The Inside Track on the Foxhunter Chase
The Irish have dominated the last few renewals of this contest and, whilst it’s disappointing that Salsify won’t be here to bid for a third consecutive win in the race, they still have a strong hand with three of the front four horses in the market.
Many will be hoping that Oscar Delta can land the prize this year after he jinked and unseated the unfortunate Jane Mangan on the run in when clear in last year’s renewal, but Jimmy Mangan’s 11-year-old has put in two fairly lacklustre efforts so far this season and could now be on the downgrade.
The return to Cheltenham, where the horse finished a well-held third in this race in both 2011 and 2012, is likely to see Oscar Delta step up on his recent form, but this looks a very strong Foxhunters and it’s a big ask for the horse to make it fourth time lucky and finally win the race.
Enda Bolger was responsible for the front two horses in the market until last week when it was revealed that the race will come too soon for Barry Connell’s expensive recent purchase Mossey Joe.
Bolger is still left with current favourite On The Fringe though and the excellent Nina Carberry is likely to take the ride on JP McManus’ gelding. On The Fringe was sent off joint-favourite for this race in 2011 when only a six-year-old and he disappointed his backers by finishing a well-beaten fourth.
He’s reportedly fragile, having only had five starts in hunter chases since then and while he has shown up well on each occasion, those runs have included honourable defeats to Salsify, Oscar Delta and Tammys Hill.
For me those runs show that he’s vulnerable to a high-class opponent and for that reason he looks plenty short enough in the market at his current price.
Despite the strength of the Irish challenge my idea of the winner is the young improving British pointer HARBOUR COURT, who was a mightily impressive winner of the Red Mills Final here in May on his debut under rules and followed that effort up by winning the John Corbet Cup at Stratford.
Alan Hill has trained the horse specifically for this race since that Stratford success and although the unfortunate incident at Kelso (where Harbour Court was taken out at the first fence by a falling rival) was not part of the plan, the horse has since shown his wellbeing with a facile win in a Mens Open at Cottenham.
Most of the Irish fancies have pieces of form that tie them in closely with each other and there is every chance that the less-exposed Harbour Court is good enough to have improved past the lot of them.
At least one horse priced at 25/1 or bigger has been placed in each of the last six renewals of the Foxhunters, so it’s a good race in which to look beyond the market leaders to try to find some each-way value.
Although not a complete outsider, the one that catches my attention is Lauren Braithwaite’s Berties Dream. The 11-year-old won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival and has finished in the first six in all of his five previous runs here (including when only 8 1/4 lengths behind Big Buck’s in a World Hurdle).
At last year’s Festival he was only beaten 6 3/4 lengths when fifth in the Pertemps Final off a mark of 138 and that level of rules form cannot be matched by many of his opponents here.
Obviously when professionally trained he was better known as a hurdler than a chaser, but he seems to have taken well to pointing this season. Braithwaite has said that he needed the run when only third at Chaddesley Corbett on his point-to-point debut, but he has since won Ladies Opens impressively by 10 lengths at Ampton and 20 lengths at North Carlton.
Gina Andrews is due to keep the ride on him and she certainly knows her way around here, having won two hunter chases at the course and finishing second in this race on 100/1 shot Mid Div And Creep in 2011.
Selection: Harbour Court
Alternative: Berties Dream