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Hunter Chase - 3.30 Ludlow


Darran
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The first race of the 2022 hunter chase season as in interesting affair, but from a punting point of view it looks tricky.

 
When I had a first glance over the final entries on Tuesday my initial thinking was that Another Venture could be worth a bet. What I wasn't expecting though was for him to be favourite for the race. On balance I think he has the best recent form over this sort of trip when he won over course and distance just over a year ago off a mark of 135. After that he fell at Warwick and then pulled up in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. New connections paid £20k for him in May which the jockey being Nicky Henderson's assistant. I suspect that George is probably the unofficial trainer as well. He made a solid enough start at the Open Meeting in November when finishing 3rd over 3m1f. Granted he was 16L behind the winner and a faller at the last helped him finish 3rd but he got an RPR of 129 so it was a good effort. I'd imagine they are trying to get him qualified for Cheltenham and I think he has claims here.
 
Hogan's Height won the 2019 Grand Sefton, but it is fair to say that he hasn't really achieved very much since. Clearly they have been in better races than this though. He was miles behind Tiger Roll in 6th at Cheltenham and then 12th behind Minella Times at Aintree for example. The 6th in this season's Grand Sefton was OK although he didn't seem to be enjoying himself at all in the Becher last time. The booking of Gina is obviously a big plus and in an easier race it might just see him bounce back to form, but I would have liked to see him perform better than he has been so he wouldn't be for me here.
 
I mention that Another Venture has the best recent form over this sort of trip, because the best recent form in my view is Not That Fuisse as he was beaten a neck in a Listed Race at Ayr in April and prior to that he was 5th in the Grand Annual. The 4th at Sandown a week after the Ayr race was decent as well. The problem is those races were over 2m and 2m4f and we have no idea if he will stay this far. The other thing to consider is that he had an irregular heartbeat after pulling up at Chepstow in October. I have just had a look at what Dan Skelton said about him in his Racing Post stable tour back in November and he said that he has his heart right now. He also mentioned that he think there's still a big day in him although it might not be until the spring on good ground. Does make me wonder why he has ended up going hunter chasing, but Dan has proven he's very good at targeting his horses at races and maybe he is looking at Aintree with him. On paper I think he is probably the best horse in the race, but I just wonder if the combination of trip and ground might just stop him from winning this.
 
After those 3 in the betting we get to the horses who have been pointing and hunter chasing already. Zamparelli has proven himself to be a good solid horse in hunter chases and beat Bletchley Castle by 9L here in March over 2m4f. He then fell at Cheltenham before finishing a fast finishing 2nd in the only handicap hunter chase of the season at Stratford. He found himself outpaced that day after they went a hell of a gallop and I think a step up in trip under rules might help him especially as he has won a couple of times over the trip and he was strong in the finish when he won here. The comeback run at Larkhill in December was decent enough as he tends to need the run and he did pull up on his seasonal return last term which backs up that point. If any of the 3 ahead of him in the betting run up to the best of their ability then I can't see him beating them, but as I have mentioned it is hardly as if any of them come here completely bombproof. 
 
Ozzy Thomas' handicap form from last season would give him a chance in this, but he has gone to Scott Malson who also owns and rides him and I am not sure he is going to be running up to that level. This is the first horse Scott has trained and he has only ridden 1 winner in 41 rides in points. His 4th at Ffos Las in a point in November is nowhere near good enough to land this. He did run in a hunter chase at Fakenham just before racing stopped for Covid and he was given a shocking ride when coming last so I would ignore that. In theory a double figure price about him is too big, but I have big doubts about him being able to show the form he was showing for Henry Oliver last season so I will pass him over.
 
Haven't Time showed some useful form in points in the 2019 season, but he wasn't seen from March that year until November last year when he fell at the 11th. Impossible to know what sort of level he is capable of, given the time off and the face he is unexposed. What I will say is connections could have stuck to pointing with him and found an easier option. As much as I don't want to back him I am interested to see how he gets on with the future in mind.
 
Good to see Bletchley Castle back for another season as a 13yo. He will make the running as usual no doubt and does like it here having run well when 2nd on all 3 starts here last season. I've never really thought of him as a proper 3 miler though and that 2nd to Garde Ville over course and distance came in a 4 runner where the other 2 were big disappointments. I suspect he might well need the run as well.
 
I always respect anything Joe O'Shea runs as he is such a shrewd trainer as he showed with Cousin Pascal at Aintree last year. He was also entered in this race for the same owner as Envious Editor, but he is obviously being kept for another contest. He has already run 4 times this season, but has only actually completed on one of those occasions when 2nd at Ffos Las. Last time out he ran at Chaddesley Corbett over Christmas and he travelled really well during the race, but emptied in the home straight and ended up pulling up. That was over 2m3f and he doesn't even look like he truly stays that far let alone 3m. Fair play to Joe if he gets him to even hit the frame, but on the evidence of his point runs and his runs for Gordon Elliott in Ireland I just can't see him lasting the distance.
 
The other 3 runners shouldn't really get involved in the finish.
 
Like I said at the start this is a tricky race from a punting point of view as we have horses rated in the 130s making their hunter chase debut, but with doubts to varying degrees about what sort of form they are still capable of. I think Hold That Fuisse is likely to be the best horse in the race, but I'm not sure today's conditions are going to see him perform to his peak. Another Venture could be the one of the 3 who finds this test the most suitable, but I probably want getting on for 3/1 about him before I would want to play as he isn't exactly bombproof and I don't really fancy Hogans Height. Zamparelli looks the most likely of the rest to run his race and I think he has a fair chance of at least hitting the frame because I would be surprised if all the front 3 ran to form and there has to be a chance none of them do. There will be better punting races I am sure this season, but at the current prices I think the bet is a small e/w one on Zamparelli.
 
Zamparelli 0.5pts e/w @ 15/2 with everyone except Bet365 and Skybet are 4 places (take up to 11/2)
 

I wrote the above last night and this morning Envious Editor has been the big market mover. Like I say in the preview though I just struggle to see him staying. Obviously his trainer has been known to pull of surprises before so if he did go and win I wouldn't be shocked but in this case I have to go with my eyes and the form in the book.

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