Festival Focus: Hunters & Cross-Country Chases

Grand National

Glenfarclas Chase – 3m 6F 37yds – Class 2

This race is dominated by Gordon Elliott. He’s won this race four times (five with a suspension) in the last six years. It’s a race he targets horses for the Grand National with. Silver Birch came second in the race before going on to win at Aintree in 2007.

Delta Work is aiming to follow in Tiger Roll’s footsteps and become a back-to-back winner of the race. He showed his Grade One experience showed last time out and there’s no limit to his abilities. No handicap mark to defy this time. It’s his to lose.

Or is it? The Elliott second string is Galvin, who finished fourth in last year’s Gold Cup. Similar to Delta Work last year, he comes into the race with zero experience over the cross-country track. His track record at Cheltenham is 62114, which includes his win in the National Hunt Cup. His staying power shows and could be a big threat.

Franco De Port has been unlucky with no win since winning the Racing Post Novice Chase in December 2020. He comes in with plenty of graded form, and might get a place. The top two much more fancied.

At an each-way price is an old favourite, Back On The Lash. He won on Trials Day and he’s one of few horses who can handle the track. Back On The Lash seems to come into his own in cross-country races, winning twice and placed once. He could stay on well, but does he have the class at this level to win?

Verdict: Delta Work; This will be my NB of the week. His price is way to short and it’ll be a race to sit back and enjoy. Galvin is sure to come second, so a short-priced forecast could be good as well. Best price is 11/10 generally, whilst SBK exchange is offering 2.3.

Each-way: Back On The Lash; He’s a fan favourite and his record has been really good this season. He’s worth a small wager at 16/1 with William Hill.

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St. James’ Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase – 3m 2F 70yds – Class 2

Winged Leader was outgunned on the line by Billaway in last year’s contest. But this season sees newcomer Vaucelet getting the punters talking.

Vaucelet has been impressive in the Hunters’ world this year, although the distances haven’t been as convincing. He won by half-a-length at Portrush in a point-to-point, and beat Dorking Cock by a neck on Boxing Day at Down Royal. It will be interesting to see how he runs for the first time at Cheltenham.

Ferns Lock might be the better horse in the race for David Christie. Unbeaten in his entire career and double figure winning distances to his name. He won by three-an-a-half lengths at Gowran Park on Saturday, so he’ll have to be turned out quickly if he has a chance.

Famous Clermont has had a fantastic season after pulling up at last year’s Hunters’ evening at Cheltenham. A 30-length win at Larkhill on New Year’s Day catches the eye, as well as a good win last time out at Haydock. His run at Cheltenham may have been because of good ground, and has a good record over softer. He’s one to consider.

Billaway is lightly raced, but hasn’t set the world alight since his win at last year’s Festival. A half-length win at Naas last time out shows that he older he is, the  less he’s going to produce a fantastic staying performance. He has a real chance to place, but I can’t see him winning.

Secret Investor made the switch to go Hunters Chasing midway through the season, and a 13-length win made sure that he was in comfortable setting. This might just be a bit too much out of his depth for Paul Nicholls, a successful British trainer in this race.

Verdict: Ferns Lock; Another NB race. I feel Vauceltet’s wins, on paper, are unconvincing so I’m going with the hotshot Ferns Lock to take on the favourite at 5/1 with Betfred.

Each-way pick: Le Malin; Has been unlucky against Vaucelet, Winged Leader and Billaway in the past. He has a good paling record and bagged an 11-length win at Lisronagh point-to-point. Good each-way price at 20/1 with William Hill.

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