Overview Love watching the Championship races but the financial fun of all four days is the dastardly handicaps. Find a couple of winners and you are ahead for the week.
Where do you start with these massive fields? I think to win a Cheltenham handicap you need 10lbs in hand so I am keen on younger, progressive animals. I like a horse that has been to the Festival before and those with Cheltenham form. I don’t like horses off the course for a long while although this year may be different as with such a wet winter and a good ground Festival some selections may have been off since late November-ish. I like my horses to be in good recent form and from a stable in form. Price doesn’t bother me.
Cheltenham Tuesday Handicaps 2016
Tues. 2.40 Ultima 3m1f Handicap Chase
“Will be aged either 9 or 10 and have run before at the Festival or will be 7 or 8 yrs and improving i.e. with a rising handicap rating. Beware more than 4 chase starts this season. Will have been 1st or 2nd sometime this season. 4 of the last 15 were not from the first 4 in the market but only one favourite has won. Wichita Lineman 2009 first winning fav since Antonin 1994. Only 2 in the last 30 yrs.
25 beaten favourites last time ran since start of century. One 5/1 winner, Bensalem.” Gault Stats
OUT SAM 7yo OR139 Ex Nicky Henderson, just 12/1 when falling in last years Alf.Bartlett. Three goes at chasing, 2nd to Le Mercurey at Ascot, winning at Catterick and last time out hacking up in a three horse affair at Newbury. Improving type but it’s a big ask for Warren Greatrex’s novice on his first go in a handicap.
KRUZHLININ 9yo OR148 Quickened away at the second last when seeing off Le Reve at Kempton in a 3m c2 handicap and is now on a career high mark. On only visit to Cheltenham he pulled up when an outsider in the Monday novices handicap three years ago. One of those that the Rooney’s moved from Donald McCain with Philip Hobbs taking over. The Aintree Grand National is the target.
HOLYWELL 9yo OR153 Out of form but massive class dropper. Won this race two years ago off 145 and returns off 8lbs higher. If he turns up in the form that saw him fourth in last year’s Gold Cup he could be thrown in. Clearly blossoms in the Spring but to my eyes he has looked to have fallen out of love with the game with his fragile jumping falling apart when under any pressure. Mind you he is only a 9yo and he is trained by Jonjo O’Neill!!
THE YOUNG MASTER 7yo OR149 One of last season’s rising stars and partly acquired by the Waley-Cohens last November. Unseated Sam at the first when well fancied in the Hennessey. A solid staying on fourth to Wakanda at Ascot and then given a run in the Cleeve Hurdle which statistically is a positive and supposedly looked after his competitive mark. Earmarked for the Scottish National.
Trainer Neil Mulhollands views are “He had a good run at Ascot [in the Sodexo Silver Cup] and was dropped a pound by the handicapper. Things didn’t go according to plan that day, he got a bit behind at one stage and stayed galloping but didn’t get a clear run up the home straight. We gave him a flash around Cheltenham [in the Cleeve Hurdle], as we did with The Druids Nephew last year, to let him enjoy himself. You would like to think he’s off a competitive mark and if he gets a clear round of jumping he should be there or thereabouts.”
THEATRE GUIDE 9yo OR150 3lbs higher than when eleventh in this race last year. Very consistent this season with a third at Wetherby, second in the Hennessey, third in the G” Cotswold and most recently hacking up in the Betbright Chase at Kempton for which he was raised 11lb. The Tizzard yard are having an excellent season with their all new airy barns!
DOCTOR HARPER 8yo OR141 Another of the novices coming into top handicap chases for the first time. First time out this season he was backed off the boards in the 2m6f Pertemps hurdle qualifier at Sandown and he was a miserable ninth of ten! Sent chasing he has form of 221and was a comfortable winner of a C3 event at Leicester having been second to Garde La Victoire and L’Ami Serge in his two other novice chases all over the minimum trip. Being a son of Presenting suggests better ground will help and as well as winning his two bumpers he won four times over hurdles the last of which was the G3 3m handicap at the Grand National meeting off OR138. David Pipe has had a fairly miserable season but Cheltenham is a family forte. Also holds entries in the Kim Muir and the Brown Advisory Plate.
BEG TO DIFFER 6yo OR143 A very interesting son of Flemensfirth not least because he is owned by Mrs John Magnier, D Smith & M Tabor!! Ran up a sequence of three over hurdles last winter and this season was third to both Aubusson and Southfield Royale in 3m novice chases, then second to Perfect Candidate at Cheltenham on handicap debut and last time out he comfortably won a C3 3m handicap at Sandown in a first time visor. Beg to Differ has stamina in spades but has never run with the word “Good” in the going.
UN TEMPS POUR TOUT 7yo OR148 Just hasn’t lived up to his enormous £450K price tag well not in this country at least, he won a G1 hurdle last year at Auteuil! I saw him in the flesh at Cheltenham in November when he was second to Vicente at the Paddy Power meeting and felt he lacked size and scope. His winning form has been on a French Good to Soft and thrice on heavy. Welsh Grand National possibly, Cheltenham in March, no. Just can’t see him as a Pipe plot.
SAUSALITO SUNRISE 8yo OR163 Arkle is about the last horse I remember running in a chase off this sort of mark! However it seems that it is a choice of supplementing him for the Gold Cup or giving weight here as the owners want to run at the Festival. The horse is in bristling form and adores the course (36221) and if they do go Gold Cup route this one will go up the hill!
MORNING ASSEMBLY 9yo OR150 In 2014 Morning Assembly was 3rd in the RSA at Cheltenham and has always stuck in my mind as in a Willie Mullins interview he was asked what horse that he didn’t currently train would he like in his yard? The answer “Morning Assembly”. Irish Field correspondent Donn McClean makes a strong case “Morning Assembly is nine years old now, but he proved in his two runs this season that he retains lots of ability, and he will be an interesting contender in the Ultima Handicap Chase. Pat Fahy’s horse was one of the top staying novice chasers two seasons ago among a highly talented crop of staying novice chasers. A Grade 1 winner as a novice hurdler, he beat Don Cossack in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase in 2013, and he was only beaten a length and a half by subsequent dual Irish Gold Cup winner Carlingford Lough in the Grade 1 Topaz Chase, before going to Cheltenham and finishing third behind O’Faolains Boy and Gold Cup contender Smad Place in the RSA Chase. After missing all of last season, the Shantou gelding returned over two miles and five furlongs at Fairyhouse in January and ran a cracker to run Bridgets Pet to a head. He was no match for Smashing at Gowran Park last time, but that was over two and a half miles, Smashing’s optimum and a trip that is too short for Morning Assembly, and he ran well to finish second, four lengths ahead of Ballycasey. The fact that his second run back was a step up on his first is a positive, and he should be able to improve from that again. He should appreciate the step back up in trip, a handicap rating of 149 gives him a chance, and Pat Fahy has had his horses in tremendous form all season.”
DOUBLE ROSS OR150 Cee Bee from Betswot fancies – Darna is 40/1 in a few places for the Ultima Handicap Chase. Firstly the favourite here, Out Sam, as short as 6/1 in places is unlikely to get into the race. He’s 72nd on the list. If he doesn’t make the cut the rest at the front end will be cut a few points. Similar to Croco Bay the key with Double Ross is Festival form (although he has loads of good course form also). Double Ross was placed in the 2013 Martin Pipe Handicap and then placed in the 2014 JLT G1 chase. In 9 starts at Cheltenham Double Ross has won 3, placed 4 times and been unplaced just twice (both times as a rank outsider in G1 events). That’s tremendous course form. His last effort here was a decent 4th in the Paddy Power Chase off 153. That form has worked out well with the likes of Buywise and Annacotty running well through the winter. Double Ross is off just 150 now. The extra half a mile will probably suit as well.
Tues. 5.15 CHAPS 2m5f Novices Handicap Chase (0-140)
“Oppose those older than 7. At least 3 runs over fences. Last run was in a h’cap chase within the last 60 days Not worse than 3rd last time unless Henderson trained. Did not win first chase attempted. May have already won two chases and has not previously fallen when running over fences. Not running under a penalty. Rated between 124 and 142 over hurdles.” Gault Stats
ALOOMOMO 6yo OR140 Rapidly improving young chaser who rattled off a sequence of three wins rising from OR108 to current mark. Last time ran with promise in a C2 hurdle behind Yala Enki supposedly to protect his mark with this race in mind. Trainer Warren Greatrex reports “the 2m 4f novices’ chase looks the best race for him as it’s quite a stiff jumping test and his biggest asset is his fencing. His jumping will keep him in the race no matter how fast they go and if Gavin [Sheehan] can get him into a nice rhythm I’m sure we’ll be able to finish strongly up the hill given we now he stays much further. I’m really keen on him.”
KILLER CROW 7yo OR134 Gigginstown owned and moved from Willie Mullins to Gordon Elliott at the start of the season. Already had seven runs this season but starting to find some form. Second on his last two runs in strong races he has form on decent ground and this is probably his best trip. His trainer gave an upbeat report “He’ll go for the novice handicap on the first day. He was second in a Leopardstown chase last time behind Empire Of Dirt and I think he’s a mark of 136 in England, with the ceiling for the race 140. It will be a tight, compressed handicap. He should have a good each-way chance when you look at the horses that have been finishing around him. He travels, this looks his ideal trip and I think the race is made for him.”
WILLOWS SAVIOUR 9yo OR138 Last seen winning a match race at Fakenham on first attempt at the trip, previously run off his feet behind Ar Mad over Sandown’s minimum trip having won on chasing debut at Warwick. Was classy enough to have won a Ladbroke hurdle and this race has always been on the agenda.
THOMAS CRAPPER 9yo OR135 Second in this race last year you would have to be concerned he is back in a novice handicap twelve months later! Excellent Cheltenham form, indeed he was second to Don Poli in the Martin Pipe two years ago but Robin Dickin’s under-achiever hasn’t won since November 2013.
