2021 Cheltenham Festival – Rematch On The Cards As Irish Hunters Set For Battle

Celebrations after Hazel Hill won the 2019 Foxhunter ChaseCelebrations after Hazel Hill won the 2019 Foxhunter Chase

2021 Hunters Chase Tips

Formerly known as the Foxhunter Chase, this is another race that has undergone a rebrand. Lewis Tomlinson takes a look at the race that immediately follows the Gold Cup on Day 4 of the Cheltenham Festival.

2021 Hunters Chase Overview

No Jamie Codd? No Patrick Mullins? No Derek O’Connor?

If current regulations stay as they are, the “Amateur Gold Cup” will not have any amateurs taking part this season, and what a shame it would be if their status as “non-elite” athletes was seen through until mid-March. Those star names are part and parcel of the Festival, and the meeting would surely be poorer for their absence, but this race could provide several professionals a unique chance to win a race they usually can’t even compete in.

Key Contenders – Billaway

The first two home in last year’s renewal head the market this time around, though it’s the runner-up, Billaway, who is strongly fancied to turn the tables with his conqueror last season.

Billaway’s overall body of form is undoubtedly the strongest in the division; he’s not been out of the first two on any of his last eight starts. Recent wins at Down Royal and Naas have come in strong races for the division, with fellow Festival contender and last season’s Foxhunter fourth Staker Wallace (10-1) behind him for the third time in 12 months. There’s no obvious reason why he should reverse that form here, but he’s fairly consistently been amongst the better hunter chasers in Ireland for over a season and he has justifiable place claims again.

It Came To Pass

It Came To Pass was the biggest-priced winner of the Festival last season when causing a 66-1 upset, though those great odds were more an illustration of his lack of consistency throughout his career, as opposed to lack of talent.

He beat Billaway fair and square here last season, seeing out every inch of the trip and extending his advantage with every stride from the last. He looked rusty enough on his reappearance when fourth at Fairyhouse back in December, a race in which Billaway was second, but the way he took to Cheltenham last season was striking and a better effort is to be expected here.

The Worlds End

The Worlds End, now trained by Olly Murphy, is a fascinating recruit to hunter chasing. A Grade 1 winning hurdler as recently as last season, The Worlds End wasn’t given the hardest time of things on his debut in this sphere when third at Warwick at the start of this month, his first start over fences since the 2019 RSA.

He looked to be regressing over hurdles earlier in the season and is far from the usual grizzled and battle-hardened winner of the Hunters’ Chase. That being said, his best form is generally a level above that of his likely opposition here, but his profile is that of an unlikely Hunters’ winner and he’s probably best watched here.

Highway Jewel

The mare Highway Jewel was prolific in points and finished ahead of The Worlds End at Warwick on her rules debut. The way she finished that race suggested she’d be well suited to the stamina test this race provides, though utterly bizarrely her participation is not guaranteed, with her owners apparently considering sitting Cheltenham out in protest at the word “Fox” being removed the race title.

Red Indian

Rated as high as 145 at his peak as a chaser and has made a fine start in the pointing sphere, unchallenged in two victories this season.  He clearly retains ability and would pose a threat if staying, though that is a question he needs to answer, as his best form is generally over shorter. Red Indian’s connections certainly know how to prepare one for this test, as they have had Top Wood placed in two of the last three renewals.

Hazel Hill

Finally, it’s worth giving a mention to good old 2019 champion Hazel Hill, who won on his recent outing at Ludlow last month. He was soundly beaten by Highway Jewel in a point in December, and having also been beaten by Minella Rocco last season, it’s probably fair to see he’s not quite the force he once was.

Nevertheless, the 13-year-old has been the most prolific point-to-pointer and hunter chaser in Britain across the past five years and he would surely be a popular winner for Alex Edwards and the Rowleys.

Hunters Chase Big-Race Verdict

Billaway is the right favourite, but he had no excuses when dealt a 10-length beating by IT CAME TO PASS here last season and the suspicion would remain that Eugene O’Sullivan’s eleven-year-old may still have the edge around a course he appeared to relish last season. At the very least, he shouldn’t be more than double the price.