2021 Foxhunter Chase Tips – It Came To Pass Can Repeat Victory in Amateur Gold Cup

Alex Edwards celebrates as he crosses the line on Hazel Hill in the Foxhunter Chase.

Alex Edwards celebrates as he crosses the line on Hazel Hill in the Foxhunter Chase.

2021 Foxhunter Chase Tips

Plans for the amateurs Gold Cup are up in the air this season as the current elite sport restrictions prevent non-professionals from competing. So that means there is more than usual to consider for Daniel Overall as he previews the Foxhunter Chase, the perfect accompaniment to the Gold Cup on Day 4 of the Cheltenham Festival

Foxhunter Chase Overview

A race with a rich history, this renewal will be like no other. In light of the ongoing situation, there have been changes to the qualifying criteria in order to account for the mass cancellation of point-to-points while there is also the looming possibility of professionals riding in what has been affectionally known as “the Gold Cup for amateurs”; as if that wasn’t enough, they even changed the name of the race, with “Fox” being removed from the title in a bid to improve the image of the race. If ever a racing-related paragraph summed up the state of the world we live in then that would be it. Anyway, you didn’t come here for my sub-par political commentary, let’s dive into the racing! 

Assessing Last Year’s Protagonists

It Came To Pass provided one of the shocks of the week when running out a ready winner of this race last term, defying his lofty price of 66/1. While he came into the race in seemingly poor form, he had previously beaten On The Fringe and Billaway back in 2019 and perhaps he simply didn’t like the heavy ground that he ran on before his Cheltenham victory. Well beaten on his sole start this season, the ground was testing and his trainer noted that he’s a better horse in the spring. A non-runner at Naas, connections will be eager to get another run into him before the festival. If they do, he’ll have a solid chance of following in the footsteps of Salsify, On the Fringe and Pachu du Polder in winning back-to-back renewals. 

Last year’s runner up Billaway currently heads the market having won his two last outings, including a deep race at Naas which he also won the year before. Only a nine-year-old with twelve chase and point-to-point starts under his belt, he remains relatively unexposed and he may well have improved this season. Given his record this season and his powerful connections, it seems assured that he will start as the favourite.

Having said that, I do have my concerns. His jumping often leaves a lot to be desired and he can hit a flat spot during his races; while he did finish second in this race last year, he was ten-lengths behind a combination of those aforementioned factors meant he never really looked like winning. With that in mind, I’m willing to look elsewhere at the prices.

The final one to note from last year’s fourth, Staker Wallace. There were plenty of rumours on the preview evening circuit that Derek O’Connor was going to ride him as opposed to Minella Rocco. That didn’t come to fruition although he still ran with credit, albeit he finished a fair way behind Billaway and It Came To Pass. He’s still lightly raced for his age but he hasn’t progressed as might’ve been expected this season. He’s now finished behind Billaway on all three occasions that the pair have clashed; it’s hard to see him reversing the form here.

New On The Scene

A dual Grade 1 winning hurdler, The Worlds End (16/1) is an interesting recruit to this discipline. Now with Olly Murphy, he ran with credit on his Hunters’ Chase debut at Warwick, shaping as if retaining plenty of ability while never really threatening to win. Olly Murphy didn’t fully commit to running at Cheltenham and horses with his type of profile don’t have a great record in this race.

Having emphatically defeated 2019 winner Hazel Hill (20/1) in a point-to-point in December, Highway Jewel finished ahead of The Worlds End at Warwick on her rules debut. Only a seven-year-old, she ran a remarkable race on her rules debut, rallying gamely despite looking beaten on the turn for home. That late surge left the impression that a stiffer test of stamina would suit and she’s certainly a mare on the upgrade. Cappa Blue (2009) and Salsify (2012) both won the race at the age of seven but the overall record of that age group is patchy in recent renewals, which is something to bear in mind.

Perhaps the more interesting addition to this division is Red Indian, who managed to qualify for this race before the turn of the year with two emphatic victories in point-to-points. Sixth in the 2017 Coral Cup, he was even better over fences and finished fourth in a Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (The Worlds End was back in sixth). Kelly Morgan has plenty of experience in this sphere, with Top Wood placing in both the 2018 & 2019 renewals of this race. He has a superb record fresh so it is a positive that he hasn’t run since December, although he had yet to prove his stamina over this distance during his time under rules. 

Others To Note

The aforementioned Hunters’ Chase at Warwick looks like strong form; Latenightpass (25/1) won that day at lofty odds, defying a lengthy absence. He idled in front that day, and he did the same when winning a Cheltenham Hunters’ Chase on his only other start under rules back in 2019. He still has to qualify but he would be an interesting contender were he to run here. 

2019 winner Hazel Hill (20/1) didn’t get the opportunity to defend his crown, as an irregular heartbeat was discovered in the morning of the race resulting in his withdrawal. Following his emphatic defeat by Highway Jewel, he bounced back to a Hunters’ Chase at Ludlow back in January. A winner of eighteen of his twenty-five starts in point-to-points and under rules, he’s entitled to respect and a big run is entirely possible. However, he’s thirteen-years-old now and perhaps he’s vulnerable for win purposes these days. On the plus side, he should have the services of regular jockey Alex Edwards.

Melanie Rowley also has Wishing and Hoping (40/1) who swerved this race last year. Now he has more experience, it would be no surprise to see him run this time around although he’s likely to be the stable’s second string.

2021 Hunter Chase Big-Race Verdict

Billaway will be popular but given his price and concerns around his jumping, I’m willing to take him on. Red Indian is entitled to plenty of respect and a big run can be expected although I suspect he has a better chance of winning the Aintree Hunters’ Chase instead due to the questions marks over his stamina. For win purposes, preference is for last year’s winner It Came To Pass who thrives on spring ground. Impressive last year, his price seems too big in comparison to the favourite with the formidable record of defending champions in mind.