After compiling my analysis of the graded races at the Cheltenham Festival it is now time to take a look at the 10 handicaps that take place. Rather than look at all the hundreds of horses entered at the early stages trying to figure out what is going to win, I prefer to use certain trends on each race to reduce the field down. Usually this is by taking an official rating band of past winners along with some general trends such as having won that season or the age of past winners. Applying these to the five day fields usually means I am down to 9 or 10 horses. It is those that I look closely at, trying to apply other trends and also using my form analysis to determine what I believe are the best bets. It is a method I have used for several years now with good success, including hitting tricasts from a relatively small shortlist.
If it doesn’t make sense with my explanation then it will become a lot clearer in practise!
Ultima Handicap Chase
3m 1f race on the old course. Usually run at a strong gallop it has favoured those prominent in the betting in the past.
There has been no winner older than 10 years old
8 of the last 11 were rated 142+ including the last 4
9 of the last 10 raced within the last 45 days
9 of the last 11 had won over at least 3m
9 of the last 11 winners had no more than 11 runs over fences
Applying these, it left me the following shortlist:
O O Seven
Ramses De Teille
Coo Star Sivola
Not too bad from how many were initially declared for the race!
O O Seven – A horse I have always rated and in its second season chasing it fits in with 10 previous winners this century. Creditable 5th in the RSA last year though finished a long way behind. Chase mark is 7lb above its hurdle and I’m just not sure it is justified having been comfortably beat in a couple of big handicaps this year. Has recorded its highest RPR over 3m+ like every single winner this century which is clearly important. Problem for me is that its record at Cheltenham reads 0855 though admittedly the first three of them were all at the Festival in the Bumper, Ballymore and RSA. Out of the sire Flemensfirth , its progeny have just one win and two placed from 22 runners at around 3m. The winner being Imperial Commander in the Gold Cup. In general, over the last ten years the progeny have three wins, twelve place and 78 horses unplaced! It might help explain the horses poor record at the Festival. For such a competitive race though I just don’t see it being well enough handicapped off its current mark.
Snow Falcon – Now this is my idea of a winner. A classy hurdler, currently rated 157 having won a grade 2 and placed twice in grade 1s. Yet it is able to compete off an 8lb lower mark in chases. That is significant as horses rated 7lb below their hurdles mark are 5/14 in the last decade in this race. Stays well, it wasn’t disgraced on its last start in one of the hottest Irish novice chases of the season, finishing 5th beaten 5 ½ lengths behind the likes of Monalee, Al Boum Photo, Invitation Only and Dounikos. Three of those four are currently in the first two of the betting for either the NH Chase, RSA or the JLT! Snow Falcon wouldn’t be out of place in any of them races yet races here in a handicap against some exposed rivals. No longer running.
Singlefarmpayment – Narrowly denied in this race last year, it tries again off a mark just 3lb higher. Form is a bit up and down whilst its jumping is a concern. Fell at Newbury in the Hennessey before 5th at Ascot. However, then blundered badly back here at the end of January and was subsequently pulled up. Form figures are a lot less appealing this year and with this race often run at a good pace it is worrying how its jumping will hold up.
Ramses De Teillee – Bit of an unknown sort having raced at a lower grade with just four runs over chases, all on heavy ground. Jumps well though and last two runs look good, winning at Chepstow over Rons Dream who despite being best in at the weights couldn’t Ramses De Teillee. Its last run it was no match for Elegant Escape who everyone will know I rate highly in its bid for the RSA. With a handicap mark of just 145 it looks reasonable whilst David Pipe is a creditable 3/16 in the race. First season novice is no concern, the only worry from a trend perspective is that 8 of the last 9 winners had run at the Festival before.
Dingo Dollar – Only rated 130 over hurdles, it has improved no end for the larger obstacles. A winner on its last two runs though has beaten the same horse twice, the last of those a three runner affair. Not been out of class 3 level and lacks course experience. Did wear cheekpieces last time and will be interesting to see if they continue with them as the last 6 runnings have been won by a horse in headgear. No longer entered.