BOUVREUIL 5yo OR139 Looked good when lowering the colours of Vyta du Roc at Doncaster but outclassed when lowered in trip over the same course in the G2 Lightning novices chase. Second in the Fred Winter last March suggests neither the course or the ground should be an issue. Opinions seemingly shared by his trainer Paul Nicholls “His most likely target is the Novices’ Handicap Chase on the Tuesday. He ran well to beat Vyta Du Roc at Doncaster and then didn’t run up to his best in a Grade 2 over two miles at that track. He was second in the Fred Winter last year and the longer trip at Cheltenham will suit him better.”
DOUBLE SHUFFLE 6yo OR138 Tom George’s progressive son of Milan has had three runs over fences. The first two were at Cheltenham when 2nd to Art Mauresque and fourth to the classy More of That and then won a C3 novices handicap at Ludlow. Still prone to the occasional jumping error he is improving and although not seen since the 16th December his second run at Cheltenham bears the closest scrutiny.
FULL SHIFT 7yo OR135 Has run in the Martin Pipe for the last two seasons. 11th to Don Poli when 9/2F and 8th to Killultagh Vic at 10/1 without a run in between! Having beaten Bekkinsfirth at Kempton on his second chasing run he looked to be plotted up for this race. However you will have to forgive his run last time out when he was Pulled Up at Musselburgh and “The Stewards noted the trainer’s explanation that the gelding was unsuited by the soft ground on this occasion.” Fits many of the trends, it’s just the ground?
JAVERT 7yo OR139 Not seen since the 12th December when recording his second win from three starts over fences in a C3 handicap at Doncaster having previously won on debut at Chepstow and unseating at Newbury in-between. I expect his owners, Axom, saw this opportunity and have deliberately kept him off the course.
MCKINLEY 6yo OR139 Owned by Gigginstown and trained by Willie Mullins McKinley is an odd beast! Bred to be a miler he has a G1 hurdle win on his CV, indeed he has frequently ran at G1 level, last time out he was an 81L 6th to Outlander in the G1 Flogas at Leopardstown. Very hard to gauge but if Cooper rides Killer Crow he could have the services of Davy Russell or indeed Ruby Walsh?
BALLYALTON 9yo OR140 A large dot on my radar until he took a horrible fall at Ascot last time in the Reynoldstown Chase. He was second to Faugheen in the Neptune two years ago, has won round Cheltenham and after a while off with injury was progressing as a novice chaser. But oh that fall….
DOMESDAY BOOK 6yo OR135 Now here is a curious horse! Bred by The Queen out of Street Cry he is owned by MRS Brookhouse (as in wife of Roger Brookhouse/Poor House) and has always been in Ireland trained by Henry de Bromhead. If Mrs is anything like Mr this will turn up and it has a bit of form. A winning hurdler he was third on Chasing debut to Walk to Freedom when Edwulf came down at the last, won comfortably at Limerick and was then an outclassed third of three to Douvan in the Irish Arkle. Even his trainer has some doubts “The plan is to run him in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase on the Tuesday. I think he just got lost in the Irish Arkle, they just went too quick for him and he was always out of his comfort zone. Better ground is an unknown for him, but he should be OK on it I think.”
MINELLA PRESENT 7yo OR134 Rated a pound higher over hurdles this son of Presenting has been very consistent in his chase career with form of 23122. Although this race represents a step up in trip and in class his unlucky running on second over 2m at Cheltenham justifies his place in the field. Despite being off the course since the 13th November his trainer Neil Mulholland is bullish, “We’ve been happy with him and wanted to give him a break as he’s another one by Presenting that wants the better ground. He’s done well and his last run was very good when he finished second at Cheltenham over two miles. From that day onwards we said we’d put him away for the Grand Annual. He had a racecourse gallop around Chepstow on Saturday and that went according to plan.”
PAIROFBROWNEYES 7yo OR133 Wherever Killer Crow is this fellow can’t be far away based on their last run, indeed Pairofbrowneyes may be the more progressive of the two! One run in an Irish PtP, then three failures in novice chases, then a moderate hurdling career, things have really taken off this season sent back over fences in three handicaps. He was a well fancied third first time and won his last two, beating Killer Crow by 4.5L getting 5lbs. Little known connections, it would be interesting if he makes the trip!
KILLALA QUAY 9yo OR139 Back to winning ways at Kempton recently in a G2 novice chase that rather fell in his lap with market leaders, The Saint James and Mon Successeur, falling. Pulled up in this race last year and 4th to Faugheen in the Neptune in 2014.
REZORBI 5yo OR138 Twice a winner in France and just the one run in Britain. However that one run was at Cheltenham when travelling well before falling three out and he went into many notebooks! He is currently on a “French” mark so could be thrown in BUT has to overcome that killer stat of one winner from 103 runners who fell last time out! But it is Jonjo O’Neill and it is Cheltenham…. Shall we say unexposed!
GOLDEN DOYEN 5yo OR136 No mention from Mr Hobbs in his Racing Post Weekender tour last week but I’ve had this one on the radar for this race for a while. Opened his chasing career with two seconds in C3 novice chases behind Fox Norton and Ar Mad and most recently fourth to tea for Two at Exeter in a C2 on ground he hated. He won the Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham as a juvenile hurdler and was just 12/1 when he fell in last years Fred Winter off 5lbs higher. Will like the trip, the ground and the course but no word that he’s running! Philip Hobbs to ATR “He has been in good form and he is likely to run in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase on the Tuesday but we might wait for a lesser chase somewhere else.”
ORBASA 5yo OR132 Unlikely to get a run at Cheltenham but would set a few alarm bells ringing if he did. Owned by Portensis, trained by Paul Nicholls Orbasa has never run in Britain so that is a “French” handicap mark! Also entered in the Brown Advisory Plate, the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe! On French form ($Timeform squiggle) he doesn’t look anything special. His trainer commented “He won over fences in France for Guillaume Macaire and hasn’t been with us very long. He has a mark of 132 in the Novices’ Handicap Chase and from what I’ve seen from him at home he’s not exactly thrown in off that mark.”
KATGARY 6yu OR137 An almost horse who just hasn’t gone on from his first run in this country when a hampered second in the Fred Winter to Hawk High. Won comfortably on chasing debut at Fakenham and most recently was third to Volnay de Thaix. His trainer Paul Nicholls says “He will probably run in the Novices’ Handicap Chase and is capable of running well there off a mark of 137. He won well at Fakenham in October and wasn’t disgraced behind Volnay De Thaix at Doncaster last time.”
Cheltenham WednesdayHandicaps 2016
Weds. 3.20 Coral Cup 2m5f Handicap Hurdle
“5 yr olds and last time out winners punch above their numbers. Will be aged 5 to 7 unless 16s or under. No 8 yr olds or above placed unless achieved previous Festival place. Nothing placed above an 10 yr old unless previous Festival winner. Winner rated at least 139. If not a compressed handicap will carry less than 11st 3lb or is Irish trained. Will have won somewhere a race between 2m 1f and 2m 6f. If not successful over a minimum of 2m 4f will be aged 7 or under and have been placed in graded company on won a £20k hurdle in France. Will have won at Class 3 or higher. Has not won more than one handicap. Check Betfair Hurdle form. Hasn’t been seen for a month and hasn’t ran more than 4 times this season. If Irish placed, hasn’t been seen since January. Will not be more than seven pounds out of the handicap (including jockeys allowances). Either no more than 10 runs over hurdles or returned 16/1 and under. Clear favourite is overdue. Respect JP McManus owned and Irish trained. Shouldn’t be a course winner or beaten favourite last time unless trained by N Henderson. Has won sometime this season or was placed in last year’s festival. Second season hurdler. Not a novice. Only consider first time blinkered. Maximum number of runners dropped to 26 from 28”. GAULT STATS
154 entries! 85 horses OR137 and above. Have to narrow it down somehow so looked at leading trainers, leading owners and the front of the market.
J P McManus
GREAT FIELD 5yo OR147 ££ Has been hammered by the British handicapper for recently winning at Leopardstown on his first run outside his native France. He pulled his way to the front, continually over raced and still had enough to hold off Draco by four lengths. He is totally unexposed but OR147? He also has an entry in the County Hurdle.
BLAZER 5yo OR141 Easily won a Leopardstown handicap off an OR126 (had to be based on French form) and then turned out under a 5lb penalty when midfield in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Tightened up on the first bend and never competitive. Willie Mullins has indicated a preference for running in the Martin Pipe. SQUOUATEUR 5yo OR141 Another rapidly improving hurdler who stepping up in trip has impressively won his last two handicaps off Irish marks of OR120 and OR137. The British handicapper has taken no chances! Gordon Elliott observes “He’s done nothing wrong this year. He’s won at Leopardstown, Fairyhouse and obviously he’s an improving horse for JP McManus. He’s in the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe. I think the Martin Pipe would suit him with Jack Kennedy riding him, but obviously they have so many horses they’ll have to weigh everything up. They might want to keep him for Aintree, Fairyhouse or Punchestown, but I’d love to go to the Martin Pipe with him.”
DIAMOND KING 8yo OR149 An ex-Donald McCain inmate who ran 9th at Cheltenham off OR135 a year ago but seems to have been re-invigorated in Ireland. Second to Blue Hell in that winner producing handicap at Fairyhouse and then beating Jennies Jewel at Fairyhouse over 2m 4f sees him at the top of the market. Trainer Gordon elliott said “He won at Punchestown and the plan is to go for the Coral Cup definitely. It’s been the plan since he came here really. He’s in really good form so we’re really looking forward to running him” and his owner added “
We are hoping to have secured (jockey) Davy Russell for Diamond King and he is right up there with the favourites.”
