It is time to start my road to the Cheltenham Festival Hunters Chase (it really was easier when they called it the Foxhunters) for the 2023 renewal. Pointing has been going a couple of weeks in Britain although hunter chases don’t start until January 9th at Taunton. In Ireland pointing started in October and we had the first hunter chase at Fairyhouse this week. No British contenders have been out yet, but there have been contenders over in Ireland. As per usual the first post will be focusing on all the runners currently near the top of the market in the ante-post betting and then following updates will occur as and when things need updating.
Skipped Cheltenham last year but won at Fairyhouse, was 2nd to Billaway at Punchestown and then won the Stratford Foxhunters in May. He had to work quite hard to beat Law Of Gold that evening, but they went a slow pace and I do think more of a stamina test will suit. Every chance the tough battle with Billaway left a mark as well.
After that he was made ante-post favourite for the race (4/1 with Paddy Power, Betfair and William Hill) and it is understandable as he ought to still be improving. He has already been seen this season as he won an Open at Portrush last month. He wasn’t especially impressive as he only beat Coastal Tiep by 0.5L with Le Malin a further 0.5L back in 3rd. His trainer David Christie said after the race though was that he was fit enough to do himself justice, but he is working back from Cheltenham. They didn’t go a strong pace either and he had to make the running so whilst the bare form isn’t great it was a perfectly satisfactory start to the season.
Winged Leader – It will be interesting if he and Vaucelet both go to Cheltenham given he is the same connections as Vaucelet. He was a superb 2nd in this last season and was arguably unlucky to be pipped by Billaway. He hasn’t been seen yet this season.
Finally got the victory he deserved after finishing 2nd in this race in the 2 previous years. He then went and did the Cheltenham/Punchestown double. He will be 11 next year whereas Vaucelet will be 8 and Winged Leader will be 9 so it could be the younger legs get their revenge. Willie Mullins reported him in good form and Cheltenham is the target again.
He is as short as single figures, but I would be amazed if he runs as connections have suggested he will stick to pointing before aiming to win the Aintree Foxhunters again.
Samcro – Has won 2 points with ease, but don’t back him as he isn’t able to run in hunter chases in Britain this season so shame on William Hill for quoting him at 10/1.
The Storyteller – Former Cheltenham Festival winner as he won the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate in 2018. He pulled up in the Ryanair in 2019 and then in the following two years he has run over hurdles at the Festival finishing 2nd in the Pertemps in 2020 and then 5th in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2021.
Sadly, in September of that year he pulled up lame at Listowel and he wasn’t seen again for over a year when he won a Ladies Open at Ballycrystal. He only won by a short head that day beating Its On The Line who was pulled up in the John Corbet Cup last season and was a well beaten 2nd to Ferns Lock in the first hunter chase of the season at Fairyhouse, so that form is not good enough to win at Cheltenham.
He qualified for Cheltenham when he won at Necarne on Sunday and whilst he did it comfortably it was not a strong race at all. He has already been tipped up in one tipsters ante-post Cheltenham on another website, but I struggle to see it at this stage. Formerly top-class horses on the downgrade don’t tend to win this race anymore and although he is rated 163 over fences if he was anywhere near that level, he wouldn’t be going hunter chasing.
Like I say the form of his two point wins are miles away from what is needed to win this and he got a RPR of 104 for both wins which sums up the level of the form for me. I would also query if he wants 3m2f round Cheltenham especially if it came up testing. He is 10/1 with William Hill and is as short as 7/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair, but that is way too short a price for me at this stage. Hopefully he will go hunter chasing so we can get a better idea of where he is at.
Good Bye Sam
Good Bye Sam was bafflingly put into the market for this last year even though he was never likely to qualify for the race. He was 2nd to Billaway at Naas in his first hunter chase in February, but was then beaten at 2/11 at Thurles in a maiden hunter chase the following month. He finally got his head in front at Tramore and was then beaten into 2nd in a race over the banks course at the Punchestown Festival. He is qualified for this race, but Willie Mullins didn’t mention him in his stable tour and at this stage even his top price of 14/1 (William Hill) looks too short let alone the 8/1 he is with Unibet.
Won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in Christmas 2020 when trained with Willie Mullins and wasn’t seen again until running in the same race Samcro won at Tinahely last month. He was pulled up very quickly after the 3rd fence that day though so it would appear he has been injured again. Given the doubt about his fitness he can’t be touched at his current price of 14/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair.
Simply The Betts
Simply The Betts – I’m not sure what has happened to Bob And Co, but it seems he isn’t in contention for Cheltenham this year and David Maxwell has purchased this horse and mentioned it might be his Cheltenham Hunter Chase horse. The problem is I don’t think he can run in hunter chases this season as he was 2nd in the Grade 2 at Cheltenham back in April and as far as I know that rules him out. Even if he could run I don’t think he will stay.
Monalee – He hasn’t run since November 2020 and has only been seen 21 times in his career which for a horse about to turn 12 is not very much at all. He was of course a very close 4th in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2020 which along with his 2 2nds in the Savills Chase would be the pick of his form for me. Clearly we have no idea as to how much ability he retains, but his trainer Henry De Bromhead has said he is in great form and is set to go down the hunter chase route with him.
I know I have said I wouldn’t usually like horses on the downgrade for this race, but like I say he hasn’t had much racing (The Storyteller has had 38 starts) so he could be an interesting one. He is 16/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair, but I certainly wouldn’t be backing him until we see him run and see how much ability he retains.
Must admit I thought they had retired him after his shocking run at Aintree, but he is listed in the prices at 20/1. I’d be amazed if he turned up though given how he ran at Fontwell and Aintree last season.
I was hugely impressed with him at Fairyhouse this week when he beat Its On The Line by 12L on what was only his 4th start. He will only be 6 in March and given David Christie has the front two in the betting I would be surprised if he made the trip to Cheltenham this season, but he looks a very promising horse going forward.
Won this in 2021, but connections decided to miss it last term and focus on Aintree instead where he was a good 3rd. He will be 12 next year so hard to see him regaining his crown if he does go to The Festival this time around.
I was really impressed with his victory at hunter chase night at Cheltenham in April when he beat the very useful Caryto Des Brosses in good style. He was then 3rd at Stratford behind Vaucelet where I think it was a combination of his jockey not knowing the course and that a stronger test of stamina was needed, meant he didn’t finish closer to the winner. He would appear to not want soft ground, but he could be a player on good ground given what he did in April.
Dubai Quest – Was one of my fancies for the race last year and although he was beaten 25L back in 4th I thought he ran with great credit on just his 13th start. He will be 10 next year, but clearly has had little racing so if he can find more improvement then he would be a leading contender again in March.
That is it for now. I certainly couldn’t be putting up any bets at this stage as I would imagine we might even see contenders appear that aren’t even priced up yet given there are various doubts about some of those that I have mentioned above. At this stage though I do think one of the top 3 in the betting looks like the likely winner.