The Aintree Foxhunter is on any amateur's bucket list as a precursor to a tilt at the mother of all steeplechases, the Grand National, and today, one entry limbered up with a final run before next Thursday's big event.
Caid du Berlais, a 15/2 chance at Aintree, was a ready winner of the Air Wedding Hunters' Chase at Warwick for Sam Loxton and Will Biddick at the prohibitive odds of 1/8. And it would appear that normal business of small fields for pot hunting in this type of race has been resumed as today's two Hunters' races at Warwick and Fakenham collectively generated a grand total of eight runners.
Caid du Berlais led from the start and never saw another rival, finishing as he liked unchallenged - more or less a perfect racecourse gallop prior to the real event next week. This former winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2014 has enjoyed a perfect preparation for Aintree, with faultless wins at Wincanton and today. He may yet head back to Punchestown after Aintree, where he snatched the Champion Hunters Chase back in 2019, the last year Punchestown was able to run a Festival.
Sadly the other Hunters' chase at Fakenham was no more competitive. Peacocks Secret, trained and ridden by Dale Peters, was prominent throughout, led from 5 out, and won without great exertion - plenty more pots of this nature to pick up before May.
By contrast, there was 5 hours of racing at Maisemore, with a start time of 12.30 and the last at 4.30, ands several race divisions to welcome Pointing back to the Three Counties.
The Foxhunter has traditionally been the weakest betting race of the Cheltenham Festival, but this year's race produced an absolute gripper, with Porlock Bay prevailing, under Biddick, by a short head, the closest finish of the week. Porlock Bay won't be headed for Aintree, and has now been put away till next season, when he will start again between the flags.
The Aintree Foxhunter, by contrast, generates more betting interest, with the market indicating Cheltenham second, Billaway, and Cat Tiger, David Maxwell's French import here. After the drubbing the British endured at acrtoss the piece at Cheltenham, they'll be looking tro make amends at Aintree. Interestingly, the number of trainers swerving Cheltenham to focus on Aintree's well-endowed prizes indicates that some of the supporting races at the Festival may arguably be losing their lustre.
Meanwhile, Team Gloucestershire did its thing today, with a winner each for Nigel Twiston-Davies, Tom George and Kim Bailey , the first at Fakenham, the last two at Warwick. At the latter course, title contender Harry Skelton might reasonably have expected to pull closer to Brian Hughes, but at the end of the day it was honours even with two winners apiece.
This looks a storyline that will riun right to the wire.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)