ROCK THE KASBAH 6yo OR152 In form improver but now at the top of the handicap. Been there, done it and has a collection of T-shirts but as the owner points out “..I’d really fancy his chances if the ground came up soft. He is a chaser in the making and is very progressive.” Nor does his trainer see him as a lost cause, “I think the handicapper was pretty harsh in putting him up another 8lb as he only won by half a length and his new mark of 152 is as high as I would want. However he’s progressing and we know he doesn’t mind the hustle and bustle of big fields so he could be interesting in the Coral Cup.” PH to ATR “He will run in the Coral Cup that is very much what we are aiming for. He has been good since he won at Ascot the other day and that is what we will do with him.”
ARBRE DE VIE 6yo OR150 ££ Fourth in last seasons Alfred Bartlett and less than five lengths off the winner. In debrief he was top of my list of “Horses to back in Cheltenham 2016” but we have seen little of him since. He was an excellent second to Sort it Out in the G2 2m4f Setanta handicap hurdle at the Punchestown festival in May 2015 and a disappointing 2nd in a novice chase in January and after a clumsy round of jumping I’m guessing they have decided to preserve his novice status for another season and are back hurdling in big handicaps and perhaps better. Mullins was quite clear, “The Coral Cup would look the job for Arbre De Vie.” CHILDRENS LIST 6yo OR139 Nothing in the form book to suggest he will win a race of this nature. Never run in Graded company and beaten in two three mile handicaps most recently. Being a son of Presenting better ground should help but he looks like a staying chaser waiting to happen. CLONDAW WARRIOR 9yo OR134 Well known to punters this side of the Irish Sea but more so for his Flat exploits. He won the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting, 12th in The Ebor and second in the Doncaster Cup. Owned by Ruby Walsh’s wife and a few of their buddies he has been their ticket to many big meetings. May just squeeze into the County.
PETIT PARISIENNE 5yo OR142 This is much more typical of a Mullins Cheltenham handicapper except she is a mare. Fifth in last season’s Triumph hurdle at Cheltenham she beat Buiseness Sivola in the Champion 4yo at the Punchestown Festival. She struggled at Auteuil in June and has basically run like a drain in Listed company against her own sex this season but that hasn’t done her Official Rating any harm.
KILCREA VALE 6yo OR145 ££ Big reputation but just hasn’t got the hang of hurdling yet. Hacked up at Market Rasen last season in a C4 and would have done the same first time out this year but came down two out. Ran better behind Rock the Kasbah until fading from the last. For what he has achieved he has a dreadful mark but trainer Nicky Henderson has always held him in high regard. Trainer tells sportinglife.com “He’ll run in the County.”
DIFFERENT GRAVEY 6yo OR160 Class act, son of High Chapparel, that has won four out of five under rules. Pulled right away from a C2 field at Ascot last time out and was put up 11lbs to current mark. If he has 10lbs in hand he should be in the Champion Hurdle (The New One is OR161, Old Guard is 157) or wait for the Aintree Hurdle? Nicky Henderson told ATR “We may wait for Aintree but I haven’t ruled out the World Hurdle and I haven’t ruled out the Coral Cup yet because we haven’t seen what weight he’ll get. It will cost us £15,000 to supplement for the World Hurdle but we don’t have to decide anything until five days before. It was very exciting the way he came back at Ascot and we will see how he comes out of the race.”
BIVOUAC 5yo OR141 Had a progressive profile until pulled up last time in the Lanzarote when apparently the rain softened ground went against him. Looked to be cantering three out and when asked, nothing!
HUNTERS HOOF 7yo OR139 Just the sort that might sneak in. Comfortable winner of an Aintree C2 2m 4f handicap on Good ground, put up 9lbs when weakening three out on unsuitable softening ground at Haydock. Is ground dependent and Aintree is probably more likely.
CARDINAL WALTER 7yo OR140 Owned by Fitri Hay and 90 rated off the flat. Won two novice hurdles last season both at Doncaster and was 5th in the G2 novice at Aintree. Just the one run this season when Henderson sent a bus full up to Musselburgh and the Scottish trials primarily for the better ground but sadly the rain came. Cardinal Walter ran in the Listed 2m handicap hurdle was bang there at the last but failed to quicken. The handicapper put him up a pound and that may well have been a job well done!? Placed at York and Goodwood on the Flat, Festivals and big fields shouldn’t bother him. A longer trip and better ground are both positives. (55/1 on the exchanges!)
POLITOLOGUE 5yo OR142 ££ Easy to see why he is towards the top of the market. French form of 21 and debuted in hot company at Cheltenham when looking to come to win the race he jinked and dumped Master Twiston-Davies on the turf. He was then a respectable second to Barters Hill in the 3 runner G1 Challow at Newbury before hacking up in a heavy ground Listed event at Exeter. Trainer Paul Nicholls told ATR “He is a progressive horse and won a listed hurdle at Exeter having previously finished second to Barters Hill in the Challow Hurdle. I’ve kept him in the Neptune but it’s almost certain we will run him in the Coral Cup which we won last year with Aux Ptits Soins. We confident Aux Ptits Soins was much better than his mark but Politologue is more exposed and not as well handicapped. However, he a big fine horse who runs off 142 and whatever happens he’ll make a fine chaser next season.” Fairly pessimistic?
BAOULETE DELAROQUE 5yo OR140 Strong staying improver. Last two wins have been handicaps. Trainer Paul Nicholls told ATR “The Coral Cup would be his option at the Festival and he could find it tougher off a mark of 140. He’s a novice who has won his last three races and he could run in the Neptune but if he was to finish fifth or sixth there that would be a waste of a run and we will find out how good he is in the Coral Cup.”
MR MIX 5yo OR138 Has caught my eye on more than one occasion. Clearly an embryonic chaser it’s the way he travels strongly though a race makes me wonder if there could be more to come. He’s been third to Charbel and to Vieux Lille, stormed home from Mountain Eagle and was second in a C2 at Ascot behind Yala Enki. Might just be suited by a big field, a strong gallop and a hill to finish!
LONG HOUSE HALL 8yo OR144 Only a moderate animal in Ireland but once transferred to the Skeltons they have unlocked some real talent winning handicaps at Market Rasen and Cheltenham off 119 and 125 and then a novice chase at Bangor. Last seen in October at Cheltenham he unseated in a C2 novice chase. Trainer Dan Skelton says “Long House Hall goes for the Coral Cup” and there is money for it today (Fri. 4th Mar. 25/1-20/1 PP & WH).
BENTELIMAR 7yo OR144 Ex-Philip Fenton trained son of Beneficial was 9th in last season’s Supreme. Has been knocking on the door in some of Irelands best handicaps. Entered in this, the Martin Pipe and what would look the best fit, the County Hurdle.
Weds. 5.15 Fred Winter 2m1f 4yo Handicap Hurdle (0-145)
“Going 11 yrs. Usually impossible. Winner likely to have won first time over hurdles and may have been (well) beaten last time probably in a graded hurdle. Useful to have a past winning hurdle time for 2 miles in soft ground of under 4mins 14 secs or has a flat rating of over 80. Any price. Ratings 127 to 133. Ran in the previous 32 days. Either has run only a maximum of 3 times over hurdles in Uk/Ire or has run up a sequence of at least three wins this season. May have beat older horses last time out. Winner’s sire won a Group 1 on the flat. Respect Pipe trained coming from all age handicap hurdles. Fillies really outperform their numbers. Conditional jockeys do win this as do blinkered runners. Last run not in a handicap unless going for Sandown Imperial Cup Bonus. Paul Nicholls beginning to target this. If any trainer has already had two winners today, back all their runners. Willie Mullins, Venetia Williams, Philip Hobbs yet to shine here. In 2015 Maximum number of runners dropped to 22 from 24.” GAULT STATS
Really difficult to know where to start.
Paul Nicholls has a strong hand of 4yo’s so let’s start there!
DIEGO DU CHARMIL His trainer told ATR “I noticed he was favourite with one firm for the Fred Winter and I wouldn’t know if his mark of 132 is good or not. I would have like to have got a run into him but that hasn’t been possible and he will go straight there. He goes quite nicely but he’s a maiden who hasn’t won in three runs.” Hardly have you running to the counter! OR133
ROMAIN DE SENAM His trainer told sportinglife.com“I think his mark of 136 is workable and he ran okay at Sandown on ground that was too wet for him. He’d be another I like the look of the Fred Winter and it’s a race in which we’ve got a good record. ” He was all the rage for the Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham on PP Gold Cup day but didn’t go on the ground. OR136
Another yard with a strong hand of juveniles is Alan King:
GIBRALFARO I thought this was a 0-145 handicap, so how the hell he gets in on OR146 I have no idea. Won his first two nicely but blown away in the Adonis. Susceptible to these unexposed types. Owners want to run in the Triumph?
MESSIRE DES OBEAUX Nice mark on OR132 and a promising debut at Haydock when bustling up leading Triumph fancies Frodon and Fixe le Kap. Prior to that run Alan King said “Messire des Obeaux has only been with us a couple of months, but we are anxious to pitch him into a decent race to find out just what we have got. He showed promise in a couple of runs at Auteuil and looks a decent prospect for next season.”
ARDAMIR Won well last time has gone up 10lb to OR130 and this race would be considered on Good ground only.
