Our expert takes a look at the ante-post betting for the Foxhunter Chase and picks out a dangerous challenger who could upset the reigning champion.
The St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase is one of the most traditional races of the entire Festival and has been a popular fixture on the Cheltenham schedule for over a century. It takes a special kind of horse to claim the Foxhunter crown. Participants are only eligible for this race if they win a similar contest during their career or by shining on the point-to-point circuit throughout the season.
Last year’s race at the Festival may have made the news thanks to Victoria Pendleton taking a ride at the Festival for the first time, but it was On The Fringe
) who hogged the headlines after a record-breaking spring campaign. Enda Bolger’s charge secured the Foxhunter title by a neck in a thrilling contest last season and went on to claim the Foxhunter treble – winning the equivalent races at Aintree and Punchestown – for the second successive year, after accomplishing the incredible feat in 2015.
The twelve-year-old is yet to make an appearance so far this season, but he does hold an entry into the Leopardstown Inn Hunters Chase in the middle of February. He finished seventh in that contest last season before going into that history-making spring campaign – so whatever the result at Leopardstown, he will be hard to stop when he returns to the Festival.
) was instantly installed as the second favourite behind On The Fringe after winning the Scottish Open Foxhunter Chase at Musselburgh. The odds-on favourite was pushed all the way to the line by a tenacious challenger, but he was never pulled out of his comfort zone looked in full control of the race after taking over the lead five from home. Paul Nicholls will have been impressed by that dominant performance, especially after watching his nine-year-old go 28 months without a victory. He will be hopeful his charge can go one better than the second he recorded behind Aachen in a Grade 3 Handicap Chase here at Cheltenham last season.
Jack Barber’s Ask The Weatherman
) boasts an incredible record in point-to-points over the past two seasons. Since losing out by half a length in January 2015, the eight-year-old has recorded eight straight victories, with four lengths his shortest margin of victory. He took a break from point-to-pointers to win an Open Hunters Chase at Wincanton at the start of February and looks set for his maiden outing at a big Festival.
Sweet As A Nut
) may not be as experienced as the other market front-runners, but he will bring plenty of strong form with him to Cheltenham to back up his winning claims. Michael Barry’s charge won two of the four point-to-point contests he entered last year, before romping to a 15 length victory in an Open Hunters chase at Limerick just after Christmas. He made a winning return to the point circuit in February and will be raring to go again when he arrives at Cheltenham in a few weeks’ time.
) was a 25/1 shot when he finished a very close second to The Druids Nephew in the 2015 Festival Handicap Chase. He’s been lightly raced since then, but two wins in point-to-point contests this season will see him return to Cheltenham in good form. Pacha Du Polder
) has looked in decent form this season, but he will have to put in a much-improved performance if he wants to improve on the fifth-placed finish he and Victoria Pendleton managed here last year.
Wonderful Charm travelled to Scotland for a much-needed win at the start of February. Black Thunder
) was the big winner of a class five Hunters Chase at Kelso in January, in his only appearance of the season following his first attempt at the Grand National in April. Warren Greatrex’s charge was always prominent in that race and stayed strong over the closing stages to keep Dolatulo
) and Grand Vision
) at arm’s length. However, all his wins have come on ground with plenty of give and he hasn’t fared too well on any of his visits to Cheltenham. Grand Vision, on the other hand, finished third in the 2012 Albert Bartlett and has shown some decent form on good ground over the past few seasons. He bounced back from that defeat to Black Thunder with a solid win at Warwick in January and Colin Tizzard’s charge could come into Cheltenham slightly under the radar.
As could Paint The Clouds
), who finished third and fifth in the Foxhunter Chases at Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring, when going off as the second favourite on both occasions. The twelve-year-old beat Marito in a class two Hunters Chase at Stratford on his last appearance in May and he will look to get a run under his belt in February before returning to Cheltenham. He is bound to go off at a much bigger price than the 9/2 he went to post with last year, but with his winning experience in races of this calibre, he looks like an excellent each-way bet.
On The Fringe is going to be incredibly hard to beat and Wonderful Charm is certainly in with a chance, but ASK THE WEATHERMAN looks like the biggest gamble of the contest and clearly has enough quality to upset the returning champion.
His point-to-point form is too good to ignore and he made mincemeat of the field when hacking up at Wincanton in January. On his previous outing before going to Wincanton, he easily defeated a capable field by 15 lengths on good ground at Larkhill. The second placed horse that day, Ceasar Milan won on his next appearance by a similar distance and beat double Grade 1 winner, Whisper in a class four at Exeter just over two years ago.
Jack Barber’s charge has won convincingly on all kinds of ground and on both right and left-handed tracks. He likes to set a good pace at the front and is a proven stayer over this kind of trip. If he grabs an early lead and starts to dictate the tempo of the race, even the great On The Fringe may have his work cut out trying to stop him landing a huge Festival victory.
17/3/2017 16:00pm Cheltenham selection - ASK THE WEATHERMAN (5/1 Ladbrokes)