both were victorious as well. Let's deal with Don Poli first who won at Alnwick on Saturday. As per his previous win I wasn't really that impressed. Again he had to be niggled on the odd occasion to keep him interested and he made harder work of beating Killer Crow than he should have done. Connections will be pleased as he is now qualified for Cheltenham and they have got it out of the way nice and early in the easiest way possible. I suspect we won't see him until March now and I am sure Nick has left a bit to work on, but on the bare form of his two pointing wins there is no way he should be a 16/1 shot for me. I would make him around double that price myself and I still think once you get him in a big field in a strongly run race (Saturday's race was run at a slow gallop again) he is more likely to drop himself out and lose interest.

Hazel Hill firmed at head of the market after winning at Sheriff Hutton on Sunday. His jumping was a tad sketchy in the early stages, but as the race warmed up so did his jumping and he ran out an easy 15L winner in the end. The victory reminded me of his seasonal return last season where he was solid but unspectacular in victory, but it was the perfect reappearance really. We may see him next at Warwick at the end of the month which was the race he won last year although they might leave it a little longer given his first run was later this season. I certainly think we will see him again before he goes to Cheltenham though. We have seen a few horses win this twice in recent years and at this stage he fully deserves his position as favourite to become another one.

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  • 2 weeks later...
The obvious place to start is with Caid du Berlais who returned with a comfortable success at Buckfastleigh. It was good that there was a bit of depth the form as well as Marcle Ridge came home in 2nd. He won on Cheltenham Hunter Chase night in May and was then beaten by Killaro Boy which I initially thought was disappointing, but given that one was only just beaten in the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in June it boosted the form. Connections of Marcle Ridge have spoken about aiming him at the Foxhunter so it was good to see Caid du Berlais put him in his place. Caid du Berlais was my ante-post selection for the race last year and he ran no sort of race at Cheltenham, but it came less than 2 weeks after he made his seasonal reappearance and he had a rushed preparation. The run was too bad to be true and he showed that in no uncertain terms when turning the big one at Punchestown into a procession. He was winning that race for the 2nd year running and it emphasised he is clearly one of the best hunter chasers around. Two years ago he was 5th in the race and although he didn't quite see out the trip I think he looks a stronger stayer now. One of the good things about him is that he won't mind what the weather does as he handles any ground and as long as his prep goes better than last season I think he is a huge player in the race. Indeed I am again going to put him up as an ante-post bet in the race as I don't see him being a double figure price come the day so at 14/1 I am happy to play.
 
Irish contender Some Man won a maiden Hunter Chase at Clonmel a couple of weeks ago and I didn't deal with him at the time because I wasn't really thinking him as a possible for Cheltenham, but he is a general 33/1 chance for the race. His trainer was very complementary after the race stating he is the best horse he has ever trained. They picked him up for just £5.5k, which could look a real bargain, from Paul Nicholls. He didn't show a great deal for him, but for his new connections he has won all 3 starts now. His Clonmel win was decent enough although it was a long way from being good enough to win at Cheltenham and it was only over 2m4f. He also still needs to qualify as neither of his point wins were in open company. Clearly though he is very unexposed and he could be open to any amount of improvement.
 
News last week was that Seeyouatmidnight was coming out of retirement and will run at Musselburgh next weekend and then at Kelso in a bid to qualify for Cheltenham. At this stage he wouldn't look an obvious winner, but it will be good to see him back in action.
 
With Hazel Hill missing a clash with Bob And Co at Warwick on Wednesday we could see him line up at Thorpe Lodge on Sunday where Caryto des Brosses is also entered. There was nothing between the two of them at Cheltenham in May and that really is a mouth watering clash if they both turn up. I have not hidden my love for Caryto des Brosses and I do think he is a possible winning hope at Cheltenham. Also Art Mauresque looks set to go to Chipley Park as he looks to get himself qualified. In Ireland we have their big trial at Naas which looks set to be fascinating as well.
 