OCEANE Mark Howard has been keen on him for this race since he didn’t handle the ground in the Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham on PP Gold Cup day but won well twice before. Disappointed in the Dovecote against the older horses but ground dependent and could wait for Aintree. OR132
Then strong in the market are:
CAMPEADOR Trainer Gordon Elliott told sportinglife.com “He ran too keen in Leopardstown and won very well in France. He’s been working very well at home and it will be interesting to see what mark he gets. We like him. He’s a nice horse. I haven’t got a clue whose been backing him. He’s a good horse, he’s in good form, he’s well. He’ll have to improve an awful lot from Leopardstown to be winning the Fred Winter, but hopefully he will. I’ll have to discuss it with the owner, but he’ll probably wear a hood.” Come on Gordon he’s owned by JP!! OR141
JALEO Seven length fourth to Ivanovich Gorbatov in a Flat Naas maide, beat Romain de Senam on debut at Catterick, stuffed by Clan des Obeaux and then beat Our Thomas back at Catterick. OR134
EL TERROMOTO Fourth in his only run over hurdles in a French Listed event at Auteuil! OR127 Acquired by Isaacs and Souede and in training with Nigel Twiston-Davies. His trai ner told sportinglife.com “He is an interesting one. If you look up the French form, you’ll know as much about him as I do. He’s been rated 127 in France and we think he’ll get into the Fred Winter this year although 127 wouldn’t have got into the race most years. He works beautifully and schools superbly; he’s an exciting sort of horse for us. We’ll just have to see but he’s a nice long price and he could be an interesting one; obviously he’ll have to improve but let’s hope it’s at Cheltenham.” Put in at 25/1, that has all gone and is currently 16/1 general including the exchanges.
OUR THOMAS Have to include him as his connections, Trevor Hemmings and Tim Easterby, won this race previously with Hawk High. Bound to be popular with the “trends” boys as he ticks nearly every box! Brian Hughes, his jockey, told sportinglife.com columnist Tom O’Ryan, “..for all that he’s still a raw horse, ran well at Doncaster recently and is a good traveller, which will stand him in good stead at Cheltenham.”
Cheltenham Thursday Handicaps 2016
Thurs. 2.10 Pertemps 3m Handicap Hurdle (Max24 – OR135+)
Unlikely to have won a Pertemps Qualifier unless called Cup Final and Unowhatimeanharry. Won’t be 5 or more than 9 years old. Should carry more than 10st 5lbs after jockey’s allowances. If full range handicap won’t carry over 11st 2lbs. Front runners not discounted. Has won at least at Class 3 level or placed in Graded this season. Should have won over a minimum of 3 miles or been placed in Graded class this season. If a compressed handicap to be rated between 138 and 148. Irish runner to be placed. Look for those unplaced in the Leopardstown Qualifier. Between 6 and 15 hurdle runs or placed in this before. Not a previous course winner unless previously placed in this or previous G1 Hurdle winner. Any price. Novices respected and those who won last time. Not blinkered placed in this before. Conditional jockeys do win this. JP likes to win this. GAULT STATS
I am going to start with the three I currently fancy!
IF IN DOUBT OR146h Talented but quirky this chap! Here’s what I wrote when he went into #startracking, “What is JP up to? We all know that If In Doubt has a fabulous engine but a total disregard for fences but that didn’t stop him winning the SkyBet Chase off OR139 and finshing 5th in the RSA to Don Poli! Pulled up in the Irish National and the Henessey what’s he doing hacking up in a Pertemps Hurdle qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day over 2m6f off OR140 when he looked stuffed three out and is currently quoted at just 12/1 for the final! In 2014 he was a painful 9th at 13/2 in the Pertemps Final behind stablemate Fingal Bay when carrying the Moore millions! In many ways If In Doubt reminds me of another Hobbs favourite, What’s Up Boys. Not the best jumper but at his best 2nd in the National and 5th in the Gold Cup but he did win a Coral Cup. Now there’s a thought! Second in the Lanzarote 2m 5f to Saphir du Rheu, won over a sharp three miles at Doncaster maybe a crazy 2m 5f over hurdles could be the answer? Spring Festivals RED HOT HOBBS”. Well it looks like this race IS the target and the trainer has been more bullish than usual and If In Doubt has been supported in the market. Hobbs told ATR “He won the Pertemps Qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day and would be on course for the Pertemps Network Final. He is in good form and that would be the race we would run him in.” adding to the RP Weekender “..he ran on very well to win a Pertemps qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day. He went up 6lb for that, which is fair enough,…”
With Geraghty most likely to ride Cup Final and johnson on Sadlers Encore the jockey booking could be interesting? Currently still 12/1 with WH and Ladbrokes but 10/1 general.
MALL DINI OR139 Came on my radar on two occasions. Firstly the excellent judge of Irish Pointers Richard Pugh wrote last June “The only dual winner of the bunch. He was impressive in taking a maiden at Belharbour on his debut in a decent time. Only three weeks later he made his second outing when contesting a Killaloe winners race and came home a distance clear of Ormolu Print. He is not long out of his four-year-old year so this is a very impressive CV to have even before March. He goes back to a Glacial Storm and then a Buckskin mare. Likely winter performer at a high level in time.” And secondly as I was aware of the Leopardstown qualifier unplaced angle I thought he was the eye-catcher from this year’s renewal. The exchanges suggest he will run here instead of the Martin Pipe and the big question from his hurdles form would be the trip? However he is a dual Irish PtP winner over 3m and he could well have the services of the excellent Davy Russell in the saddle.
OUR KAEMPFER OR140h Qualified for Pertemps final and his third to Thistlecrack in the G1 Doom Bar Sefton Novice Hurdle over 3m at the Aintree festival last April looks a really strong piece of form. 4th in the Tote Trophy at Chepstow a race that has thrown up a bucket load of winners, a well-supported second to Broxbourne back over three miles at Aintree and then brought down in the ill-fated Baradari’s Fixed Brush at Haydock, another strong race. Remains on the same mark and probably just needs a nod from Lady Luck. #startracking Spring Festivals
“Winner of three of his 12 starts. Runner-up, beaten five lengths, to Broxbourne in a handicap hurdle at Aintree (3m 1/2f) in November off current mark of 140 over hurdles. “He has been unlucky this season having finished fourth in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow and was then unlucky in a Pertemps Qualifer at Aintree where it turned into a sprint whereas he would have preferred a true run race. He was brought down when going well in a fixed-brush hurdle at Haydock in November and will go straight to Cheltenham for either the Coral Cup or the Pertemps Final. He has a nice looking handicap mark.” Charlie Longsdon. ATR Stable Tour
JP McManus is mob handed!
LEAVE AT DAWN OR137 I was on course when he was a cosy winner on PP Gold Cup day at Cheltenham off OR124. That race hasn’t worked out well and he is now 13lb higher! Fifth in the Leopardstown qualifier like Mall Dini he was “looked after”. CUP FINAL OR139 here’s what I wrote nearly two years ago when he was on my Master List for 49SimpleSimonSays… “Cup Final came on my radar 12 months ago as it seemed Henderson thought highly of him. Whilst revisiting him recently I found his full and half-brother. It’s not the amount they cost but WHO bought them. JP McManus paid 58K euro for this 3yo full brother of Chinatown Boy. Now 5yo he is yet to win in four starts, he was unplaced in the Supreme at Cheltenham having finished 2nd and 3rd to Irving in novice hurdles and 4th to The Skyfarmer in his bumper.”
Cup Final was off the course for fourteen months until this February when he won the Musselburgh qualifier cosily from Warriors Tale and the 7lbs he picked up there should comfortably put him in the Final. Trainer Nicky Henderson said “I was delighted with his reappearance win over three miles at Musselburgh and he will go for the Pertemps Final”.
BOX OFFICE OR135 He won’t get in the Coral Cup, will struggle to make it here and the markets suggest if he goes to Cheltenham it will be in the Martin Pipe. JOIN THE CLAN OR140 Eighth in the Final last year off a pound less, he qualified for the Pertemps at Aintree in November then had an error strewn go at novice chasing behind Bristol de Mai and then brought back hurdling he was a keeping on second to Saddlers Encore at Sandown over 2m 5f. He ticks an awful lot of those trends boxes and is 2lbs better off for ¾ of a length. Regular pilot Patrick Cowley could take off a useful 7lbs.
These are at the head of the market:
SADDLERS ENCORE OR135 His trainer Philip Hobbs usually sits on the fence but he told the RP Weekender “He was fifth on his return in a Pertemps Qualifier and came on nicely for that, winning his last start at Sandown. He is now 6lbs higher on OR135 and hopefully that will be enough to get in the Pertemps Final. I’m sure he would go well if he ran as I like him and I’m sure he has more to come.”
MISSED APPROACH OR143 Not seen since winning the Newbury Qualifier at the end of November. Waiting for better ground and protecting that mark as Warren Greatrex his trainer confirmed to Oddschecker “Missed Approach worked brilliantly with Cole Harden at Kempton on Saturday and it’s all systems go with him for the Pertemps Final on the Thursday. He’s been bumped up a total of 20lb for his Newbury win but the form of that race has worked out quite well and this fellow is one of my best chances of the week. He is improving all the time and I’ve got a feeling he might turn out to be an even better horse on goodish ground, although he’ll need to be to win the Pertemps. As I’ve said before, he’s not a horse who shows us a great deal at home so it’s hard for us to gauge exactly what we have, but I think he’s got all the attributes to win a race like the Pertemps, not least because he jumps so well, and it’s exciting to think about how far this fella might go. Remember, he’s only had three runs over hurdles so he’s still learning his trade but he’s already rated 143 and the sky could be the limit with him.” He will have to beat that Killer Stat, “Handicap hurdlers off more than 15 weeks (105 days) since 2003 – 0 from 104”!!
UNOWWHATIMEANHARRY OR152 Unbeaten in four this season, will he/won’t he run? “Harry Fry thinks the Coral Cup is an unlikely Cheltenham Festival target for Unowhatimeaharry, with the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the Pertemps Network Final remaining the preferred options.” Not many clues from the exchanges as he is about 16/1 in both contests. Still he has a lot of weight!
WARRIORS TALE OR140 Good fighting talk from trainer Paul Nicholls, “He had been chasing but we sent him over hurdles at Musselburgh last time and he was just beaten by Cup Final in a Pertemps Qualifier. He will improve for that run and if Cup Final has a decent chance in the Pertemps Network Final then Warriors Tale must have too.” Warriors Tale is 4lbs better off for one and a half lengths and twice the price 20/1 to 10’s!
