Matt Tombs / Thursday 6th March 2014 / 10:15
The Foxhunter has been kind to the column with Salsify winning at 7/1 and 10/1 in the past two seasons. At the turn of the year this was shaping up into a strong renewal but it looks like it may really cut up. Salsify, Mossey Joe and Rival D’Estruval are already out and there are doubts about Tammys Hill lining up.
Unlike the 4 miler and the Kim Muir, these horses have largely been amateur ridden all season. That obviously means you don’t have to assess the impact of replacing a professional with an amateur – just the quality of the amateur in question.
One consequence is that, unlike those other two amateur rider races, the top amateur jockeys often don’t get a ride - as trainers tend to stay loyal to the amateurs that have ridden the horses in the hunter chases.
That has led to the rather bizarre outcome that the top amateurs like Derek O’Connor and Jamie Codd probably won’t have a ride. Given O’Connor is probably worth a stone compared to the average jockey who’ll ride in this, it seems extraordinary. That said, in a sport where the best horses are owned, trained and ridden by so few individuals these days – there’s something quite refreshing about the old fashioned way jockey bookings are made for the Foxhunter.
Favourite On The Fringe (7/2) isn’t exactly the new kid on the hunter chase block, as he ran in the Foxhunter 3 years ago as a 6 year old. A creditable 4th then when hampered after a circuit, he probably lacked the experience to go with a race run at a furious pace.
He then was off for 18 months with injury but returned this season and beat the classy Tammys Hill (7/1) and Salsify at Down Royal at Christmas. Salsify usually needs his first couple of runs of the season but Tammys Hill had won a point earlier in the month and thrives over the winter, so this looked a smart effort.
They re-opposed in the big hunter at Leopardstown on Irish Hennessy day and Tammys Hill reversed the form, winning by ¾l. Tammys Hill was probably value for more as he was given a very confident ride and only just got up close home. They’re both smart hunters with sound chances but On The Fringe looks pretty short for a horse beaten fair and square last time and Tammys Hill apparently doesn’t travel well and might stay in Ireland and go handicapping instead, (6/1 NRNB).
With Nina Carberry on On The Fringe and Robbie McNamara on Tammys Hill, they’d have the advantage of two very experienced jockeys, but they don’t look bombproof enough for me to wade in at a short price.
The unknown quantity is Harbour Court (9/2) who was a really exciting novice hunter last year, winning easily at Cheltenham and then taking the champion novices race at Stratford in fine style, under one of the leading amateurs in Britain, Jamie Tudor. He was knocked over by a faller at the first at Kelso last month but got a confidence booster when winning a point easily by 6l last time. In some ways he resembles Cappa Bleu who won this 5 years ago and he could easily bolt up in similar fashion - but you’re taking plenty on trust at a short price if you back him, as he hasn’t beaten much yet.
Oscar Delta (10/1) seems to save his best for Cheltenham, having been 3rd in the Foxhunter in 2011 & 2012 and then looking set for victory before his unfortunate mishap last season. He’s not hit form this season, but he always seems to improve hugely at the Festival. He’s 11 now and has probably missed his chance but there wouldn’t be a more popular winner if he and Jane Mangan pass the post first this time round.
Pearlysteps (14/1) has been a good handicapper, finishing 2nd off 140 in the Peter Marsh two seasons ago. Switched to hunter chases this term he’s thrashed Gunmoney by 34l at Towcester, and comfortably accounted for Made In Time (20/1) at Ludlow – both of whom have won since. Both wins were on heavy ground and connections are hoping for cut, but both his old form and his breeding suggests that Pearlysteps should be fine on drier ground.
Pearlysteps’ trainer Henry Daly is having a good season and jockey Ollie Greenall rode 41 winners under rules four seasons ago, having won this on Amicelli in 2008 – which all adds up to give Pearlysteps sound claims. The 129 rated Made In Time would need to improve a bit to figure. His inexperienced jockey won’t be able to claim 7lb in this.
Palypso De Creek (20/1) is another to have been 2nd in a Peter Marsh, although that was 4 years ago when with Charlie Longsdon. He rather lost his way after that but has looked rejuvenated in points and hunter chases. He’s beaten a couple of decent types in Doctor Kingsley (33/1) and Foundry Square (33/1) so far this season. Claire Hart won’t be able to claim her 7lb here though and he needs to improve again to win this.
If it became a slog, that could bring Berties Dream (20/1) into the mix. He won the Albert Bartlett 4 years ago and stays really well. He’s run in 3 points this season, winning the last two. That’s a long way from what’s needed here and he had been switched back from fences to hurdles when last seen under rules due to jumping problems. If Gina Andrews rides, she won’t be able to claim her 5lb here and he’s priced up on old Festival form rather than what he currently looks capable of.
Certain Flight (20/1) is a bit of an unknown quantity. The 9 year old had won 9 of his 23 points before bolting up at Huntingdon on his hunter chase debut last month, jumping really well. That’s interesting form as he was taking on Qualviro who’d won a hunter by 42l the previous time, (though he may not have run his race).
Certain Flight is ridden by champion point to point jockey Will Biddick which is a big plus. It was interesting to hear Biddick say that he needed to win by a wide margin at Huntingdon to ensure the handicapper would give him a run in the Foxhunter. He’s 3/3 this season and it’s realistic that he’s just improved hugely this year. He looks a genuine contender in an open race.
Divine Intervention (25/1) was a distant 2nd in this last year and has since transferred from Francesca Moller to Martin Keighley. He won a couple of handicaps off 109 last month, but his eye catching piece of form was when 4½l 4th to 144 rated Tanks For That in a jumpers bumper in between. He’s unlikely to get into the Kim Muir so its possible he’ll run in this again, although you get the impression Martin Keighley may not want to ruin his handicap mark by being a decent 3rd or 4th in this.
For those looking for a real long shot, (two 33/1 shots have won in the last 6 runnings), you could do worse than have a few quid each way on Double Bank (100/1). He beat the useful (125 rated) Picaroon easily last time and that horse had led the Foxhunter field until 3 out last season, despite hating going left handed. Double Bank was also in front when blundering 3 out in Harbour Court’s race at Cheltenham. His rider wont be able to claim the 7lb here, but he’s not the no hoper the market suggests.
The Foxhunter looks a tricky race this year – certainly there’s nothing with Salsify’s appealing profile at a decent price. Harbour Court could be anything, On The Fringe and Tammys Hill set a decent standard and Pearlysteps has a solid chance.
However, it’s the sort of renewal where I want a decent price given all the uncertainties. Certain Flight was impressive on his debut under rules last time and it was telling that champion point jockey Will Biddick was at pains to win by a good margin to ensure he got into this. Interpreting vibes is a subjective art, but I got the impression that they think he’s well up to this class.
Recent form is usually the key to hunter chases and Certain Flight has been really progressive – coming from a small yard he looks to have been underestimated. Jockey bookings are crucial in these races and, with the likes of O’Connor and Codd apparently sitting this one out, we’ve got the advantage of one of the top jockeys in the race on our side.
1pt Certain Flight to win the Foxhunter @ 20/1 NRNB