Coo Star Sivola – The subject of a gamble to win a handicap at Cheltenham earlier in the season, backed into 3/1 favouritism though could only manage 4th behind Frodon. Possibly got bogged down on the heavy ground that day as connections soon got their money back in an easier affair at Exeter. Is therefore a last time out winner who are 7/55 this century, recorded its best RPR over 3m and also has Festival form, 3rd in the Fred Winter before 4th in the Martin Pipe last year. Improving over fences it looks to have a good chance.
Since writing this the final declarations have been made for the race where Snow Falcon and Dingo Dollar from my shortlist miss out. With doubts about O O Seven and Singlefarmpayment I will side with the other two instead in Coo Star Sivola and Ramses De Teillee.
1pt win Coo Star Sivola @ 5/1 widely available
0.75pt e/w Ramses De Teillee @ 12/1 Skybet and Paddy 1/5th odds 5 places
Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase
A race where there is very little difference between those at the top of the handicap and those at the bottom. For the last two years it has been 5lb and 4lb. Often falls to something fancied in the betting, all 10 winners have been priced 16/1 or shorter. A bit of a job to narrow this race down by trends to a level I was happy with so I have had to take some liberties with the information I had available to me. The general stuff I have taken is the following:
Horses 7 or younger are 9 from 11
Ran within the last 45 days 12/13
Won between 2m 2f and 2m 5 1/2f – Nine winners from last eleven had won over 2m 2f+ but no horse has won this having previously been successful over 2m 6f or further
I have also assumed that only horses rated at least 135 will get in the race though even that may be too low now the ceiling has been raised to a 0-145 handicap
This still left me with 12 horses which is far too many to try and assess in the context of this race. What I do know is that the last six winners would all have won at level weights based on RPR. With the top weight likely to have an RPR of 160, I have ruled out all those horses whose RPR was less than 155. Rather crude but class horses win graded races and with ths race having such a small weight spread between runners then this isn’t far off being another graded race, just in a slightly different format. What it did mean was that I am left with three horses, the bad news is that all three are currently not set to run, being in need of horses to drop out. From a betting point that is no bad thing. Many firms offer non runner no bet and if your horse gets balloted out then you get your money back anyway. Plus people are less inclined at this stage to bet horses not set to run as they concentrate more on those that are within the handicap. We will know nearer the time if my method has been disastrous, in which case I will review all those on my long shortlist (Prior to using RPRs) to pick a selection in my nightly preview. So, the three horses are:
Space Oddity – Harry Fry runner who gained a fair bit of experience over hurdles, racing 11 times, winning three and coming from a French background. Seems to handle any ground though its prep for this race never went very well as it got no further than the second fence in a two horse race and thus gifting the opponent victory. Its second to Kauto Riko when carrying 11st 9lb on soft ground ranked very well though the third has been out twice since and wasn’t able to frank the form with victory. The two times it has flopped in its career are the two times it was upped to 2m 4f which is also disconcerting.
Kayf Adventure – Lightly campaigned over hurdles, just racing 4 times from the beginning of January to the end of March last year. They were quick to get it chasing though, beginning with victory in October over the 9lb higher rated at the time Emerging Talent off level weights. Was a little poor in a couple of runs after that though returned well in January when winning a four runner heavy ground race against much more experienced rivals. Finally it was third in a class 2 handicap when staying on but not able to get competitive enough, but did produce its best RPR. From the Philip Hobbs yard who won this in 2010 with Copper Bleu, it should be suited to this test and will have no problem with the ground whatever it comes up as.