ARPEGE D’ARLENE OR146 I could have fancied him if he had been a running on 5th in qualifying at Chepstow but he won the event and has a 6lb penalty. Another one to go back hurdling after an abortive novice chase campaign. Not mentioned in the Nicholls Cheltenham stable tours?
TAGLIATELLE OR154 “He was just beaten in the Coral Cup last year and he was just beaten at Musselburgh under top weight in the Pertemps qualifier. If he’d jumped the second last Richard Johnson said he would’ve won. Jack Kennedy will ride him and take a couple of pounds off him and I bet you he’ll run well.” The exchanges strongly suggest trainer Gordon Elliott is referring to this race, the Pertemps, but he will have to defy top weight. He won the Aintree equivalent last April carrying 11st 6lbs so it is within the realms of possibility.
Thurs. 4.10 Brown Advisory Plate 2m 5f Handicap Chase (Max24 – OR137+)
Not carrying over 10st 11lb unless previous placed Festival form. Rated between 128 and 147. Not older than 10. Older horses do get placed. If backing a 10 yr old or older prefer one with placed course form. Winner will have won at Class 3 level and at a distance between 2m3f and 2m5f. Will either have competed in a previous festival race or will have less than 12 chase runs. Has run between 3 and 16 times over fences. If out at all, will have run between 3 and 8 times this season or be Pipe trained. Could have finished anywhere last time out. May not have been seen on course since November. Did not gain a place in this season’s on course 2m 4f Graded Handicap Chases. Any price. Irish trained to gain place. French Bred to be placed. Watch for French Bred 6 yr olds. Not blinkered. Conditional jockeys do win this. Seriously consider D Pipe and maybe Venetia Williams. Not P Nicholls. May not have won this season. Wasn’t beaten favourite last time. Sorry, did I mention watch for Pipe trained especially when 12/1 or shorter? Winner likely to have been given a ‘sighter’ in a course chase no later than last year’s Festival and has no course win or placed form. GAULT STATS
Not easy to get a handle on this far out as plenty at the top of the market have multiple entries!
Let’s concentrate on four trainers to start off with, Jonjo O’Neill, Venetia Williams, David Pipe and Paul Nicholls.
JOHNS SPIRIT OR145 Has winning course form around this trip, has dropped 12lbs since the start of the season and is trained by the master of setting one up for the Festival JJ O’Neill. Needs Good in the going description and every time he has run this season the ground has gone against him. Stands out like a sore thumb and has been on my list since November BUT there are two issues. Firstly his form on the Old and the New courses at Cheltenham and his style of running i.e he’s a hold up horse and you need to be a prominent/front running type!
Captnevillecazalet on wordpress points out “On the face of it he’s supremely well handicapped but it’s a well-known fact that his best Cheltenham form – and his best is very good – is all on the Old Course, 7,1,1,1,2,9. On the New Course his figures read 6,5,4,5,9,6,4 and until he shows that there isn’t anything in the course preference angle, I’m happy to pass.” Secondly the course is narrow in places, for a 24 runner field and you need to be travelling and jumping towards the front and no more than three wide and I’m not sure that’s Johns Spirit?
TAQUIN DU SEUIL OR157 The class act in the field as a past winner of the JLT in his novice days and will carry top weight of 11st 12lb. Off for almost a year having finished down the field in the RyanAir at last year’s Festival he made a winning return at Warwick in a handicap beating Niceonefrankie.
NICEONEFRANKIE OR145 A C&D winner fourteen months ago off just 2lbs less Captnevillecazalet on wordpress makes a really powerful case for him, “One at a big price, who was beaten by Taquin Du Seuil at Warwick is Niceonefrankie (33/1). Jonjo may never have won the Plate before but someone who’s as familiar to success in this race as David Pipe, is Venetia Williams. The Herefordshire Heroine has sent out three winners of this in the past nine years at SP’s of 12/1, 33/1 and 50/1. More often than not she’s got one for it and looking at her entries, Niceonefrankie has a lot going for him. Last season’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup victor by duty of that, is a course and distance winner when he scored under an enterprising ride by Aidan Coleman. He’s only had the two outings this term, firstly being badly hampered at Newbury in November and pulling up then his second at Warwick. Off 145 he was partnered by Charlie Deutsch taking a handy 5lbs off and if that team were to remain intact for the Festival, Niceonefrankie would be 2lbs lower than his Cheltenham win last December. He likes to race up with the pace and that style definitely suits this handicap.”
COLD MARCH OR148 When he won at ascot last October on Good ground he looked like he had just joined in at the second last! Since then the second has turned the form round with him at Cheltenham, he has run out and finished sixth of six in the G2 Dovecote novice hurdle at Kempton. Is ground the key, is Venetia Williams protecting that mark? No idea!
MONETAIRE OR138 second in this last year but having a dreadful season since. Now 10yo and 67th on the list. If he did get in I would still want to take him on. David Pipe told At The Races “We are trying to get him to Cheltenham but he has been very disappointing this season. He appears to be in good form at home and I am undecided as to whether he goes there yet.”
DOCTOR HARPER OR141 Handicapper did him no favours putting him out of the novice handicap by 1lb! Pipe definitely thinks he is his best handicap hope and this could well be the race. Trainer has to be respected but it’s a big ask for a three race novice! As Captnevillecazalet observes “…the Plate is not a race for the unexposed youngster, its one in that the battle hardened, experienced handicapper rules.”
David Pipe told At The Races “He is in all the handicaps – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, Ultima Handicap Chase and the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – and he is probably one of my best chances of the week. He has done this well this season – albeit in small fields – so his jumping will be put under more pressure at Cheltenham but he was an impressive winner at Leicester at the end of January and had previously chases home Garde La Victoire and L’Ami Serge.”
SAMTEGAL OR148 Won well at Newbury recently and is a consistent horse but I can still see him stopping at Doncaster the race before. He has some ideas of his own and despite winning six if starts under rules, he has been second six and third three times as well? Paul Nicholls told At The Races “He could run in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate but isn’t thrown in off 145. He did run a solid race behind More Of That at Cheltenham in December and jumps well.”
STILLETTO OR142 Regular #startrackers will be familiar with the immature 7yo that is Stilletto. He tanks through races but doesn’t always give the obstacles his 100% attention! When, and if, he grows up mentally he could be a OR160+ horse but I would fear for him in this fiercely competitive race at this stage of his career. As Captnevillecazalet observes “…the Plate is not a race for the unexposed youngster, its one in that the battle hardened, experienced handicapper rules.”
BALLYCASEY OR148 Two years ago he beat Don Cossack in the G1 Novice Chase Leopardstown and was sent off 13/2JF for the RSA and he seemed destined for the very top but since then with his 8th in the RSA it has been under-acheivement. If this Presenting did come back to his very best he would be very well handicapped but I believe this to bea stepping stone to the Aintree Grand National.
VILLAGE VIC OR157 Brilliant season including winning over C&D and could run in the Ryanair. Either way it would be a big ask. That course form is a negative in this race but a positive in the RyanAir! Philip Hobbs told At The Races “He is very much on course for either the two and a half mile handicap chase or the Ryanair Chase but which one he runs in I’m not sure. He has won his last two races at Cheltenham and obviously acts well round the course and we are on course for the Festival.” CHAMPAGNE WEST OR154 His jumping has gone to pieces and I expect Mr Brookhouse will still want to run him at the Festival and probably here. Personally I think the smaller field in the RyanAir would be preferable. Good ground, 2m5f round Cheltenham are his ideal conditions. Now the “ifs”, if he put in a clear round, if his fall last time hasn’t mentally scarred him. He has always had a touch of class , don’t think he would win a RyanAir but could easily grab a place. Had really high hopes for this horse. Philip Hobbs told At The Races “He fell in the Betbright Chase at Kempton last Saturday and haven’t done much with him since. It depends how he schools this week, what the ground is and what trip to run him over. He is entered in four race at the Festival – the Ultima Handicap Chase, Ryanair Chase, Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate and the Gold Cup – at the moment I wouldn’t have a clue.”
IRISH CAVALIER OR153 Won the novices handicap last Festival off OR137 but turned up at this seasons Paddy Power Gold Cup off 19lb higher and has been disappointing this season for the out of form Rebecca Curtis.
DARNA OR144 Cee Bee from Betswot fancies “Darna – Just like the other two above, Darna ran well at a previous Festival. Whilst the others placed, this fella won the Plate Handicap Chase last season. He won off 140 and was raised 7lbs but having ran just twice he now finds himself returning off just 144. Darna was brought down in the Topham (where Rajdhani boosted the Plate form). This season he was pulled up in the Paddy Power Chase but that was easily excused. He needs good ground and certainly didn’t get it in November. Goes here fresh but the Kim Bailey yard are in flying form so could run well again. He’s also 33/1 with Boylesports and Ladbrokes, but neither are non-runner no bet at this stage.”
Thurs. 5.30 Kim Muir 3m 2f Handicap Chase (Amateur Riders)(Max 24 – o-145)
Will be aged 7 to 10 years unless trained by D Pipe. Nothing placed above a 10 yr old unless Henderson or Pipe trained. Will either have never run at Cheltenham before or will have strong placed course form. Either between 10 and 20 previous runs over fences or less than 7 previous chase runs and strongly fancied. Last race will have been in a handicap over at least 3 miles but not necessary to have won a handicap chase. Has competed in a G3 this season or has won a Cl2 this season. At least two runs this season but may not have been seen for months. Either has won a NH race over 3 miles or has top class placed form over at least that distance. Will have finished at least 3rd in either of last two runs or is under 10/1. Unlikely to be from Ditcheat. Irish trained punch well above their numbers for place purposes. Headgear wearing very much in vogue recently. Winning jockey a non-claiming amateur. Wasn’t beaten favourite last time out. Did I mention David Pipe? Now half a furlong longer in distance from 2014. Still a 0 – 145 handicap. MIKE GAULT
It’s all about the jockeys! If you have a horse with a chance you need a proper jockey. As Mike Gault again points out “CLAIMING JOCKEYS Apart from Ryan Hatch’s 7lbs on Some Difference in 2013, non-claiming amateur jockeys had won 9 of the last 11. First three home last year, first four home in 2014, the first 6 home in 2012, a 1-2-3-4 in 2011 and 4 out of the first 5 home in both 2010 and 2009. In Ryans year, the next 4 home were all non-claimers. Jockey’s current role of honour reads JJ Codd, Robbie MacNamara, Ryan, A J Berry, JJ Codd, RO Harding, Codd, JE Tudor (3lb), R Burton, Harding, R Burton. Mr D O’Connor yet to win this. He will.“
Gordon Elliott told sportinglife.com “If you’ve got Jamie Codd or Nina Carberry or Derek O’Connor in these sort of races it’s worth a stone straight away.”
