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The St James's Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Tips (4:10pm)

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The betting for this year's Festival Hunters Chase sees David Christie train the first 3 in the market. Vaucelet is the short price favourite with Ferns Lock and last year's 2nd Winged Leader just behind him in the betting. However, Christie is only going to run one of them and unless something happens to him then Vaucelet will be the chosen one. He landed the Stratford Foxhunters last season and that was on the back of finishing 2nd to Billaway in the Punchestown Champion Hunters Chase when a mistake at the last didn't help his cause. This season he won a point in October and then landed the Hunter Chase at Down Royal when staying on strongly to just nab Dorking Cock on the line. He is clearly very useful and has an obvious chance, but for me he is very short in the betting and I don't like the fact he hasn't run since December.

For me Ferns Lock is the best of the trio and if he did happen to run he would be hard to beat. Billaway will be back looking to win this race for the 2nd time on his 4th run in the race. He was well beaten by Ferns Lock on his seasonal return and then made hard work of winning at Naas where he hit his usual flat spot and made one awful mistake. Willie Mullins will have left plenty to work on and his jockey said he knew he was always going to win at Naas. I can fully understand anyone wanting to back him e/w given his record in the race and he will step-up massively on his two runs so far this season, but I suspect something might just improve past him.

There are a couple of former top-class horses in single figures in the shape of Secret Investor and Chris's Dream. The former had little trouble in winning hunter chases at Bangor and Kelso to qualify for this, but this will be a much stiffer test for him and horses with his profile don't tend to win the race anymore.

Chris's Dream has won a couple of Irish points this season and it will be interesting to see how he gets on back under Rules having run and struggled in some top-class races like the Grand National. The horse for me though is Famous Clermont. On pure ability, unless Ferns Lock runs, I think he is the best horse in the race and produced the best performance in a hunter chase in Britain when sauntering to an easy success in the Walrus at Haydock. Crucially his jumping was much better that day, because when he hammered Shantou Flyer at Wincanton he made some bad mistakes. He hasn't been an easy horse to train as he has had his quirks over the years, but they finally seem to be ironed out and he is now showing how good he really is. The only concern I have about his chances is that he seemed to hate Cheltenham when he ran there on Hunter Chase night. He never got into a rhythm, made some bad mistakes and ended up pulling up. If that happens again then clearly he won't be winning this, but he looks an improved horse this season and if he can jump as well as he did at Haydock then I think he will prove himself to be the best horse in the race.

Of the bigger prices who might run well, Black Op has been impressive in points in the North, Dandy Dan won a race over course and distance on Hunter Chase night last May and can go well, whilst last year's 4th Dubai Quest is a big price as he was progressive and could equal last year's placing at the very least.

Punters Lounge Tip: Famous Clermont @ 11/2 at >bet365 - Click Here To Bet

by Darran Pearce @Darran

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  • StevieDay1983 changed the title to The St James's Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Tips (4:10pm)
  • 2 weeks later...

Billaway - Has a fantastic record in this race finishing 2nd twice and then finally winning it last year after Winged Leader and Mighty Stowaway helped to set things up for him. Tends to run lazily in his races and will make a mistake, but will come on for his first two runs of the season and first time blinkers should help sharpen him up. Likely to be popular e/w.

Black Op - Was a decent runner under rules before going pointing on his last 3 starts. He has won all 3 of them in good style as well and although this will be tougher he will likely give it a good go.

Bob And Co - Not had much luck in this race falling at 3 out in 2021 and then unseating his owner last year. His owner is injured at the moment so Alice Stevens comes in for the ride which is good. He has the class to win this, but he hasn't been seen since this race last year and now he is 12 you couldn't be certain that he is still as good as he was a couple of years ago.

Brain Power - Won 4 times in Irish points this season, but his old rules form was always over shorter and so stamina has to be a big doubt.

Cat Tiger - Was 2nd in the Aintree Foxhunters last season which was a cracking effort and he will have a much better chance in that contest than he will in this one as I think he needs shorter.

Chris's Dream - A top class horse under rules previously and he's got his confidence back with a couple of Irish pointing wins this season. Has the back class, but horses with his profile don't tend to win this race anymore.

Dandy Dan - His young jockey who rode him to a very good success over course and distance last April can't ride in this so the superb James King has come in for the ride. He was only 10L behind Vaucelet at Stratford last May and that race didn't suit him. He needed his first run of the season in a point and as much as he might want better ground he has the form to run a big race in this.