Mister Whitaker – The more fancied of the three in the betting, like Kayf Adventure it had a very brief hurdling career, racing only three times between the 9th Feb and the 9th April. Finished third a couple of times and given a mark of 118 which it was quickly capitalising on over fences. Won at its first attempt in a handicap it was given a short break before returning at Kempton on Boxing Day where it finished second to Hells Kitchen, the winner making all whilst Mister Whitaker was held up out the back. Soon got back to winning ways though when taking a reasonable handicap at this track. The second from there finished a good third in a valuable handicap at Kempton off a 4lb higher mark whilst the 4th then finished 2nd on its next run giving it a solid look. Has gone up 8lb in the weights for that but has proven itself around here and also that it handles soft ground which could be vital. This horse sets a good standard whilst also fitting the trends I am looking for.
I definitely want to have Mister Whitaker on my side as it ticks many boxes. Running well, has course form and handles the ground. Improving type from a yard that can bring them along well. Still only four chase runs to its name there could be any amount of improvement to come.
I also like the chances of Kayf Adventure at a big price. Looks well suited to a strongly run contest, it will enjoy the softer conditions and the trainer knows what it takes with this race.
Thankfully the pair have made it into the race.
1pt e/w Mister Whitaker @ 11/1 Boylesports 1/5th odds 5 places
0.5pt e/w Kayf Adventure @ 50/1 Paddy Power ¼ odds 4 places
A very competitive race which usually gets well over subscribed, at the initial stage there was 119 horses entered. Applying a few trends that have occurred this the beginning of this century in general and I have a manageable seven, though three are borderline getting into the race based on the mark required in previous years. One horse makes a very solid claim though that is recognised in the betting.
Trends used were:
14 of last 15 had won during the seasonal
No winners had more than 4 runs in the season
Won over hurdles at a distance between 2m 2f and 26m 6f – 9/11
No 1st season novices have won
Only three winners this century have won having raced 10 or more times over hurdles
This gave me a shortlist of the following horses:
William Henry – Fair novice hurdler who was second in a grade 2 last season. A season chasing was quickly put on hold after pulling up on his debut, jumping erratically and slowly. That seemed the right move as it was saved for the Lanzarote where it duly won. That race is working out pretty well with the 2nd placing in the Betfair hurdle, the 3rd placing of a 3lb higher mark next time and the 4th winning a decent handicap itself. The 5th has not been out but the 6th then went and finished 4th in the Betfair also. The 7th has won since whilst the 8th, though beaten 12 lengths finished a decent 2nd today off just a 2lb lower mark. As you can gather, the form of that win is very strong indeed. Up 6lb in the weights, it has been saved for this race. Though this track is completely different to Kempton where it won last it has plenty of form around here from its novice days so no concern with that. Handles soft ground though wouldn’t want it heavy, my biggest concern is that this obviously wasn’t the plan at the beginning of the season when they were thinking of the horse going chasing. But, last time out winners have won 9 of the last 15, whilst 11 of the last 12 came from the first 7 in the betting. Add in that 10 of the last 13 were second season hurdlers and 7 of the last 9 came from the top 8 in the weights and you can see it fits many of the trends very well.
Topofthegame – another that will be in the top 8 of the weights if it runs. Finished behind William Henry in the Lanzarote (Is the horse that finished 4th who won next time). Not set to be much between the pair again at the weights, he is actually another for who a chase season was aborted, having fallen on debut. Recent runs of this race have been pretty steady which have favoured speedier horses which is a big concern for this horse having won over a trip just shy of 3m. The faster they go the better but that’s not what has been happening lately.
Spiritofthegames – Ties in with the above pair as he was 2nd in the Lanzarote before following up with a third in the Betfair which could turn out to be great form if the winner takes the Supreme. Stayed on well that day though no match for the front pair, I think the step back up in trip would make sense. Also holds entries for the County and the Martin Pipe so it remains to be seen which it will go for, though having been ridden twice by Bridget Andrews on his most recent runs then I see the Martin Pipe being the logical choice. No longer entered.
Bastien – Another that fit the initial trends but could well go for the Martin Pipe having been ridden by an apprentice all season. Soft ground may also be an issue for it with its best form on good ground. Is a young second season hurdler who is improving though and wouldn’t be without a chance for a yard that won this in 2013.
