The final piece of the jigsaw ahead of The Festival 2009 falls into place today with the unveiling of the 43 entries for the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase. The contest, run over the Gold Cup trip of an extended three and a quarter miles, takes place on the final day of The Cheltenham Festival, Friday, March 13. It has closed a week later than originally advertised, in order to give entrants extra time to qualify. This was due to the large number of point-to-points and hunter chases abandoned in January/February.
Three former winners are among this year’s entry – the 2003 scorer Kingscliff, Sleeping Night, successful in 2005 and Amicelli, who prevailed last year for trainer Cherry Coward. A leading fancy for this year’s renewal is the prolific point-to-point scorer Cappa Bleu from the yard of Sheila Crow while there are nine entries from Ireland, including leading hopes Carronmhills, a winner at Thurles in January. Juveigneur, successful in the 2005 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase at The Festival when trained by Nicky Henderson, has been impressive in Irish point-to-points this season for his current handler Eugene O’Sullivan. Chief Oscar is another leading hope from Ireland, having won his latest two starts in hunter chases at Down Royal.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, seeking his third success in the contest, could be represented by the evergreen veteran Royal Auclair who has scored on his latest two outings in hunter chase company and Ofarel D’Airy, who has also been successful on his two most recent starts in hunter chases.
Other interesting contenders including the Venetia William-trained Limerick Boy, who has scored cosily on his last two starts and Murphy’s Cardinal from the Noel Chance stable, who won impressively at Haydock last time out. The maximum permitted field size for the Christie’s Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup is 24.