Richard Burton has retired. JJ Codd has been booked for Cause of Causes (G.Elliott). D.O’Connor rides (??). Nina Carberry is booked for Our Father (D.Pipe Gordon Elliott) (??). Let’s start with these.
CAUSE OF CAUSES OR142 A class act who won last season’s four miler at the festival and is reunited with Mr JJ Codd which is a couple of positives to start with. The ground will be another bonus.
“He’s been some horse for us. He’s won the Ladbroke, been second in a Galway Hurdle, he was just beaten in the Kim Muir and probably would’ve won that had he jumped the last and he won the four-miler. He’ll either go for the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase or the Kim Muir. We’re thrilled with him. This morning he was pulling the arms out of Jamie Codd. I’d love to go for the Kim Muir with Jamie riding him. On good ground he’s very good, the Kim Muir will suit him. We know he’s been there twice and he likes the place.”
SILVERGROVE OR138 An improving 8yo who should be unbeaten in three runs if his leather hadn’t broken on the Sandown run in. Could give Mr Tom David an opportunity to right that wrong. Front running, solid jumper who could enjoy the Cheltenham challenge.
“I’d say he’s more likely to go for the Kim Muir, it all depends on who goes where. He’s a horse that is on a crest of a wave at the moment in that in his races he just doesn’t look like he is going to get beat at the moment as he’s on a bit of a roll. We all know that at some point that will come to an end, but I wouldn’t say he’s finished yet and if he can find a bit more from somewhere his running style would be very suited to Cheltenham in that in those big handicaps they’ve got to travel and jump [well] for the first circuit to have an opportunity to get into the race thereafter. Half the field will be strung out like the washing by the time they come round for the second circuit, and if he can be there in the first three, bowling along and jumping, he’ll keep going as he’s as hard as they come.” Ben Pauling speaking to Ladbrokes
“He’s a horse that doesn’t want it soft, despite the fact he’s won on it. He’s a great, big, old fashioned chaser and will just bounce off the better ground.” “Ben Pauling’s progressive Silvergrove could run in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap or the Kim Muir at Cheltenham next month. An 8lb lift in the weights for a win at Kempton last week now means he is almost guaranteed a run in the handicap on the opening day as well as the race for amateur riders later in the week. “The 8lb rise definitely puts him right in the mix for the Ultima Handicap, too,” said Pauling. “Now that he’ll get in both races we need to try and work out which one he has the best chance of winning. It won’t come down to riders. Either Nico (De Boinville) or David (Bass) would ride on the Tuesday while Tom David showed at Sandown that he gets on well with him, despite the tack slipping.” Sky Sports News
“Silvergrove, seeking his third win on the spin, could go in the Ultima Handicap Chase or the Kim Muir.” Guardian
GUESS AGAIN OR137 An 11yo trained by an out of form Tony Martin who is 44 on the list but is as low as 14/1 general. Fell in this race last year with 2lbs more. Just doesn’t look a Cheltenham horse.
THE JOB IS RIGHT OR142 Never nearer fifth in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown. Looks set up for this. Was third in the 4m NH Chase at last year’s festival, so ground and course are fine and I would love to see Adrian Maguire’s son Finny riding him.
DOCTOR HARPER OR141 David Pipe told ATR, “He is in all the handicaps – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, Ultima Handicap Chase and the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate – and he is probably one of my best chances of the week. He has done this well this season – albeit in small fields – so his jumping will be put under more pressure at Cheltenham but he was an impressive winner at Leicester at the end of January and had previously chases home Garde La Victoire and L’Ami Serge.” The exchanges strongly suggest that Doctor Harper will run here having been backed with the bookies from 14/1 to 7/1. His target was the Novices handicap but the handicapper scuppered that plan with a mark of OR141.
Cheltenham Friday Handicaps 2016
Fri. 2.10 County 2m Handicap Hurdle (Max26 – OR134+)
Will be aged 5 or 6 yrs or else a novice or else placed in Boylesports/Betfair Hurdle. If full handicap, will carry under 11st 1lb unless finished 1st or 2nd in a Class 1 Handicap Hurdle and is 10/1 or under. Will not carry over 11st 8lbs. Not more than 1lb out of the handicap. Will have had at least three previous runs this season or be trained by W Mullins. Do not fret if has ran more than 5 times this season. Will have run in total between 4 and 16 times over hurdles. Will be rated between 128 and 139. Not blinkered unless P Nicholls trained. Either Irish or P Nicholls trained. Not a previous course winner unless called Solstice Star. If P Nicholls winner, has been beaten here in a hurdle. If Irish trained, check for recent Leopardstown form. Can win this under a penalty. May already have ran in a top hurdle race this season. Any price. Don’t back a conditional who has yet to win at least Class 2 level on course. MIKE GAULT
I love this race, probably as it’s been kind to me over the years. Find the right improver with 10lbs in hand and collect your money! Here’s the short long list and nearly all of them have a “but” attached! Must have changed my selection at least three times in the last fortnight and I am still not sure!
BLUE HELL OR146 Anyone who saw his win at Fairyhouse in November has to have him on a shortlist. A classic “just joined in” performance. Previous trainer Tony Mullins says he worked like a Champion Hurdle horse but never delivered on the track. Big owner Barry O’Connell moved him to Alan Fleming, BH has a wind op and hey presto! He has two “buts”. Firstly his handicap mark. The Irish Handicapper put him up 13lb for that win and the British handicapper has put him up another 9lbs! So he won off OR124 and now has to defy OR146. The second “but” is the fact we haven’t seen him since which brings into play one of the Killer Stats. “Handicap hurdlers off more than 15 weeks (105 days) since 2003 – 0 from 104”!!
DESOTO COUNTY OR137 An eye-catching third in the big Coral.ie hurdle behind Henry Higgins at Leopardstown but I can’t have this horse at all. He is one of the Rooney horses moved from Donald McCain and Gordon Elliott got him to win off OR116 first time up. He is now on OR137 and the form book tells us he was beaten off OR123 and OR120 at Musselburgh and Newcastle and off OR117 at Kelso, so is the bullish Mr Elliott a miracle worker? The second “but” with his mark is that he is 59th on the list and I think he will struggle to get a run. His trainer told sportinglife.com “He was a bit unlucky last time, he missed the start but flew home on just his second run for us. He’s got a mark of 137 so we won’t run him again and he’ll go straight for the County Hurdle. He’s come out of Leopardstown really well and he looks great, I’m really happy with him.”
SUPERB STORY OR138 Dan Skelton’s exciting 5yo was an excellent second in the Greatwood Hurdle over C&D off OR129 in November. He was put up 9lbs to OR138 which is a spot-on mark in the context of this race and the horse does need good ground which explains his absence but again brings that Killer Stat into play. “Handicap hurdlers off more than 15 weeks (105 days) since 2003 – 0 from 104”!!
GREAT FIELD OR147 Three runs in France and a winning debut in Ireland for JP McManus/Willie Mullins. When winning he wouldn’t settle, tanked through his race and still had enough to hold off Draco in the run from the last. The British handicapper has taken no chances giving him a mark of OR147, which is only 7lbs less than Altior!
“French import GRAND FIELD is held in high-regard by trainer Willie Mullins and after meeting a few setbacks this winter, he made his belated Irish debut in the Foxrock Cup Hurdle at Leopardstown. This JP McManus-owned 5-year-old, already a dual hurdles winner in France, made a winning start for his new connections, creating a deep impression to score by a comfortable four and a half lengths. After racing keenly in the hands of Barry Geraghty early on, he pulled himself to the front before the fourth flight. However, his freshness made little difference at the business end of the contest as he had most of his rivals off the bridle at the second-last and he readily drew clear of his nearest pursuers on the run-in. He’s entered in the County, Coral Cup and Martin Pipe handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival and with the stronger gallop certain to suit this free-running gelding, he would warrant the ultimate respect if taking up one of his engagements.”
DRACO himself was put up 4lbs and now runs off OR140 and he could be a player himself.
ALL YOURS OR147 Fifth in last years Fred Winter he won the Aintree G1 juvenile but was disappointing this season on his only run in the Elite hurdle. Well thought of “but” looks primed for Merseyside. Another who will have to beat that Killer Stat, “Handicap hurdlers off more than 15 weeks (105 days) since 2003 – 0 from 104”!!
Paul Nicholls told ATR “He was entered in the Champion Hurdle but we haven’t been able to get a run into him since November as he loves good ground. We took him out of that and the plan is to run him in the County Hurdle off his mark of 147 if the ground dries out. He will have a racecourse gallop shortly and won a Grade 1 at Aintree last season and he will probably return there.”