Burrows Saint – The first of the Mullins pair. Interesting that he has so many horses entered for a race in which he has such a terrible record! His record is so bad that he hasn’t had a horse finish inside the first two from his last 24 runners in the race. Having already been chasing in France this is probably a horse for next season. However, its form from its maiden win has worked out ok with the second now rated 133 whilst it wasn’t disgraced behind Dortmund Park. Holds numerous entries, it remains to be seen in which race they will go. No longer entered.
Melrose Boy – Course and distance winner for Harry Fry having won a handicap earlier in the season. This second season novice looks to have a solid chance though it is a concern why it was pulled out of racing on Saturday with a vets certificate. On form it would love the likely soft ground though didn’t quite get home last time on it at just under 3m behind Topofthegame. Gets a nice weight pull from that though could be borderline as to whether it gets in or not. No longer entered.
Deal D’Estruval – The second Mullins horse who has of course got to overcome his terrible record in the race if this was to win. Like Melrose Boy also, it is no guarantee to make it in on the handicap either. Form wise is a second season novice who ran really well to finish a close second on only its second start for Mullins in a 28 runner handicap. That form has been boosted with the third winning a handicap off a 2lb higher mark whilst the 4th followed up with 5th in a grade 2. Unfortunately Deal D’Estruval bumped into an equally unexposed winner who was just that little more streetwise at the finish. Should have learnt a lot from that whilst stepping up in trip once more from the 2m of that run will help. No longer entered.
Whilst I would like to lead towards Deal D’Estruval I just can’t ignore the record of the trainers runners in this race. Clearly his horses are not suited to the conditions of this race. Therefore the obvious one to back towards the head of the handicap is William Henry. Has been well touted by Nicky Henderson who won this race in 2010 and 2014, the latter with Whisper who I believe is the same owners as William Henry. This horse doesn’t hold any further entries so is worth supporting.
1pt e/w William Henry @ 8/1 Skybet and Paddy 1/5th odds 5 places
A race that often features lightly raced types who have been campaigned with the intention of qualifying for this race, or bought with the purpose of running here once it has a mark within the range to get in. The problem with this race is that there are very few accurate trends which you can rely on to narrow a field down sufficiently. That may explain why in the last 6 years we have had 5 winners at 25/1 or bigger!
So, 9 of the last 10 winners last ran within 32 days
9 of the last 10 had a top 2 finish on either of their last two starts
This gives us a rough guide and reduces the field in half. Taking a liberal approach 5 of the last 8 winners began in France over hurdles or bumper including the last 3. With French form a lot harder for the British handicapper to assess then this looks a significant move for trainers. Surprisingly that leaves me with just two horses:
Mercenaire – Interesting one who is from the yard that won this race last year. I like the fact that this yard took the horse to France as a 3yo in April and run it over hurdles, it obviously was showing something at home to do so as 3yo races don’t start till much later in the year. Didn’t show much though was sure to learn plenty. Dotted up in a Juvenile hurdle at Exeter in November before being given a go in grade 1 company on heavy ground. Wasn’t disgraced but couldn’t match the classy We Have A Dream. Was then walloped by Vision Des Flos who has plenty of ability and though getting the weight allowance it couldn’t match that rival. Not harshly treated and interesting that 6 winners had previously raced against older horses.
Eragon De Chanay – A winner on Saturday which has brought it to prominence for this race. Having raced in handicaps is a negative for this race, only two had done so in the past, though horses carrying a penalty have seen two winners from just five runners. No longer entered.
With just one horse making the final cut for the race then it is an easy selection to make.
0.75pt e/w Mercenaire @ 22/1 Skybet 1/5th odds 5 places
A race I like having backed the winner last year ante post. Also has some strong trends which I have applied, leaving me 5 qualifiers.
