The highlight of the year for many pointing followers is Wednesday’s Hunter Chase night held at the home of racing, Cheltenham. Below is a race-by-race guide to the action by Martin Pennington:
A rare two mile Hunter Chase which as one would expect features a number of horses dropping back markedly in trip following outings in points this Winter. One such horse is the Pauline Harkin-trained mare Popaway, the mount of Joe Docker. The mare has taken three of her six outings this season including on her penultimate start at Guilsborough in her Members race earlier this month. There’s no shame in being beaten by the rapidly improving Star Of Massini as happened to her when attempting to give weight away in a Confined event at Clifton-On-Dunsmore last time out and this mare looks the pick of the bunch here in receipt of a significant amount of weight from her rivals. Of those rivals Himalayan Express, Noble Ben and Swallows Delight have all proven effective over this shorter trip with the first named running out the winner of this particular event in 2013, a race in which he had Swallows Delight back in fourth and Noble Ben in seventh while top weight Bay To Go has to carry a double penalty following two Hunter Chase successes in recent seasons, most recently last week in what developed into a pretty one sided match race following the refusal to race of favourite Golan Way at the start.
This doesn’t look a particularly strong renewal of this Intermediate Final with trainer Alan Hill going for back-to-back victories in this with his Sharp Suit following the success of Harbour Court in this event last year. Sharp Suit had proved to be a fairly moderate handicap hurdler for Seamus Mullins last year but he’s now unbeaten in four starts between the flags, a career which started at Cottenham at the end of December. Sharp Suit qualified for this with a success at his trainers home course of Kingston Blount in March, form that looks strong given the subsequent victories of the second and third and James Tudor’s mount completed his preparation for this with an easy success at Mollington at the start of the month. The only one of his rivals to have proven successful in a Hunter Chase already is the eight year old Alskamatic who was victorious on his most recent outing for Richard Bandey and jockey Claire Hart at Exeter a fortnight ago. Alskamatic had odds-on favourite and previous Hunter Chase winner Chosen Milan in behind on that occasion and it was a career best effort from the gelding who’d finished well beaten at Towcester in a heavy ground Hunter Chase in January. Decent ground seems imperative to Alskamatic’s chances but he stays well and looks likely to run his race under a penalty. Squirrel Esquire is one of the most lightly raced horses in this having had just the five career starts, the most recent of those came when finishing runner-up at Penshurst in an Intermediate race two and a half weeks ago while prior to that he’d unseated when still holding chances in a similar race at Andoversford at the end of March.
Harbour Court goes on a retrieval mission here having failed to make the frame when sent off favourite for the Foxhunters here last month. The eight year old son of Karinga Bay has had a chequered season thus far having unseated on his return to action at Kelso in mid-February prior to a victory at Cottenham as a prep for his big assignment last month. The gelding scored in the Intermediate Final on this course last year and looks likely to prove hard to beat here with Ludlow winner Foundry Square likely to give him most to think about despite doubts surrounding the geldings stamina. Despite finishing second over this trip at Doncaster the majority of Foundry Square’s best runs have come over shorter, including when victorious over two and a half miles on his latest outing a week ago. Penmore Mill has registered victory in four of his eight starts over regulation fences and while he was disappointing when beaten at odds-on at Ludlow last month he made amends in a four runner point at Mollington last month though enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by his regular flops in Hunter Chases.
