Darren Edwards: Can we challenge the Irish in the Cheltenham Foxhunter? [H&H VIP]

  • I consider myself a “glass half full” person but, with the deplorable weather continuing to wreak havoc across the equestrian world, I have started measuring life in rain gauges. And most are overflowing.

    As we approach the end of February, it is difficult to get away from the feeling that our hunt racing season has barely started. Yet in less than a month on a Friday in mid-March the pinnacle of our season, the Cheltenham Foxhunter, will take place.

    I have been fortunate enough to ride in the race on a number of occasions, but always without any realistic chance of winning. In truth, the British contingent has been somewhat bamboozled in recent seasons by their Irish counterparts.

    With the first 2½ months of the season having been heavily curtailed by the weather, affecting both point-to-points and hunter chases, it is hard to pinpoint any standout challengers to the Irish grasp on the crown — apart from last season’s top novice Harbour Court and Henry Daly’s recently qualified Pearlysteps.

    That said, I have witnessed winning performances from a number of horses who undoubtedly have the sufficient class, but who are unlikely to join the line-up.

    The reason is that some of these potentially credible starters have been competing in novice rider races, carrying pilots that epitomise the “amateur” status of point-to-pointing.

    If names like Khyber Kim or Gwanako were to appear among the entries for next month’s showpiece with a leading amateur name booked to ride, they would undoubtedly shake up the top of the betting market. But the likelihood of this happening is slim.

    These horses are doing a grand job acting as schoolmasters in the pointing field, where they will remain difficult to beat.

    A good jockey can make a significant difference to the outcome of a race, but invariably the best horse always wins. At the moment, the likely British challenge for the Foxhunter seems a little short of the mark.

    But perhaps the strong staying 14-year-old That’s Rhythm, who has formed such a marvellous partnership with Page Fuller, can exploit the current testing conditions and give the Irish a run for their money.

    Darren’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (20 February edition)