The trends are:
All 10 winners raced within 61 days
Last 7 winners were rated 138 or higher, though all 16 horses rated 150+ have finished outside the first 2
Last 8 winners began in a bumper or point to point
9 of the last 11 winners had raced between 6 and 10 times over hurdles
Leaving me the following:
Bags Groove – Useful bumper who who won a valuable race at Newbury. Was subsequently pulled from a Cheltenham bumper due to soft ground and barring its maiden hurdle run, its next 7 races were all on good to soft or faster. Was last seen on soft when well beaten in the Lanzarote. Yet to step up to 3m though usually stayed on well over shorter. The trip may suit but the ground is a serious concern.
Lovenormoney – Ex Irish pointer who has taken to hurdles well, winning three from 8. All of those wins have come on heavy ground though and it is very unlikely to get that soft here. However, last time out winners have won 8 renewals this century including three of the last four.
Prime Venture – Quite exposed having had ten runs over hurdles, winning two of them. Turned over the last twice when upped in class and doesn’t strike me as a winner.
Tommy Rapper – Another last time out winner who is proving quite progressive taking its last three races with an improving RPR each time. Has Festival experience as well having raced in the Albert Bartlett last year. Its narrow handicap win last time has meant the handicapper hasn’t been too harsh on it whilst saw the trip out well to qualify for this. Proven on soft and a hold up horse it could be one who is ridden patiently and brought into it late.
The Organist – JP McManus horse so immediately my eyes light up, especially considering the owner has won this in the past. Has plenty of experience as well having raced 10 times over hurdles as well as three in chases as well. Interesting that 8 winners this century had been tried over fences and though the strike rate isn’t good as 175 have tried, they have still been profitable to follow e/w. Was a fair 7th in the mares hurdle last year despite being 100/1 it then ran well when unlucky in a listed handicap here in April. After a much needed run this season it won a 3 miler at Newbury on soft ground staying on in good fashion before qualifying for this at Warwick when just blowing up in the straight, the same race though that Holywell used to qualify and won straight after. Is sure to be much straighter here and though they may have more fancied runners, none of the McManus horses fit the trends as well as this. Races Wednesday instead.
The horse I like most is Tommy Rapper, one I have had my eye on for a while now. Will enjoy the gruelling test likely to be set and at least comes into the race in form and unexposed.
0.75pt e/w Tommy Rapper @ 16/1 Betfred and Boylesport
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Sable Plate
Another race that initially I found very difficult to break down by trends, maybe that is down to the unpredictable nature of the race. There has been only one winner this century from the firs four in the betting, and that was a favourite in Salut Flo. 9 of the last 10 winners has been price at 12/1 or bigger. In the end I applied several prominent trends that has born out more often that not.
Only 1 winner this century had run in more than 16 chases
Last 9 winners were gaining their first graded success
Last 11 winners had won a class 3 or above
Last 11 won between 2m 3f and 2m 5f
71 previous winners of a chase at Cheltenham had lost
11/12 had at least 5 runs over hurdles
11/12 had won at least 1 hurdle
14 of 17 had their highest RPR in a chase between 2m 3f and 2m 5f
10/12 winners had run 3 or more times that seasonal10/12 had won 2 or more chases
Last 9 winners carried 10st 13lb or less
Applying that exhaustive list left me with two runners in fact, less than what I initially thought it was going to be. They were as follows:
Romain De Senam – Paul Nicholls runner which is immediately a negative as he has just two placed from 14 runners in this over the last 10 years. Started the season well with a couple of little handicap wins before taking in the two big handicaps run at Cheltenham over November and December. Finished 5th both times which is creditable without suggesting he will be winning one soon. Handicapper has relented a little by easing 3lb but not sure it is enough to be winning in this grade.
Art Of Payroll – Interesting one for Harry Fry. Caught my eye as pulled up last time when 5/4 favourite. Two of the last five winners pulled up last time out and another had pulled up on the time before that. Type the trainer can improve with though been kept fresh having been off the course for almost half the year. Bit of a concern it is a summer jumps horse and was hoping for better ground.