Caid du Berlais 0.75pts e/w @ 14/1 with Bet365, William Hill, Betfair, Paddy Power and Betfred
 
Catching up with the Irish pointing results via the Racing Post and it seems that Shark could have two runners in the race as Rewritetherules won on Sunday and looks set to be aimed at the race. He caused a big surprise when winning a Down Royal Hunter Chase in May and then won at Tipperary 3 days later. The following month he was beaten off 116 in a handicap at Roscommon. It was a good win on Sunday and he looks progressive albeit I am not sure the field was overly strong. He is only 6 and I just wonder if it would be a year too soon for him, but he is certainly an interesting horse.
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They won’t know that though about Road To Rome. I only know because it happened in a point and was told he suffered a bad injury. I’ve not heard anything about the horse since so I presume he is still on the sidelines if he can even race again.

As for Hazel Hill I think the price is fair enough at this stage and I’m not sure you will see that much shorter come the day especially if he runs in another point which they won’t have seen.

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I have removed all mention of Mighty Stowaway from the above posts now we know he isn't eligible to run in the race just so it makes sense for people who want to catch up with all the posts should they be coming to this late. Also I can sum things up in one new post. It turns out that Mighty Stowaway's win at Punchestown in November 2018 has been deemed to have been in a race that is seen as equivalent to a Class 2 in the UK. Horses that have won a Class 1 or 2 contest in the 15 months prior to 1st January aren't able to run in hunter chases in the UK which means he can't run in those contests over here this season. Given Irish races don't have the same system as we do in the UK it was hard to tell that he wouldn't be allowed to run which is why I thought he was safe and connections clearly thought the same. Ireland don't have rules like that so I guess we will see him at Fairyhouse and or Punchestown later in the season. Also those of you that had backed him will get your money back because he was never eligible to run.

Also today it came to my attention that Stand Up And Fight has been entered in a point in Ireland on Sunday. Given I thought last year's race was a year too soon for him he could be of strong interest this time around and it wouldn't surprise me if he was the leading Irish hope. You can never be certain with horses in this race if they are still fit and healthy until you see them entered up so it is good to see all is fine with him. This point is emphasised by the fact Road To Rome is still high up in the betting despite him highly likely to still be recovering from the injury he suffered in a point last year. I also remember Paint The Clouds was in the betting and it turned out he had been dead for a few months before the news became public. 

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William hill still think Master Stowaway is a runner..

Thanks for your email and sorry for the late reply.
 
I've voided this bet now and returned your stake to your balance, as a gesture.
 
You can check a reference of this on your Settled bets section.
 
As for the news you said, we aren't informed of this from the Horseracing Authorities and this horse is still being shown as a runner, from them. So the normal Antepost rules will apply for bets to this horse.
 
I hope this helps.
 
If you have any questions, just let us know.
 
Regards,
 
Harry
 
Customer Service
William Hill Online
 
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1 hour ago, sb1961 said:

seems Master Stowaway has now disappeared from the WH list.

Given it is a race there are no entries for at the moment the email you got was an odd one, but everyone will get there money back. Some bookies have been quicker to react to the news than others although given it is only via my Twitter feed then its not a big surprise.

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Hi Darren, I’ve been enjoying the excellent blog for an often overlooked race. Could you please explain to me the timeframe for qualification for the Foxhunters? e.g. Hazel Hill has only won one open p2p this season. Is he not yet qualified?

Thanks in advance,

Mike

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On 1/24/2020 at 2:11 PM, Mike O’D said:

Hi Darren, I’ve been enjoying the excellent blog for an often overlooked race. Could you please explain to me the timeframe for qualification for the Foxhunters? e.g. Hazel Hill has only won one open p2p this season. Is he not yet qualified?

Thanks in advance,

Mike

Since December 1st 2017 and before February 24th 2020 in Great Britain or Ireland have:

a) Been placed first or second on two occasions in a Hunter Chase,
b) Won two open races at Point-To-Point meetings
or
c) Won one open race at a Point-To-Point meeting and have been placed first or second in a Hunter Chase

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4 hours ago, 10lengthsclear said:

So they don't need to run twice in a season to qualify? I was thinking it's going to be tight getting 2 runs into Stand up and Fight with his withdrawal at the weekend

No a horse doesn't have to run twice in a season to qualify if previous season's runs means they are already qualified.