Dorking Cock - Was just pipped by Vaucelet at Down Royal on Boxing Day when he got very tired late on. I've never thought of him as a stayer and that performance backs up that thinking.

Famous Clermont - Was very hard to train and certainly had his own ideas about things at time, but he was very impressive at Exeter on his first run in a hunter chase last season. Things didn't go so well over course and distance in April and he looked to hate the whole experience, jumping badly. That is a concern, but he looks a different horse this season and whilst he was good, he finally looks to have shown the talent required to win this race. He bolted up in a point on his return and then hacked up at Wincanton beating Shantou Flyer. He didn't always jump well that day, but he was much better at Haydock when winning by 17L. I think he is the best horse in the race and he is the most likely winner as long as it wasn't Cheltenham that was the issue.

Go Go Geronimo - Ran a cracker to finish 2nd over course and distance last April and then has had two easy successes in points this season. Likely to give it a good go from the front, but this is by far the best race he has run in and I'm not sure he will be good enough.

I K Brunel - Won well on his pointing debut back in November and then went to Taunton last month where he was given a very good ride by Izzie Marshall to beat Not That Fuisse. He did get the run of the race that day and I'm not sure he wants this sort of stamina test.

Its On The Line - Won a couple of hunter chases last season, but was very disappointing when coming over for a race at Stratford in May. Has been behind The Storyteller twice this season before winning his last couple of runs. His trainer seems confident, but he doesn't look good enough for me.

Le Malin - Only had 10 races having started life in France. Unless the Racing Post database is wrong, he didn't run from June 2019 until last October where he finished a 1L 3rd behind Vaucelet at Portrush. I suspect he was flattered a bit by his proximity that day though. He has also been 2nd to Winged Leader in a point in January and then was 2nd to Billaway at Naas before winning back in a point by 11L. Given Billaway should improve plenty for that Naas run and he always looked like he would get back up to win I can't have him reversing that form or the form with Vaucelet. However, given he has finished close to them you have to think he might be capable of running a decent enough race.

Mighty Stowaway - Ran a hell of a race to finish 3rd last year, but has run poorly twice since and I can't see him repeating that effort.

Moratorium - A decent enough horse, but he's yet to win a hunter chase and should be outclassed here.

Myth Buster - Won a point last time and will stay very well, but he is unlikely to be good enough.

Not That Fuisse - Never used to be a stayer, but he stays better than he did and has done well for the move to hunter chasing. Not sure he wants the step up to this trip though and was well beaten by Vaucelet at Stratford last year.

Premier Magic - A really good pointer who has won well on both starts this season. No doubting he has the talent to run well in this, but he hated every bit of this race last year and that is a big concern for me.

Rocky's Howya - On his old rules form he has no chance, but he has looked a transformed horse since going pointing in Ireland this season. His form is red hot as he has been hammering some good horses. If he can transfer that form back under rules then I think he is a massive player.

Secret Investor - A top class horse, but has had his issues in the past. Won a couple of hunter chases this season at Bangor and Kelso, but this is much tougher and I'm not sure he will be up to this.

Shantou Flyer - Loves Cheltenham and has been placed in this race twice before. Still capable to running at a decent level and will give his young jockey a good spin round, but Famous Clermont beat him easily at Wincaton and I can't see him repeating his place form in this race.

The Storyteller - Another former top class horse and a Grade 1 winner. Won 3 points at the start of the season, but was massively disappointing at Down Royal behind Vaucelet. Was only 2nd in a point last time and unless he finds his old form again I can't have him at all.

Vaucelet - Been the ante-post favourite for this for a long time now and is a top class hunter chaser as he proved when nearly beating Billaway at Punchestown last April and then winning the Stratford Champion Hunter Chase last May. Only had two runs this season winning a point and then beating Dorking Cock at Down Royal on Boxing Day. Clearly good enough to win this, but I worry about him not having run for a while and the rain wouldn't be ideal for him either. 

Wotzizname - Would need to start now to have any chance.

Verdict - Vaucelet certainly holds strong claims and no doubt Billaway will run well again, but for me Famous Clermont can win this for Britain. I think on pure ability he is the best horse in the race and as long as he can get into a rhythm and he doesn't have an issue with Cheltenham again then I think he will win. Rocky's Howya has a fantastic each-way chance on his pointing form and will go close if he can transfer that form back under rules. The rain probably hinders Dandy Dan's chances, but he is good enough to play a part and would be my 3rd pick.

Famous Clermont @ 7/1 with Bet365

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