Richard Moore continues his ante post look Cheltenham 2016 and continues with the National Hunt Chase on Tuesday.
The National Hunt Chase on the first day of the festival is one of my favourite races of the week.
Run over a gruelling 4 miles, with 24 fences to jump and restricted to novice chasers, this race provides a test for these young horses unlike any other.
When you throw in the fact that only amateur jockeys are allowed to ride in the race, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a betting nightmare to be avoided at all costs. Historically at least you would be right! Indeed, from 2002 to 2005 the race provided three consecutive winners with odds of 33/1 or bigger.
In recent years though this race has been much kinder to punters, with the last five runnings all having single-figure priced winners, and even three favourites amongst them.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the starting point for this race is to look at the horses trained by Willie Mullins.
Heading up the market is Black Hercules, who has been very impressive in his two chase starts to date. He has been to Cheltenham twice before, running a good race when fourth in the 2014 bumper, and then disappointing last year when favourite for the Albert Bartlett.
That flop would be a worry here, as would the fact that he has never won later than January in a season, and his record on faster ground is patchy.
That said, he looks a far better chaser than he was a hurdler, and his jumping and stamina look up to scratch here. He is plenty short enough at 11/4 though, and I would rather look elsewhere for a bit of each way value against him.
Roi Des Francs is second favourite, and comes here after getting on top of Pont Alexandre last time out in Naas. His third in last year’s Martin Pipe race is solid course form and he should have every chance of a big run if he turns up here.
The problem with looking to back him now is that his festival target (like Black Hercules) has yet to be 100% confirmed, and both face the very real possibility of a late switch to the RSA chase on the Wednesday. Punters would be as well holding fire until nearer the day before backing either horse.
There is a lot of guesswork involved at this stage, with the RSA being a prime candidate to take some of the fancied horses away, but one horse that has been confirmed as having this race as his number one target is Southfield Royale.
Trained by Neil Mulholland, this horse ran a fantastic race in the Grade One Feltham chase at Kempton on St. Stephen’s Day, chasing home the classy Tea For Two. He jumped well that day, and demonstrated a high cruising speed that will help him in the hurly burly atmosphere of the festival.
At just six years old, he is certainly on the young side from a trends point of view, but he has plenty of experience, and to my eye is improving steadily for each of his last few starts.
His chase form this year is already miles ahead of anything he did over hurdles last season, and I just have a feeling that if he were with a more fashionable trainer he would be half the price.
His sire Presenting is a strong influence for stamina, and he has already shown a marked preference for faster ground conditions (which are nearly always prevalent on the opening day of the festival).
With such question marks surrounding a lot of the main protagonists in this race, I think the 10/1 available about Southfield Royale is well worth taking.
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