Sheila Crow is no stranger to big race success here having saddled Cappa Bleu to win the Foxhunters a few years ago and her Current Exchange brings the best form into this competitive Bonhams Men’s Open Final. Ridden by the promising Paddy Gerety for all three of his Hunter Chase outings this year he finished second in a hot renewal of the Walrus at Haydock in February and has scored on each of his last three outings including when justifying odds-on favouritism at Hexham a fortnight ago. That form has been boosted since by the Open victory of Douglas Julian last weekend and he is taken to defy top weight in this classy looking Hunter Chase. Current Exchange’s chief rival here could well be 2013 winner Doctor Kingsley who has yet to win a Hunter Chase this season having finished runner-up to Palypso De Creek at Wetherby in February prior to a seventh placed finish in the Foxhunters here last month. The twelve year old’s pointing adventures this season have proven to be far more successful with his three successes in that sphere culminating in an odds-on victory at Guilsborough three weeks ago, behind him that day were subsequent winners Say No and Marscsou among others and he will surely put up a bold bid to defend his crown with regular jockey Pete Mann again in the saddle.
This Mares event sees the debut of the quirky Theatre Queen who is unbeaten when jumping off on terms and completing the course for trainer-rider Mark Wall. The seven year old mare’s most recent outing came at Mollington earlier this month when the mare made virtually all for a thirty length success. Theatre Queen was slowly away and still held chances when falling at Godstone in a race won by Glint Of Steel last month. The daughter of King’s Theatre has been slowly away in the past and while she is the most likely winner of this particular contest she wouldn’t be one to be taking short prices about. Of the remainder Cherry Coward has already tasted plenty of success at this venue and she saddles the seven year old On Holiday here. On Holiday ran out victorious at High Easter earlier in the month prior to a solid second placed finish at Easingwold on Sunday when sent off the odds-on favourite and she is turned out quickly here. David Kemp’s East Anglian raider Cheyanwe has a particularly good record at the three mile two furlong Marks Tey including on her most recent outing there last month. This marks a step up in grade for Cheyanwe while Lucette Annie was the winner of a Hunter Chase at Exeter in 2013 and is another worth considering.
This four mile contest is the longest on the card here and dual Grimthorpe Gold Cup winner Monsieur Jourdain can cause a shock here under Will Easterby. Victorious four times under rules the son of Royal Applause has surprisingly come into his own over marathon trips between the flags where his two Grimthorpe wins have come over four miles one furlong. There are plenty of horses rated higher than Sarah Easterby’s charge in this particular contest but he remains unexposed over this trip and is guaranteed to stay the trip here. Of his rivals the top four in the weights Pearlysteps, Pentiffic, Golan Way and King Fontaine all have solid rules form in their youth with the former doing best of the British horses in the Foxhunters here last month. Golan Way showed signs of quirkiness prior to refusing to race at Southwell last time out and isn’t one to trust given Tim Vaughan’s charge has failed to complete on three of his last four starts (the other resulted in an easy victory at Warwick) with the Joe O’Shea trained King Fontaine likely to do best of those at the head of the weights following his easy win at Bangor earlier this month with Gillon Crow again in the plate.
It may pay to side with the more experienced jockeys in this concluding Ladies Hunter Chase with Jane Williams (Rockiteer), Alice Mills (Presentandcorrect) and Cath Walton (Ockey De Neulliac) taken to fight out the finish. Rockiteer has recorded two easy successes in Hunter Chases at Ludlow thus far this year and while this is his first outing at Cheltenham he doesn’t have any jumping issues, the trip of two miles five furlongs will suit him and he will act on the good ground. Alice Mills comes into this race having contested last weekend’s Maryland Hunt Cup timber race and has the mount on Tim Sage’s chestnut gelding Presentandcorrect. The son of Presenting finished runner-up to Chapoturgeon at Newton Abbot in May last year and had easily seen off Marky Bob at Stratford last April prior to unseating his rider in the 2013 renewal of this contest. Presentandcorrect was the easy winner of a Veteran & Novice Riders event at Lockinge earlier this month under James King and any drying in the ground will aid his chance no end. Ockey De Neulliac was fancied by many at a big price to cause an upset in the Foxhunters here last month following his Walrus success at Haydock in February. Neil Mechie’s gelding has won four of his six starts between the flags though it’s worth noting that the best of his form has come with cut in the ground and he may struggle onhe ground should rain fail to arrive.