“It’s been a frustrating season with him. He loves good ground, has had one run at Wincanton this year and finished fifth and I’ve saved him since. Last year I ran him in the Fred Winter and he finished fifth off a fairly tough mark and got into all sorts of trouble that day. Then he went on and won a Grade One at Aintree and was very impressive. He’s a horse that’s waiting for decent ground and the plan is the County Hurdle and then go to Aintree again. He was in the Champion Hurdle at one point but, not having got a run into him, we took him out and thought we’d go for the County this year. He’s got a lot of class and he seems to be better in the spring.” Greg Wood Guardian
WAIT FOR ME OR139 Third in last year’s Cheltenham Bumper, second to Buveur D’Air on hurdling debut and twice a winner of novice events since. An improving horse on a great mark but his “but” is his hurdling. Massive engine but the strong pace and hurly burly of a County Hurdle could put his jumping under real pressure.
“Just a quick word on Wait For Me who won again last week. He really is still a big baby, but jumped much better when in behind horses. Then, when he hit the front he jumped like he’d never seen a hurdle before. I’m convinced he’ll be better in a better race where they’ll go a lot faster. As for Cheltenham plans, we’ll just have to see. He’s in the novice hurdles, but could end up in a race like the County Hurdle.” Richard Johnson Betway Blog 1.2.16
Philip Hobbs recently told ATR “He was third in the Champion Bumper last year and has won his last two races over hurdles at Kempton and Newbury. He would be aimed at the County Hurdle. He has been going the right way recently and probably wants better ground – that would be a plus for him.” Philip Hobbs will probably also run the 10yo veteran, Cheltenian off top weight. PH said ““He will go for the County Hurdle and should be suited by the way the race is run. The problem is that he is 7lb higher (than last year) now which won’t make life easy for him.”
STERNRUBIN OR142 As all regular #startrackers will know this was my pick for the Betfair and he ran an expensive stinker! I just don’t think the County Hurdle will suit his bold, front-running style and he will just set it up for those behind! Philip Hobbs told ATR “He will run in the County Hurdle. He ran badly in the Betfair Hurdle and we don’t really know why but he certainly ran below par. He had previously won his third race of the season when he deadheated with Jolly’s Cracked It in the Ladbroke Hurdle and we hope he leaves his Betfair Hurdle effort behind.”
SOME PLAN OR146 Another one for us #startrackers but he is part of the Brookhouse/Poor House gang! His mark is probably a tad high but he has some decent form in the book, 10th in the supreme, 5th in a Listed handicap and 4th in the Ladbroke behind Sternrubin. I could see him outrunning his current odds of 25/1. Paul Nicholls told ATR “He is probably going to run in the County Hurdle and we will look at the Imperial Cup beforehand. Good ground would be fine and he ran a good race when fourth to Sternrubin in the Ladbroke Hurdle.”
MAD JACK MYTTON OR140 a popular selection with many of the shrewder readers of the game and just the type of horse Jonjo O’Neill will have in peak form for the Festival. MJM has been down the field in the Great wood and the Betfair but the ground was probably against him both times. He only just failed to give 25lbs to an in-form Solstice Star at Cheltenham in December. All the 25/1 has gone and he is now 20/1 general.
CARDINAL WALTER OR140 Owned by Fitri Hay and 90 rated off the flat. Won two novice hurdles last season both at Doncaster and was 5th in the G2 novice at Aintree. Just the one run this season when Henderson sent a bus full up to Musselburgh and the Scottish trials primarily for the better ground but sadly the rain came. Cardinal Walter ran in the Listed 2m handicap hurdle was bang there at the last but failed to quicken. The handicapper put him up a pound and that may well have been a job well done!? Placed at York and Goodwood on the Flat, Festivals and big fields shouldn’t bother him.
CYRIUS MORIVIERE OR136 No.60 on the list but an improver with a good attitude. May just squeeze in. Aintree would be ideal.
Ben Pauling talks to Ladbrokes, “Winner of one of his five starts. Scored by a length and a half from Waterlord at Huntingdon (2m) in December. Currently rated 130 over hurdles. “He won well at Huntingdon beating a nice horse in Waterlord and didn’t handle the ground in a Grade 1 event at Sandown next time. He will go back for an ordinary novice with a penalty and then we may look for a bigger target with him towards the end of the season.”
“CYRIUS MORIVIERE found the 32Red Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle too hot on his last outing but he made amends for that disappointing effort with a facile success at Doncaster on Friday in the Skybet Novices’ Hurdle over two miles. Ridden handily by Maurice Linehan, Ben Pauling’s 6yo gelding took up the run-in with four to jump and after jumping the second last he bounded six lengths clear of the field before pulling further clear after the final obstacle to record a very impressive 19 length victory. Although his performance here was easy on the eye, I didn’t think that the race had a lot of depth to it and for that reason, I hope that the handicapper isn’t too harsh when re-assessing him. There is no doubt that his future lies in handicaps over timber but he has plenty of potential to progress further and the fact that he is a strong traveller will help him when he runs in fiercely competitive handicap hurdles that are often run at a good gallop.” OR136h Final Flight Notebook Grant Copson
You can’t look at this race without checking out the Mullins entries despite Willie saying “nothing leapt off the pages for me in the handicaps!”
DICOSIMO OR150 Just the sort to bounce back to top form and that could be top class. I’ve had this one on the radar for a while and he is a #startracker. “Looked one of the better Irish juveniles but was disappointing in the Triumph when 8th behind Peace and Co and was probably over the top by Fairyhouse in May but bounced back winning at Limerick first time up and that Official Rating looks very workable.” However that fall in the Betfair Hurdle means he would have to defy a favourite Killer Stat. “Only ONE of the last 103 runners to come in off the back of a fall (since 2006) was victorious.”
TOWNSHEND OR135 No.64 on the list and is going to struggle to get a run. On his only run in Ireland, sent off 2/1 favourite, he was a one paced fourth to the much touted Squouateur. I’m sure there is plenty more to come but not at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Which brings me back to where my first thoughts were heading!
MODUS OR139 Ever since I saw his initial Official Rating I felt there was a big handicap to be won with him. They protected his mark for the Betfair where the ground and how the race panned out both went against him. He has been 8th and 2nd in the last two runnings of the Festival Bumper suggesting Cheltenham, big fields and Spring ground hold no fears. He’s quirky, he wears a hood but he has gears and I think the County Hurdle will suit him down to a tee.
Paul Nicholls told ATR “He got behind early in the Betfair Hurdle and was hated the ground and was almost brought down. He’s in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but with a mark of 139 I would be leaning more to the County Hurdle with him.” “Frank Berry confirms County, not Supreme, target for Modus, “worked very well during week”. Racing Post @RacingPost Fri. 10th March
Fri. 4.50 Martin Pipe 2m4f Handicap Hurdle (Conditionals)(Max24 – OR135+)
Only going 7 years. The Pipes will win this someday, probably with an outsider. Their plot horse tends to get too short for a 24 runner handicap hurdle (and will be all the rage the week before). Winner has won at Class 3 level hurdle or placed at G2 level. Either won last time or Graded place. Winning jockey not claiming more than 3 lbs and has already ridden 20+ winners. Horse not blinkered and not beaten favourite last time. Usually a compressed handicap, ratings from about 133 to 145. Only 5 and 6 yr olds successful so far. Not necessary to have run up a sequence of wins. No more than 13 previous hurdle runs. Trained by anyone. Has won a hurdle of at least 13 runners. P Nicholls and W Mullins beginning to take a keen interest. In 2015 the 3lb allowance for riders riding for their own stable and the 7lb allowance for those who have not ridden a winner have been removed from race conditions. Done to deter trainers ‘gambling with inexperience’. BHA wants to promote booking the best conditionals. Now is a 0-145 handicap as opposed to 0-140 previously. MIKE GAULT
This could be the hardest handicap to win over all four days! There are some seriously sexy, well touted rapidly improving youngsters entered for this race!
SQUOUATEUR OR141 Looked very impressive, quickening up well, in winning two Irish handicaps off OR120 and OR128 and the Irish handicapper put him up to OR137. The British handicapper has given him another 4lbs but I’m told connections are all smiles at the mark and it’s no surprise that JP has the money down, 12/1 a week ago and now down to 7/1 general.
Gordon Elliott to sportinglife.com “He’s done nothing wrong this year. He’s won at Leopardstown, Fairyhouse and obviously he’s an improving horse for JP McManus. He’s in the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe. I think the Martin Pipe would suit him with Jack Kennedy riding him, but obviously they have so many horses they’ll have to weigh everything up. They might want to keep him for Aintree, Fairyhouse or Punchestown, but I’d love to go to the Martin Pipe with him.”
TYCOON PRINCE OR139 If he is going to run at the Festival the exchanges suggest it will be here. No mention of him in the Elliott Stable Tours? He’ll love the better ground and in his bumper days he had real gears. If he gets his hurdling together he has a real chance.
“Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old racked up a trio of victories in bumper company last season, with his only defeat coming on debut when fourth behind eventual Cheltenham Champion Bumper victor Moon Racer. This indicates that he is not short in the speed department. His first start over hurdles was a shocker, as Bryan Cooper employed hold-up tactics for the first time and the horse lacked any real jumping fluency to be a beaten odds-on favourite at Navan.
But Tycoon Prince’s one run since suggests that this run can be forgiven as a blip. Coming to the second-last obstacle in the Navan Novices’ Hurdle, Tycoon Prince was travelling just as well as the highly regarded Bellshill before a jumping error cost him obvious momentum at an important time in the race. He eventually lost by 12 lengths, but the way he jumped and travelled was encouraging and given how quickly they tend to go early on in the Supreme, his tactical speed could be critical at the business end of the race. The fact he has now stayed 2m4f, albeit in a race where they went fairly slowly in the middle section, points towards Tycoon Prince having a bit of extra stamina too.” Ladbrokes Cheltenham Festival website
JETSTREAM JACK OR135 It will be touch and go whether he gets in. Only 14/1 for the Cheltenham Bumper last season he finished in the rear but he has been very consistent over hurdles with seconds to the likes of Thomas Hobson and Up for Review in a G2 no less. He may need further, he may need soft ground, he may be thrown in! Gordon Elliott to sportinglife.com “He’s in the Martin Pipe and the Coral Cup as well. I’ll have to speak with the owners and see. He’s a nice horse and my preference would be the Martin Pipe. I could have two or three runners in the race at least.”
