Foxhunters Chase at Aintree

At 3:45pm on Thursday 2nd April 2009, the John Smith’s Foxhunters Chase will be run at Aintree, the home of the most famous steeplechase race in the world – The Grand National. The Foxhunters Chase is the amateur jockey’s Grand National, the highlight of their racing year having spent weekend after weekend riding in Point-to-Points up and down the country.
Run over the national course over 2miles, 5 furlongs the runners negotiate 18 of the national fences. Their first fence would be the thirteenth in the actual Grand National and this means that the famous Chair fence standing at five foot three inches with a six foot ditch on the take off side is the third obstacle they face before they complete a full circuit of the course and finish up the famous run in negotiating the elbow.

This year Sam Waley-Cohen will be on Blu Teen, a 9 year old who was previously victorious over hurdles and chases for The Stewart Family when trained by Paul Nicholls but is now trained by David Staddon for Miss Caroline Parsons. Sam Waley-Cohen has been extremely successful in the Aintree Foxhunters Chase in the past. Riding his father’s Katarino, Sam won the race in 2005 and 2006 and this pairing were beaten into second place by 9 lengths last year by Christy Beamish who they had beaten by 7 lengths in 2006. At 33/1 in the Racing Post betting forecast Blu Teen doesn’t look as if he will be providing Sam with his third triumph in the race in five years but he could run a good race and might sneak in an each-way return.

12 year old Christy Beamish returns to defend his crown, but will be partnered this year by Claire Allen and is currently 10/1 to achieve back to back wins. So far this year he has failed to show the form he had last year at Aintree and his last run in the Cheltenham Foxhunters saw him tailed off from fence twelve and eventually pulled up 2 out. If he remembers where he is and enjoys himself he could be there, but his moment may have passed and there are others who could land the spoils.

Agus A Vic will probably start as the favourite, currently at 7/2 in the Racing Post Betting Forecast he has the credentials to win the race. This 8 year old was disappointing in the 2008 Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase when he was the 5/1 favourite. He was pulled up three out, but was later reported to have bled. He returned to form however in his next run at Punchestown although many believe that Southwestern would have won the race had he not crashed out at the penultimate fence. Agus A Vic is always well held up in the early stages of the race and won the race on the run in overhauling Alert The Earth. He started his next race on Boxing Day in a Hunter Chase as the 5/4 favourite, but was brought down at the seventh fence, but has since recorded another victory this time at Leopardstown on 15th February where again he was held up and only reached the front on the run in.

Richard Burton who rode Cappa Bleu to victory in the 2009 Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase is taking the ride around Aintree on Distant Thunder who was second in a Hunter Chase at Newbury on February 27th and was also 2nd in a point to point at Larkhill in January. Currently at 14/1 he could start a much shorter price with one of the top amateurs on board.

Other contenders worth a mention include Le Duc from Paul Nicholls yard who finished ninth at Cheltenham. He got himself into contention despite being hampered and was in with a chance but just seemed to run out of energy after the last. If he can put in a better jumping display, as he hit a few at Cheltenham he to could be in with a chance approaching the elbow.
Sonevafushi was fourth in the race last year under Ollie Greenall. This year younger brother Jake takes the ride. Sonevafushi won a point-to-point at Sheriff Hutton on January 18th and might improve on last years placing.
Man From Highworth has also been seen on the point-to-point scene this season finishing second in the Mixed Open at Barbury Racecourse on January 17th. He has also finished second in two hunter chases since, at Ludlow on February 18th and Leicester on March 6th.
Theatre Knight from Simon Tindall’s yard is also interesting having run in point-to-points over the past couple of years. This season he has finished 3rd at Detling on January 18th, 2nd at Charing on February 22nd and won at Parham on March 21st, he will be ridden by stable trainer / jockey Nick Pearce.

In summary, as with the Grand National anything can happen, but generally speaking there have been few surprises in the Foxhunters and the winner is often priced at 8/1 or lower. 9 – 11 year olds have a good record in the race and the winner has predominantly either won or been placed in their previous race before the Foxhunters. Agus a Vic will meet 2 of these conditions and definitely looks the pick of the bunch. Whatever happens, whoever wins, all 30 jockeys have 1 main aim, to get round safely and hopefully be in with a chance at the elbow.

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