Not unusual for this race to go to a big price runner so a small bet on Art Of Payroll may pay off. Had some solid form in Ireland though new trainer has already got improvement out of it. Could be more to give and though the absence is a concern, Ballynagour did win this after over 100 days off the track.
0.5pt e/w Art Of Payroll @ 40/1 Betfair Sportsbook
Kim Muir Handicap Chase
Not too bad for the trends, several small but strong facts from previous winners have reduced the field for me to a good number.
Horses to have fell or unseated in the season are 0/69
French bred are 0/52 in last 12 years
Horses aged 10 or older are 1 from 62
Ran over 3m last time out are 9 /11
Won over 3m+ 9/11
No more than 11 runs over fences 9 from 11
Last 9 winners all rated 134 or above
This left me with just the three following horses:
Final Nudge – Interesting second season chaser who was placed in grade 2 company over hurdles here in a 3m race, beaten only 1 ½ lengths behind Unowhatimeanharry. Not won this season in three races though was a close second on seasonal debut to Present Man in the Badger Ales, the pair 8 lengths clear. The winner had already won a prep run prior to the race and clearly had an edge on fitness. Final Nudge was then third in the Welsh National, before 5th at Sandown over 3m. Should appreciate a strongly run race at this trip and 8 of the last 15 winners had been rated equal or higher at the start of the season with this now 2lb lower than it started at. Just a bit of a concern as to whether it can win off this mark.
Missed Approach – A horse I have backed several times over staying trips with no success. 6th in the Hennessey this year, third in a grade 3 at Warwick before 2nd in the Edinburgh National over 4m 1f. Was rated 145 at the start but now down to 138, it is not short of stamina having also finished 2nd in the NH Chase last year. Horses that had placed at the Festival before are 5/39 since the race moved to the new course (9 renewals) and are profitable to follow. A bit one paced perhaps but often the type underrated here and does fit the trends well.
Sugar Baron – Useful hurdler who won a handicap off a mark of 129 over 3m. Was 6th in this race last year when not getting the best of runs though looks to have been deliberately campaigned with the intention of going for this again, off a 2lb higher mark. Ground has to be a big concern as not raced on soft for over 2 years with its last 9 races run on good to soft or faster. Has worn headgear the last four runs which is interesting as 6 of the last 7 winners wore headgear. We won’t know till nearer the time though whether it is retained.
Not sure whether Final Nudge is good enough to win a race like this off a mark of 143, which would make it the highest rated winner of this race. With ground concerns over Sugar Baron at this stage then the only horse I want to be backing is Missed Approach. This race has a history of suiting strong stayers and as a prominent racer it can also stay out of trouble. No problem with soft and has even won on heavy, if it jumps well then it has a good chance.
0.75pt e/w Missed Approach @ 16/1 Skybet
Randox Health County Hurdle
Quite a nice race to apply trends though they went out the water a bit last year when Arctic Fire became the highest rated horse to win a handicap at the Festival. Even then, it still fit many that I have gone by again.
1st or 2nd in either last two starts are 7/8
6 or younger have won 8 from 10 (Those aged 7 or older over last 10 years are 2 from 117)
7 of the last 8 winners had been off the track for 33 days or more
12 of 13 winners had been seen on the track that season by the end of October
This left me with just three horses, with one of them from Irish yards which is promising seeing as they have won 8 of the last 11 renewals. The horses are:
Dear Sire – Donald McCain runner who won last time out. Plenty of experience, he was on the go all through the summer winning six times in total. Has already won this year, there is no questioning his resolve though handicap mark has risen on the basis of picking up small races. Ground may be an issue as kept mostly to better ground, but then its record on soft reads 211. Maybe place chances though would be disappointing if there was nothing better handicapped in the race.
