I’ve seen stronger renewals of the Hunters’ Chase at the Festival than the line-up this year and 2020 winner It Came To Pass looks a great bet to win the race for the second time.
Salsify, On The Fringe and Pacha Du Polder have all won this race twice in succession since 2012 and if he is in anything like the form he was in when bolting up on this ground last March, he is certainly the one to beat. He had today’s favourite Billaway 10L back in second last year and though that one handles better ground, I think he is a better horse on a softer surface.
We’re taking a bit on trust in terms of It Came To Pass retaining his ability, but this will have been the plan from the day after his Festival triumph last year and I wouldn’t read anything into his run at Thurles late last month. That came on unsuitably heavy ground and he was being nursed round until unseating his rider three out.
He came into last year’s race on the back of pulling up in a point-to-point and though he doesn’t get too many winners, Eugene O’Sullivan is a very capable trainer and I’m sure he will have used that run to get him spot on for today.
3.40pm Cheltenham – 2pts win It Came To Pass @ 8-1
Plenty that can be fancied in the Martin Pipe, but I’m keen on the chances of Martinhal off what looks a really attractive mark. He has always been highly-regarded by his trainer, who bids for a first win in the race named after his father.
A bumper winner last March, he didn’t see out either of his first two races over hurdles in the autumn, but a wind op in November has clearly worked the oracle and I think he has the potential to rate a good bit higher than this.
He was well-backed in the morning before landing a 2m1f maiden hurdle at Exeter in January, beating Karl Philippe (won by 10L next time and sent off fav for the EBF Final) and Gladiateur Allen (third in the EBF Final off 131). He returned to the same course over 2m2.5f last time and made all, just holding off the promising Solwara One (easy winner since), with 13L back to Orbys Legend, who landed a Sandown novice by 12L on his next start.
Suffice to say, the form of his novices is working out well and it is no surprise he is due to go up 2lbs in future. Connections have stated they feel he will want three miles in time, so this extra step up in trip could well bring about further improvement.
Pipe is having another good season and is adept at bringing along this type in handicaps. The booking of the experienced Richard Patrick is a plus and I’m confident the drying ground will be more of a help than a hindrance to him.
4.50pm Cheltenham – 0.5pts each-way Martinhal @ 25-1 5 places (Ladbrokes, Coral, 22-1 5 places Betfair, Paddy Power)