Hunters' Chase Tips: It Came To Pass to retain crown

Hunters' Chase Tips: It Came To Pass won at 66/1 last year.
Hunters' Chase Tips: It Came To Pass won at 66/1 last year.

Lewis Tomlinson gives his Hunters' Chase tip for one of the highlights on Cheltenham Gold Cup day at the Cheltenham Festival...

Lewis Tomlinson's Hunters' Chase Tip

It Came To Pass at 8/1 with William Hill

The “amateur’s Gold Cup” will take place without the amateurs this season, with the likes of Patrick Mullins, Jamie Codd and Derek O’Connor ruled out of the season’s most prestigious hunter chase due to the current government ban on grassroots sport in Britain. Nevertheless, the equine talent on show in the rebranded Hunters’ Chase features several familiar Festival faces.

Last year’s beaten favourite Billaway heads the betting once again after successfully defending his crown in Naas’ important hunter chase at the end of January. Billaway had also won at Down Royal on the start prior to that, and his seasonal reappearance when beaten a length-and-a-half by Stand Up And Fight at Fairyhouse was also a fine run from the Willie Mullins-trained gelding.

Billaway hasn’t finished outside of the first two in any of his last seven runs, a record that now stretches back to more than two years, and his place as market leader is merited. That being said, he has been beaten four times across that period, and by no means is his place at the top of the hunter chase entirely undisputed.

His scrappy jumping and tendency to hit the occasional flat spot could be causes for concern here, and Billaway had no obvious excuses when soundly beaten by ten lengths here last season. His overall body of form is very solid, though, and Billaway remains a leading contender despite one or two flaws in his game.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

The horse who claimed Billaway’s scalp last season was It Came To Pass, providing a heartwarming victory for the father-daughter team of Eugene and Maxine O’Sullivan. Maxine won’t be in the saddle this time around, but It Came To Pass looks to hold a strong chance to defend his crown here.

He was a shock 66-1 winner of this race last season, having been available at prices as big as 300-1 on the morning of the race, but those huge odds were closer to a reflection of It Came To Pass’ inconsistency, rather than any lack of ability, and he had in fact beaten Billaway at Cork less than twelve months earlier. 

He had been out of form prior to arriving at Prestbury Park last season, and hasn’t particularly sparkled in two starts this campaign either. That probably matters less with It Came To Pass than it does with other horses, and the manner with which he proved his liking for Cheltenham - he was shaping well prior to slithering on landing at three out in the 2016 renewal - and his aptitude for this test of stamina makes him a horse to take seriously here. He extended his advantage over Billaway with every stride up the run-in on his last visit here, and I don’t find it hard to envisage him bounding up the hill in a similarly strong manner once again. If he brings his a-game, he could well be the one to beat.

Of the other Irish contenders, the Enda Bolger/JP McManus combination could run a pair of each-way contenders in Staker Wallace and Stand Up And Fight. Staker Wallace didn’t have enough left in the tank to threaten in last year’s renewal, and came home in a respectable fourth. After two seconds between the flags early in the season, he got off the mark under rules in bloodless fashion when winning a maiden hard-held at Limerick and ran another good race when second to Billaway at Naas. He still needs to prove he wants this sort of stamina test, though, whilst Stand Up And Fight’s Fairyhouse win is one of the strongest pieces of recent form held by any runner here. Billaway was able to turn the tables on him at Down Royal next time, but he should stay well here and his second to the formerly smart Jury Duty at Thurles last time was a return to form. Despite only finishing sixth on his previous Hunters’ appearance two seasons ago, I’d expect to see a better showing from Stand Up And Fight this time and he could well make the frame.

Bob And Co looked feral on his British debut last January, having to be pulled-up after owner-jockey David Maxwell considered him unsafe to continue upon. Luckily, he hasn’t replicated that bizarre display since, and his subsequent record of three wins from three starts means he’s now the shortest-priced of the British runners in this field. His sole outing this season saw him produce by far the best effort we’ve seen in this division in Britain, always remaining in his comfort zone whilst producing a seventeen-length victory in the old Walrus Chase at Haydock.

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Red Indian was sixth in a Coral Cup as a hurdler and was still operating at a good enough level under rules to be sent off favourite for both the Peter Marsh and the Swinley Chase last season. He’s since won two points this winter, and whilst that form is nothing special, he represents a team who know how to prepare a horse for a big run in the Hunters’. Minor doubts remain his stamina against a field including some through stayers, but his form should see him in contention if getting home.

Caid Du Berlais and Chameron would be poignant winners after the death of their popular trainer Rose Loxton. Caid Du Berlais  who would boast an unbeaten stretching back to 2017 if not for consistently underperforming at the Cheltenham Festival, and it’s hard to have faith in a horse that has only shaped well once in three attempts in this race. Chameron was regressive under rules for Paul Nicholls, but made a steady start to life as a hunter chaser when winning at Leicester last month. He’d be in with a real shout if able to fulfil any of the potential shown in his younger days, though needs to prove he wants a trip this far.

Another heartwarming winner of this event would be 2019 champion Hazel Hill, who missed the chance to complete back-to-back successes in this race last after an eleventh-hour injury ruled him out. He’s thirteen now, and whilst it was pleasant to see him win a weak race at Ludlow in January, the evidence of his twenty-five length defeat to Highway Jewel in a Chaddesley Corbett point earlier in the season he’s not quite the force of old.

Finally, I’d give an each-way chance to Latenightpass, who may be an unfamiliar name to many after only two starts under rules. Both of those have been successes, though, including over course and distance at the hunter chase meeting here in 2019. He turned over the aforementioned Highway Jewel and former Grade 1 winner The Worlds End at Warwick last month, and he will outrun his odds if able to replicate that level of performance.

Fri 15:40 - Foxhunter Chase
It Came To Pass silk

It Came To Pass

lost
Cheltenham Gold Cup
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