Hunters for punters: the exciting squad with success in their sights
With the first hunter chase of the campaign taking place at Taunton on Tuesday, here are a handful to keep an eye on from the Racing Post’s team of experts . . .
Barrakilla (Fergal O'Brien)
Fergal O’Brien hopes to have this 11-year-old for hunter chasing, he revealed last week. Barrakilla hasn’t run for a couple of years and was a lightly-raced sort anyway. He certainly had ability, though, finishing second in the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham, and looks the type to do well hunter chasing.
Top Wood (Kelly Morgan)
Burning Ambition, a seven-year-old who won easily at Limerick recently, is the best prospect for hunter chasing on either side of the Irish Sea, but as Pacha Du Polder and Wonderful Charm proved in last year’s St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase, experience counts. That is the hope of Rutland trainer Kelly Morgan as she prepares the former David Pipe-trained Top Wood for the race. The 11-year-old reached a rating of 144 and was running big races until falling in the Kim Muir Chase and Scottish National in the spring of 2016. Now owned by Johnny Weatherby, Top Wood has won two open points this season, is qualified for Cheltenham, and could run at Market Rasen before the festival.
Gilgamboa (Enda Bolger)
He beat the best of what is around in Ireland at Down Royal over Christmas and, as trainer Enda Bolger puts it, was fat going there, so he will improve a good bit for it. He doesn't qualify for Cheltenham but there are lots of races for him at home and, given how much he loves soft ground, he should do well in those. He was fourth in the Grand National in 2016, so a return to Aintree will be on his agenda. He has a touch of class.
Knocklong (Justin Landy)
A bumper and hurdle winner in Ireland, Knocklong won seven out of his eight races point-to-pointing and then won both his starts hunter chasing last season. Under the expert handling of Middleham-based Justin Landy he should prove hard to beat this season and could develop into a live contender for the Cheltenham Foxhunter.
Opening Batsman (Harry Fry)
Although knocking on a bit now aged 12, he was still winning races when last seen last April and should do well in this sector. He has the chance to underline that straight away as Harry Fry has declared him for Taunton on Tuesday (3.20). One thing that should stand him in particularly good stead is the fact he has won on a variety of surfaces.
Burning Ambition (Pierce Power)
It's always gratifying when an exciting hunter chaser comes through from the pointing field, rather than being parachuted in after a distinguished career under rules. Therefore, the hope for this spring is that Pierce Power's Burning Ambition can make his mark at the spring festivals. He won four of his five points last year and looked an exciting recruit to the hunter chase ranks at Limerick's Christmas meeting when spreadeagling his rivals. Although 4-6 to do so, he still did it very well and, at seven, the best should still be to come.
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