2012 National Hunt Chase Preview
The National Hunt Chase is very much the Cheltenham Festival’s own Grand National, but, with a twist. Run over four miles, it’s a race for amateur jockeys. The plot thickens further however, as the race conditions only allow for novice chasers. Therefore, we have a four mile novice chase event for semi-professional riders – it’s an event, very much on paper, that doesn’t temper huge betting enthusiasm for most. For me however, if the basic requirements are found, good jumping and staying ability, the winner can easily be found.
Coupled with good jumping and staying power stats can also help point us in the right direction. Historically, this race has been consistent with trends year in year out. Only one six-year-old has won this since 1989 – cross these horses and younger, if applicable, out. It’s too tough a test for a young horse. Previous Cheltenham form has continually stood the test of time so take note. Form against more experienced rivals in handicap company has also been noted by previous winners. Irish challengers have also gone well over the years, too.
Usually a big field goes to post for the National Hunt Chase, but an awful lot that do line-up can be considered deadwood. That being said, don’t let the price of a runner put you off as some shocks have been seen down through the years. One more thing to note before moving on to the fancied runners; top amateur jockeys have a good record in this race. Like most things in life, the cream usually rises to the top.
That was the case in 2011 when the highest rated horse in the field, Chicago Grey, won in fine style. Looking at those with high previous hurdle ratings and current chase ratings should again prove fruitful. Currently, the highest rated runner in the field is Teaforthree.
A 141 rating over fences, he enters the race as the class horse. Rebecca Curtis has got plenty of experience into the son of Oscar, running 6 times over the larger obstacles altogether. The seven-year-old has been pitched in against some tough opposition this season, Grands Crus and Join Together to name a few. Apart from pulling-up in the Grade One Feltham, Teaforthree has been consistent. He clearly stays well and jumps superbly for a novice. He can go long and short over a fence, is quick footed and clever. He has a leading chance and ticks the age, course and experience trends boxes while having a touch of class to boot. Front runners struggle to win this race and that would be a worry, however. As would rattling quick ground.
Although Teaforthree is the highest rated animal in the race you would be hard-pushed to argue that Alle Garde doesn’t have the best form. Two starts back the son of Kapgarde was third behind the excellent Last Instalment in the Grade One Leney Novice Chase. Although well beaten by the winner he was just overhauled close home by last year’s Neptune winner, First Lieutenant. That form is obviously good in the context of this event. This, together with his great jumping makes him a serious player. Good ground will be a massive plus and he should improve further on what he has shown. As well as being a good jumper he looks like he can be clever when he needs to and the icing on the cake, he’s very game!
Willie Mullins won this race twice as a jockey and looks like he’ll fire a two pronged attack in a bid to land trainer honours. The gigantic Soll will be his second representative. After two starts in the point-to-point field he only managed one race over timber. That however was a winning one when trained by John Quinn. He romped to a ten length victory and although not a great heat it was the perfect start to his track career. Since that start in January 2011 he has since switched to the Carlow base of Willie Mullins. Mullins has only got two runs into the son of Presenting, but both have been good efforts. It’s also encouraging he has progressed with each start. Given his size clearing fences should not be a problem for him and this is the case. He jumps well. For a big horse he can adjust his feet when needs be and jumps well under-pressure. On a line throw Son Amix there is very little between him and his stable companion.
Alfie Spinner is another who comes into the equation given a solid run last time out. Nick Williams’ charge ran in one of the hottest novice chases this season last time out. Invictus, Bobs Worth and Silviano Conti were just three of the runners in a high class race. Alfie Spinner filled the third berth only beaten just under six lengths. Although the form looks good he may prove slightly flattered by it. He jumped a number of fences slow, the decent ground putting him under a bit more pressure than usual. He seems better when the mud is flying as his festive run at Chepstow shows. This particular day he jumped well. It may be that he is better going left-handed so a return to Cheltenham should suit. He looks genuine and the booking of Sam Wahley-Cohen takes the eye, but a number of questions still need answering.
Paul Nicholls has yet to win this race after numerous runners. That could all change with Harry The Viking. Sir Alex Ferguson is one of a number of high profile owners at Ditcheat and the Manchester United boss will hope his son of Sir Harry Lewis can bag a Festival winner for him. The seven-year-old is open to any amount of improvement having only seen the race track five times in his short career. He hasn’t been seen this calendar year after producing a gritty display to win at Doncaster last time out. His excellent handler has chosen not to run him since. His current rating stands at 137, four lbs. behind the highest rated. With his form since franked coupled with normal progression it’s safe to say he is better than his current mark especially coming from these quarters. With improvement likely he must have a massive chance. His lack of Cheltenham form is a little off-putting, but his attitude and jumping make him a serious horse to consider given the race specification. His has form around Chepstow and Towester so an undulating track won’t be totally alien to him come the second day. In his two chase starts only one bad mistake has been seen when he stood off a mile out from the fourteenth at Doncaster. That blunder would kill off the majority of horses, but he battled back and two fences later was back on the bridle and in control. He travels supremely well which is never a negative. He must have a solid chance with his bold jumping and casual hold-up style. The ace in the pack is his attitude, however – he’s so genuine. He doesn’t seem great value and is priced-up on his connections, but he goes there with a solid chance.
I’m not too sure many of the rest will get into this proper, but one horse at a massive price that takes the eye is Your Busy. Alex Ferguson was already signalled out as a top owner and Your Busy, a son of Anshan, is owned by Irish rugby legend, Ronan O’Gara (a distant relative of mine – it’s true). He was third in a half-decent novice chase at the course back in October and it looks as if his trainer has prepared him with this race in mind. He jumps fine for a novice and as long as the ground doesn’t soften he has an outside squeak over a trip that may improve him further. I don’t think he’ll win, but of the bigger priced horses he looks value.
A tough race to break down with those at the head of the market all holding solid shouts. My one worry is that there is plenty of pace on in this race with the likes of Teaforthree, Soll, Alfie Spinner and Viking Blonde all habitual front runners. As well as those fancied runners another three to four breakaway runners look set to line-up. With plenty of pace likely to be on I think one of the hold-up horses will have the race run to suit. Harry The Viking and Alle Garde are the two that standout. Given Alle Garde’s genuine Grade One form he’ll just get the vote, but the other Mullins runner Soll remains very interesting. Keep him onside, too.
1.5pt win Alle Garde @ 6-1 and
0.25pts each-way Your Busy @ 33-1