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Today's update will start with the Naas Hunters Chase on Sunday. Billaway ran out an impressive winner as he quickened up well in the closing stages to score by 8L. He is set to run at Cheltenham and it was no surprise to see him priced at 14/1 for the race. That was only his 10th race and he looks like he has progressed from last season to this. He reversed the form with Dylrow from Down Royal which had been his first run of the season. The concerns I have about him is they went no pace here and the time was very slow so it turned into a bit of a sprint which might have suited him. So stamina has to be a concern going to Cheltenham and the form of the race might be a bit suspect. The other thing that concerns me is the amount of money that came in for his stablemate Casey Jem who was backed on track from 11/2 into 15/8. Gambles like that on course are very rare and it seems to suggest he was the fancied runner from the yard, sadly he went wrong and had to be put down. The horse that finished 2nd was Staker Wallace and he was having his first run in 3 years so it wasn't a surprise he got tired after the last so again it adds a bit of concern that the performance might not be as good as it seemed. All in all I think 14s is the right sort of price for his chances. Stake Wallace isn't actually qualified for Cheltenham yet if connections do want to go down that route, but it looked a very good effort after the break. He's as big as 33s for Cheltenham and although I wouldn't want to take it yet he could be of interest if and when he qualifies.

Caryto Des Brosses was a horse that I certainly had in mind for this race for quite a while now as I think he is a top horse who still looked to have plenty of improvement in him. He made his return at Thorpe Lodge on Sunday and was sent off at 1/3, but unfortunately he ended up pulling up. Apparently he looked like he needed the run, but it was still disappointing to see him not even finish the race. If that run had been under rules he would have drifted, but as it was in a point it means his price hasn't changed at all because obviously the bookies haven't seen it. It could be that something was up, but obviously he is impossible to back at this stage on the back of it and he price will drift out at some point.

As mentioned above Stand Up And Fight didn't run on Sunday. We await to see if he gets entered up this weekend or not.

We have a busy week of hunter chases with Shantou Flyer and Hazel Hill (also entered at Horseheath on Saturday) entered up all over the place. Bob And Co is entered as well and Minella Rocco is in at Wetherby on Saturday. 

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I am not sure what to make of the Wetherby race yesterday. What I will start off by saying is that it was a big step up from Minella Rocco from what he did at Warwick and clearly he now deserves to go to Cheltenham and he is now into 6 for the Foxhunter although Hazel Hill still heads the market at is a best of 11/2. This is the first time that Hazel Hill has had to make the running and the only other time he was beaten was in a 3 runner point so small field might not be ideal for him especially when up against a good horse like Minella Rocco or Garde Ville who beat him in the point. Obviously his jumping was a big issue as he did a Creevytennant and jumped out to the right at most of his fences and in some cases massively so. It is something he has done before, he did it at Cheltenham when he won at May although it wasn't as bad as this. Clearly if he did the same in the Foxhunter he won't be winning. Maybe in a bigger field it will keep him straighter. Alex got off and said there was something wrong with him so perhaps something will come to light as very often it can be that a horse is feeling something if they jump like that. He clearly lost many lengths during the race and was more than he was beaten by, but Minella Rocco did run out a cosy enough winner. It was a very clever ride from Derek, as you would expect, as he went looking for the better ground out wide. Impossible to know how big a difference that made, but clearly Derek thought it was worth doing. 

We are left with more questions than answers though. If Hazel Hill does have an issue then Minella Rocco hasn't achieved as much as it looks like he has. Will Minella Rocco actually go and perform back in a big field in a race that is likely to be run at a strong pace? That would be my main concern about him myself. If Hazel Hill is fine then will he jump better getting a lead and in a big field as he did in the race last year? My guess is that he will, but you couldn't be confident at the same time. Does this mean that Minella Rocco will be his ride over Stand Up And Fight? If so then that will be a big plus for Minella Rocco.

I am leaning towards thinking this form isn't going to be the most trustworthy and that if they both line up at Cheltenham we might well see it reversed. Clearly the fact that Hazel Hill is still favourite or joint favourite suggests the odds compilers see it that way as well. Fair to say though that Minella Rocco is a much bigger player than I thought he would be prior to yesterday.

Virak is in the betting with 4 bookies and is as short as 16/1 after his win at Wincanton. I just think he beat a non stayer though and he didn't do a great deal when he ran in this race a couple of years ago. Earth Leader is still in the betting with some bookies, but surely won't be going anywhere near this race.

Art Mauresque was well beaten in a point this afternoon at 1/3 suggesting I was right to be concerned about him staying the trip. I would imagine they might look towards the Aintree version now.

