Hunt Ball’s owner Anthony Knott is certainly one of the biggest characters in racing, but even he has finally conceded defeat on the dream that the horse is good enough to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup.
There have always been some doubts over whether the horse truly stays 3m+ and his tired finish in third in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham behind Cape Tribulation appears to have given the conclusive evidence.
The Ryanair Chase looked the logical alternative and was the choice of trainer Kieran Burke, but Knott is convinced that a return to handicap company for the Byrne Group Plate is the better Cheltenham Festival contest.
Knott believes “it’s the race that jumps off the page” and he will backing the horse himself to claim a victory at successive Cheltenham Festivals. It is 10/1 that Hunt Ball wins the Byrne Group Plate.
However, it is undoubtedly a big ask, given that Hunt Ball will almost certainly have to carry top weight due to his official rating of 157, which is 15lb higher than when landing the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap last March.
Meanwhile, the Byrne Group Plate has not been a race that has favoured the top weight in the last decade, with Fondmort back in 2004 the only one that has even managed to finish in the each-way places, when third to Tikram.
In fact, in the last 11 years, only two horses have carried 11st or more to victory, which shows the task that Hunt Ball will face when he will probably have to carry 11st12lb.
Furthermore, in the past nine years, horses rated 139 or less have won eight times and occupied 27 of the 36 each-way places.
Therefore, there is a strong chance that Hunt Ball will run into a better-handicapped rival, although Knott is convinced that his horse can take care of any opposition that sneak in at the foot of the weights.
All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date