Martin Pennington takes a look through the field for the 2016 Foxhunter Chase, and brings you his expert view on the contenders.
Cheltenham 2016 – Foxhunter Chase Contenders
Defending Champion On The Fringe heads the likely runners for Friday’s Foxhunter Chase at the Festival. Enda Bolger’s charge registered a notable treble in 2015 when adding the big races at Aintree and Punchestown to his impressive resume and the gelding has now won half of his eighteen Rules outings. The eleven year old looks likely to come on for his seventh placed effort at Leopardstown on heavy ground when returning last month and with better ground likely on Friday he remains the one to beat.
The Irish dominate this once more and in addition to On The Fringe boast two strong chances with classy Rules performers Marito and Aupcharlie. Marito was a Grade 1 winner in his youth when trained by Willie Mullins and had won all three of his outings this season, including in a Hunter Chase at Down Royal in December for trainer David Christie prior to tasting defeat at the hands of Henry De Bromhead’s Aupcharlie at Oldtown a month ago. Aupcharlie finished tenth in the 2m5f Handicap Chase here in 2015 and eleventh the year before in the Novices event over the same distance. Aupcharlie ended his 2015 season by pulling up at Punchestown in May while he was Novice Rider ridden when fourth behind Carrigeen Acebo in a Ladies event at Mainstown in November, his only defeat of the 2015/16 season.
There remain going concerns about both Marito and Aupcharlie while neither has conclusively proved that he stays the 3m2f trip here though they will have the benefit of top jockeys in the saddle.
The home team is headed by the Warren Greatrex-trained Paint The Clouds, winner of the 3m2f Hunter Chase held at Doncaster last month for the second year running. The eleven year old is another who can boast a campaign at a decent level under Rules and he’s been a revelation since reverting to the amateur game. Paint The Clouds was beaten just a head by Moroman at Stratford last year having finished fourth in the race formerly known as the Whitbread and third to On The Fringe in this race twelve months ago. Sam Waley-Cohen has ridden him throughout his Hunter Chase career and is again likely to be in the plate here.
Enough has been said about jockey David Maxwell’s style over the years but he remains unbeaten in two outings on Mendip Express since purchasing him out of Harry Fry’s stable last Summer. Now trained by Philip Hobbs the partnership maintained their unbeaten record together when narrowly justifying odds-on favouritism at Fontwell at the end of last month. Previously the ten year old had defeated Richmond over three miles on soft ground at Warwick but having run well on heavy in the past and being a course and distance winner at this track he has plenty in his favour here.
A lot has been made of former Olympian Victoria Pendleton’s participation in this event and her mount Pacha Du Polder was rated 150 at his peak back in 2013. While he’s not worthy of such a lofty rating now he is one of the better horses in this and he sauntered to an easy victory over 2m4f at Wincanton last time out. The flat 3m3.5f of Stratford over which he was third last season is a completely different test to the Foxhunter’s course and he has plenty to prove with regards to stamina, while his best chance of staying the trip is if he is held up, something that would appear unlikely to happen here.
Mr Mercurial took a hot Intermediate Final here last season and made his comeback at Horseheath when defeating the very useful Glint Of Steel last month. His trainer Sheila Crowe took this a few years ago with the youngster Cappa Bleu who also ran at Horseheath prior to winning here and he could well prove to be the best of the British horses with the excellent Paddy Gerety likely to ride.
The most intriguing runner here is surely It Came To Pass. Jim Culloty’s gelding only broke his maiden at Ballindenisk at the end of November but he followed that up with a comprehensive defeat of some promising rivals in a Maiden Hunter Chase at Limerick over Christmas. The half-brother to Grade 1 scorer Lord Windermere stepped up markedly in grade but equipped himself well when beaten less than two lengths by the ill-fated You Must Know me at Leopardstown last month and should he go well here it’s unlikely he’ll be racing in Hunter Chases beyond this season.