On Saturday last season's John Corbet winner Law Of Gold won at Horseheath on his seasonal return. It was a pleasing enough return and he is clearly progressive, but I still think at this stage he has a fair bit to find to get really competitive in this. The Stratford win is his only start under rules so far which would also be a concern.

Bob And Co was declared at Hereford but that was called off and then surprisingly he didn't got to Wincanton. He is entered at Bangor on Friday.

Billaway has been backed since the last update and he is now in single figures after that win at Naas. My doubts about how trustworthy that form is still stands, but when you look at the others near the top of the market you have to say he deserves to be around the price he is based on that win.

At this stage I am happy with my Caid du Berlais bet and he is still 14/1 with Betfair, Paddy Power and Betfred so the price is still there if you have yet to get involved.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Tom Collins of the Racing Post Tweeted after the Bangor race that Foxhunters ante-post punters discovered that Bob And Co is a proper horse, but how on earth anyone can take that based on what ended up a solo I don't know. We already knew he had class as he had shown that in France and to a certain extent at Warwick as well. The key thing we discovered was that he can settle and surely the credit must go to Paul Nicholls here as he must have worked on him at home to make sure he did settle. Even when Swift Crusador decided to go on he didn't pull his riders arms out which was a good thing. After that one unseated though he basically had a solo as Ballynagour couldn't get anywhere near him. What we still don't know is if he will stay, if he will handle an undulating track (could going downhill make him go too fast again?), or if he is actually good enough to win. What I will say is that from a level where I didn't fancy him at all for the race I am much more open minded to his chances now. He is set to go to Haydock for the Walrus although I am sure we will see him in the entries for Doncaster next Wednesday given there is a chance Haydock might be lost.

The day before Bob And Co won, The Dellercheckout won at Ludlow. I thought it was a really impressive performance because Immy never had to get serious with him and was value for a fair bit more than the winning margin. He is clearly a changed horse from the one that was with Paul Nicholls and the 16/1 for Cheltenham seems a fair price. After the race Immy mentioned that he will be entered for Cheltenham, but because he is 7 they might choose to wait another year with him. Given that was only his 4th start over fences that could be a sensible decision, but he stays and will handle any ground and if he did go this year I think he could run a big race. He has also been entered in the Walrus.

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We got an update on Hazel Hill this week and his trainer reported him to be all set for Cheltenham. He was found to have a slight muscle strain after Wetherby and it would appear it happened at the open ditch where he came up from outside the wings as it was after that he started jumping out to the right. He hasn't missed any work so he will bid to keep hold of his title next month. We also know now why he ran below par and his jumping wasn't great.

In Ireland Staker Wallace has got an entry in a point in Ireland on Sunday and he would need to win that to qualify him for Cheltenham. Derek O'Connor had a look at some of the leading Irish contenders for the Foxhunter and he mentioned that Staker Wallace could be competitive at Cheltenham should he qualify. He called Billaway's win last time a smart performance despite a lack of pace. He thought that Rewritetherules might be lacking a little experience wise, but he is a high-quality horse who possesses a lot of speed and would be the ideal horse to hold up in the race. His final mention on the Irish front was for Some Man who he says is a good sound jumper that stays well and is relatively unexposed. What is interesting was that he didn't mention Stand Up And Fight which suggests to me we won't see him among the entries in a couple of weeks. Anyone wanting to back him would have to do so with a NRNB bookie in my view.

He then mentioned 3 UK runners, Caid Du Berlais, Minella Rocco and Hazel Hill. What he said about Minella Rocco and the Wetherby race was especially interesting. 'I was very happy with at Wetherby, but would have to admit it was a tactical race, and favourite Hazel Hill didn't run up to his usual standard. The form of the race is questionable.' I think he has major concerns about him being capable of winning the Foxhunter.

As mentioned above Bob And Co and The Dellercheckout could both run at Haydock on Saturday where Wishing And Hoping and Virak are also among the entries.

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Surprisingly no Bob And Co at Haydock even if it does go ahead which means he can only possibly run at Fontwell to qualify now. Entries for that are out on Monday. There is a hunter chase at Thurles which looks like having a few Cheltenham clues and for Stand Up And Fight fans he is entered. Staker Wallace is also entered as is Ucello Conti and Some Man. In addition Might Stowaway is entered up and hopefully connections do now know he can't run at Cheltenham.

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