Smaoineamh Alainn – Is three from three over hurdles including over course and distance last time, winning a class 3 handicap having been well supported on course from 10/1 into 7/1. The runner up won its next hurdle start off a 2lb higher mark whilst the 5th won next time out of the same mark. The 6th actually won off a 2lb higher mark before then winning a chase before placing again in a handicap hurdle. So, the form of its last win looks very strong indeed. 8Lb rise in the weights for it but that may not be enough, proven at the course and novices have a decent record in the race. Just three hurdles run though so may be lacking in experience for a race like this, though two have won its in the last ten years on the back of four hurdle starts.
Mischievious Max – Another novice hurdler though bags of experience having been kept on the go through summer and now has 8 races to its name over hurdles. Had yet to run a bad race either up until last time when weakened quickly. Has actually won a maiden over 2m 6f and was 2nd at Cheltenham in a 2m 5f handicap in November. Will handle conditions but doubt it will have the necessary speed for a contest like this.
Smaoineamh Alainn looks a stonking bet for this. Fits all the trends, unbeaten over hurdles and its recent form has been well highlighted. Add in a course and distance victory and it all looks good. Can’t be perfect though and just the three runs to its name means it might lack experience though having won 10, 15 and 10 runner contests then big fields are not an issue.
1pt e/w Smaoineamh Alainn @ 25/1 Skybet and Betfred
Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
Usually one of the biggest declared fields of the week and at the initial stage there was 141 entries. Thankfully I have now got that down and with all unlikely to run then they are worth going over early and perhaps taking a bigger price on something in the hope they run and shorten up.
So, the trends used are:
Rated 135-143 account for the last 6 winners
Rated 6lb off top RPR which I have taken to be 155 even though two horses are rated higher.
Top 3 finish in one of last two starts 8/9
Won that season 7/9
Racing within 52 days 9/9
Every winner of the race has been aged 5 or 6
8 out of 9 had no more than 8 hurdles start prior
3 runs or more in the season 8/9
The horses remaining are:
Protek Des Flos
Early Doors – Highest rated of these on a mark of 142. Grade 2 winner who was second to Mengli Khan in a grade 1. Flopped last time behind Samcro but ground is no issue and though yet to race beyond 2m having shown decent form in bumpers then the trip may be within its means. 5 winners had only raced 5 times or less so experience isn’t everything for this whilst all 4 Irish winners were making their handicap debut as this would be. Also 7 winners of this had previously contested a graded hurdle.
Dortmund Park – Similar to above, raced four times in Ireland, running in a graded race last time and is making its handicap debut. Trained in Ireland for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown he often targets one of their runners, if not several of them, at this race including winning it last year with Champagne Classic. Has twice won on heavy ground so will have no problem in the likely conditions.
Spiritofthegames – Run two really good races lately to finish 2nd in the Lanzarote before third in the Betfair. Has given it great experience of racing in big field handicaps. Should appreciate the return to further, soft is no issue and importantly is likely to keep its partnership with Bridget Andrews who has ridden it the last twice.
Delire D’Estruval – French recruit who has been chasing already over there. Has won a couple of novice races though seems to have benefited from dominating small field races and putting its experience to good use. Not for me.
Flawless Escape – The current favourite and interesting to see it fits the trends this far, especially when 7 of the 9 winners have gone off at 16/1 or shorter. Slightly different route to previous Irish winners as it has yet to race in graded company and it finished third in a handicap last time. Admittedly that was behind a very well handicapped horse in Total Recall. That was over 3m which is significant as those horses coming here having raced over further than 2m 6f are 5/51 and produce a healthy profit if backing them blind e/w. Looked as though a drop in trip would suit whilst the 4th has run well since finishing 3rd in another big field handicap. Have to say though I’m not sure the price justifies its chances from what we have seen.
Protek Des Flos – Another to have raced over further, this has gone longer though having run over 3m 1f last time at Huntingdon. Has won a graded race at Cheltenham in the past and did win well on heavy ground at Wincanton on Boxing day, travelling well throughout. Looks to have a solid chance for JP McManus.