CHILDRENS LIST OR139 There’s been money for this Mullins/Ricci entry in the last 48 hours and all the 20/1 has gone except for WH! 14/1 general. Nothing in the form book to suggest he will win a race of this nature. Never run in Graded company and beaten in two three mile handicaps most recently. Being a son of Presenting better ground should help but to me he looks like a staying chaser waiting to happen.
BLAZER OR141 Easily won a Leopardstown handicap off an OR126 (had to be based on French form) and then turned out under a 5lb penalty when midfield in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Tightened up on the first bend and never competitive. Willie Mullins has indicated a preference for running in the Martin Pipe. So he was the beaten favourite in the Betfair (albeit with excuses) off OR131. He now steps up 4f and is lumbered with another 10lbs. Not for me!
“Blazer was beaten on his first two runs for Willie Mullins, but both were over fences, and he put up a really impressive performance when switched back to hurdles at Leopardstown in early February. He jumped his hurdles well, he travelled well, and he won easily without really being extended. It was disappointing on the face of it that he could only finish ninth in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on his next run, given how well-in he was, racing under just a 7lb penalty, but that race came up just a week after the Leopardstown race. The chance was worth taking, given how well-handicapped he was on paper, but you can easily allow him that. And Willie Mullins said afterwards that a step up in trip should be the way to go with him. It appears that he is going to step up in trip now at Cheltenham, that he is going to run in either the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe Hurdle over two and a half miles, and he will be of interest in either. He is back up to a mark of 137, but that is a mark that he could surpass by a fair way. He is only five and he has run just four times over hurdles in his life. He has bags of scope for progression, and he is a much better jumper of hurdles than fences, at least for now.” Donn McClean Irish Field etc.
QUALANDO OR139 Last season’s winner of the Fred Winter at 25/1 off OR131. So that ticks the ground, big fields and Cheltenham boxes. Can’t fault the jockey and the trainer seems to have a plan! It’s just his form this season that has basically pants although a glimmer of improvement last time. Nicholls wins with the best horse not plots! Paul Nicholls to sportinglife.com “He ran a tidy race at Taunton and I deliberately ran him under Harry Cobden as the plan would be for him to ride him in the Martin Pipe. I’ve put a few in the Martin Pipe but he’s probably one that stands out.”
ITSAFREEBIE OR141 Is he a heavy ground specialist? His gutsy defeat of Le Prezien last time out was strong form and his probable pilot, Bridget Andrews has ridden Itsafreebie to victory before.
Fri. 5.30 Grand Annual 2m Handicap Chase (Max24 – OR132+)
Will be aged 7, 8 or 9 years except if older will have been already been placed in a Festival chase or if younger is from the first 4 in the market. Will be rated between 138 and 147. Unlikely to be carrying 11st+ Will be a novice or will have previous competed in a Festival Chase or the jockey has already had at least two winners this week. If a novice not rated above 140. May be one of the lowest rated novices. Finished in first four in latest completed chase start. Should have finished in the first three in one of last two starts. Does not run under a penalty. Has not more than 12 previous runs over fences. Won’t have run more than 5 times since August. Irish trained punch above their numbers. Consider place betting for those rated 145 and above. If English trained is a course winner, Henderson trained or placed in this before. Not ridden by a conditional jockey. JP McManus very much involved. Will have won over the trip. MIKE GAULT
This is probably my least favourite race of the Festival because it’s the last and I’m normally mentally exhausted, skint, past caring or all three!
So we’ll have a look at the race a week in front just in case it is important! Oh good it’s 10/1 the field!!
ROCK THE WORLD OR146 Not seen since October when he won a 3 runner C3 novice chase over course and distance but he doesn’t go a yard on winter ground. Could be in luck as Cheltenham 2016 looks like it will get quicker as the week goes on! His form with The Game Changer (twice) makes him look really well handicapped. Ticks the Cheltenham, ground and trip boxes, lots to like. VELVET MAKER OR146 Interesting horse who must be sick of the sight of Douvan. A long way behind him in last years Supreme and well beaten by him in his last two novice chases both Grade 1’s. I used to have this horse on my 49SimpleSimonSays… Master List and I think he has a bit of class. Will he run in a handicap? Will he be backed?
Donn McClean makes his case, “Velvet Maker was a good novice hurdler last season, he won his maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse by 10 lengths and he was thought good enough for connections to allow him take his chance in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but he is already a better chaser. Barry Connell’s horse jumped super on his debut over fences, in a beginners’ chase at Naas in November, making all and coming home 11 lengths clear of Dysios, who won a good handicap chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival two runs later off a mark of 126. Velvet Maker has taken on Douvan in both his runs since and, while he was no match for Willie Mullins’ horse (not many are), he ran well for a long way in the Irish Arkle on his most recent outing, and he finished well clear of his other rival, the useful Domesday Book. A handicap rating of 143 is fair for now. As a seven-year-old who has raced just three times over fences, he has the potential to go a fair way beyond that rating. The Grand Annual is his likely target at Cheltenham, he should appreciate the better ground that he should get there, and his accurate jumping will be a big asset in a competitive handicap like that.”
BRIGHT NEW DAWN OR148 Useful novice but has struggled to win in the last two seasons and even his trainer says he is “unreliable”! Gordon Elliott said, “He’ll run in the Grand Annual. He’s a bit of a boyo. He’s hit and miss and is either very good or very bad. I think the race will suit him and he’s a horse you can drop in, which is good as they’ll go flat out. If I was given a fiver I might not have it on him. But, Felix Yonger has finished a length either side of him on two of his last three runs, I just couldn’t rely on him. He’ll love the ground at Cheltenham.”
NEXT SENSATION OR144 Last tears winner and just a pound higher this time, it is no surprise he heads the market. Indeed he was 4th in the race in 2014 off 2lbs less but his form since Cheltenham 2015 is abysmal, the stable of Michael Scudamore isn’t exactly on fire. However he is only 9 this is his race and once again he has his conditions.
EASTLAKE OR143 Hasn’t won since December 2013 and has form figures of 4635PU32PUPU5PU! But he was sixth in this race 2014 and last year he was second to Next Sensation. He has his conditions but surely Jonjo O’Neill can’t get this out of form 10yo to peak again?
BOLD HENRY OR144 Trainer Philip Hobbs told ATR “He will probably run in the two-mile Grand Annual on the Friday but he will need to run a lot better than he did last time at Sandown and he wants it soft.” Unlikely to get his ground he is however a course and distance winner albeit off 19lb less! Inconsistent at best.
MINELLA PRESENT OR134 Put away since his unlucky in running second to Keel Haul in the C2 2m chase at the Paddy Power in November he is one well handicapped horse on his previous second to Violet Dancer at Towcester. Unfortunately he is No.52 on the list but if he does get in he will have no weight and a cracking e/w chance
Neil Mulholland “We’ve been happy with him and wanted to give him a break as he’s another one by Presenting that wants the better ground. He’s done well and his last run was very good when he finished second at Cheltenham over two miles. From that day onwards we said we’d put him away for the Grand Annual. He had a racecourse gallop around Chepstow on Saturday and that went according to plan.”
WORKBENCH OR140 Dan Skeltons consistent Workbench has solid placed form over C&D but struggles to get his head in front and is currently 12lbs above his last winning mark. In the handicappers grip? SAVELLO OR150 Won this race in 2014 off 3lbs less when Davy Russell conjured an amazing late run from the horse to complete a wonderful Friday for Gigginstown. Since been sold to the Skelton yard to run in races like this. A well beaten 6th in a poor Champion Chase last year the 10yo has shown nothing of the form that made him victorious in 2014. Have a nice day out.
GERMANY CALLING OR140 Will enjoy the ground but has previously struggled when stepped up in class. He is a super jumper and being only a 7yo could still be improving. Trainer Charlie Longsdon said “He’s a nice horse and 140 rated. He is another who likes better ground and we have given him a break and will fetch him back in the Spring. He has done nothing wrong and he may go to Cheltenham in March.” Winner of four of his 13 starts. Scored by three lengths from Relic Rock off a mark of 134 at Carlisle in October. Currently rated 140.
CROCO BAY OR147 Ben Case is having a miserable season and he will be hoping Croco Bay can run a big race just like he did twelve months ago when third to Next Sensation and Eastlake. Been mixing it with the big boys since but is 2lbs less this year and his recent third to Simply Ned at Kelso would suggest he is as good as ever.
CeeBee from Betswot has a view “Croco Bay – is generally 25/1 for the Grand Annual Handicap Chase. Last season he finished 3rd in the same race off an official mark of 149. This year he runs off 147. That’s about the extent of it. Festival form! Last year’s winner Next Sensation is heading the market at 10/1 and he’s 1lb higher. Croco Bay has a 3lb swing to make up 5L which looks a little difficult but he’s had a (marginally) better season than NS.
CB was a close third behind Simply Ned at Kelso first time out. He was then set a tough ask behind Sprinter Sacre here. Last time over hurdles was a poor effort. After a mid-season break he may just have been using the outing to knock off a few cobwebs. Back over fences at a trip and track which clearly suit the 25 or even 33/1 could be a nice final race touch.”
RAVENS TOWER OR137 Winner of four of his 24 starts. Returned to winning form in impressive fashion in a novices’ handicap chase at Huntingdon (2m 1/2f) in November when beating Notnowsam 11 lengths off a mark of 127. Currently rated 137 over fences. “He had a nasty cut after his win at Huntingdon and has just come back into full work. He looks great and whether he will have a run or not before the Johnny Henderson I don’t know but that would be his main aim.” Ben Pauling