Melrose Boy – Was set to run at the weekend only to get pulled under a vets certificate. Has won at the course, appreciates soft ground and just seemed to get outstayed at Sandown over just short of 3m. If its fit and well its another with a chance.
Captain Cattistock – Significant as a Nicholls runner as he has won it twice in the last few years, with all his runners being profitable to follow here. Only the four runs but won a handicap on third attempt under Bryony Frost who may well ride here. Disappointed last time though and looks more one for chasing in time.
Kildisart – Won one of its four runs to date, that being on good to soft. Beaten all three times on easier ground whilst also beaten the last twice in handicaps which is a concern. All four runs on right handed tracks also.
As you can imagine in a race like this there has been plenty of horses that look to be plotted up for this. Flawless Escape is still open to improvement, but taking on horses that have been running in graded races or very competitive handicaps and I don’t see it as value. The problem is betting anything e/w at this stage is that you only get 4 places whereas come the day before the race most firms will be betting to 5 places with some probably even more. So, you have to be confident whatever you select will shorten in price. Because of this it is the unexposed three of Early Doors, Dortmund Park and Protek Des Flos I want to concentrate on at this stage.
Protek Des Flos is also entered for the Pertemps and that may well be the route they will take judging by the odds on the exchanges, however, backing with NRNB there is nothing to lose at what could be a massive price if they decide instead for this. Early Doors only has this entry and has seen nibbles with a couple of the firms for it. Dortmund Park has an Albert Bartlett entry which shows how highly it is still regarded. If this was to be confirmed, as an Elliott/Gigginstown pairing it could well shorten up also.
0.5pt e/w Protek Des Flos @ 33/1 Betfair Sportsbook
1pt e/w Early Doors @ 14/1 widely available
0.75pt e/w Dortmund Park @ 12/1 widely available
Grand Annual Chase
The final event of the Festival is a 2m handicap chase which is usually run at a frenetic pace. Some luck is often required as you can imagine though its not the lottery some think it may be with 8 of the last 10 winners priced at 16/1 or shorter. This has been one of the easiest races to apply a few trends and narrow down to a good number.
None of the last ten had raced within the last 26 days
Last 9 winners were aged nine or younger
Horses that had already won a chase that season are 0/106 from last 13 races
Only 1 winner this century had won a chase over 2m 4f+
Only 1 winner this century had run in 13 or more chases
This left me with the following horses
Garde Le Victoire
Don’t Touch It
Garde Le Victoire – Been to the Festival three times in the past with form figures of 14th, Fell and 8th, with its sire in general having a record of just two placed from 27 runners at the Festival. Did win a handicap off this mark last year at Sandown but was well beat when last seen behind Politilogue.
Le Prezien – Tough one for me as I have been backing it all season in similar races and it hasn’t got its head in front. Turned over three times the question is whether it can go one better in a race where most of the field have been targeted at it. Has a habit of making mistakes but with a clear round it should go well again.
Don’t Touch It – Favourite in many places it won a handicap in Ireland last year off 144. Lightly campaigned this season connections clearly feel it is capable off this mark. Prone to mistakes though and not sure it would want the ground too soft.
Bouvreuil – The third JP McManus owned horse from my shortlist. Has a great record at the Festival of 2,2,3, in fields of 22, 20 and 24 respective. Not sure about the soft ground though its record is fair on it. Certainly wouldn’t want it to come up heavy. Also holds an entry in the 2m 5f though with the soft ground I think they are leaning towards this. Fast run 2m on soft ground may be what it needs.
Don’t Touch It has been the money horse and the money has been good before. However, not sure it is one I want to be backing now. Bouvreuil is a must bet though with such a good record at the Festival where it is targeted each season. Won’t therefore lack for fitness and is 3lb lower than when 3rd in the Plate last year.
0.75pt e/w Bouvreuil @ 16/1 widely available