Cheltenham 2024 | Festival Focus 2024: Handicap Hurdles

With just under a week away from the roar, the handicaps are beginning to take shape, with further scratchings today. This article is written in anticipation of the said horses running and odds at NRNB prices.


Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle – 2m 5F – Premier Handicap

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Handicaps in general at the Festival can usually be chalked up as a British win. But the Coral Cup has a few Irish runners that are more than capable of winning without causing an upset.

Sa Majeste has two entries, both of which he’s favourite for. According to the handicapper, this horse has been the most difficult to handicap with just four runs over hurdles, two in France and two in Ireland. With the lack of experience, he’s given a mark of 140. He carries more weight in the Martin Pipe so may look to come here instead.

Doddiethegreat has had a first full season over fences and has been improving from run to run. Since winning a two-mile introductory hurdle, he’s gone straight into handicapping finishing second at Cheltenham and fourth in the Betfair Hurdle. He’s very lightly weighted which takes a lot of appeal. However, the step up in trip is a question mark.

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This has been the race Langer Dan has prepared all season for. Last year he won of a mark of 141, this year he goes off at 141. Whether Dan Skelton told the jockeys to school Langer Dan around his races to get the mark lowered, or whether he hasn’t been himself this season is a big question. Last year he only ran three times and performed equally as poor and went to win the race. However, he has been suffering from ulcers which may rule him out entirely.

Built By Ballymore will need plenty of rain to perform but has been a major improver this season. He’s won his last two races by 12 lengths each and has been given a lenient mark of 139. However, bottomless ground will be needed to compete.


The principles are all well weighted and I can’t find many down the market to down them. Despite four of the last six priced 20/1 or bigger, the handicapper may have underestimated Sa Majeste. The form was backed by Noble Yeats form his run at Limerick and will take advantage of the lighter weight on his back for this race. 11/2 (Betfred, Unibet).

Each-way picks: With the ground reading Soft and rain forecast this weekend at Cheltenham, Built By Ballymore is worth a few quid too. 12/1 (BetVictor, Unibet).

Out of the principles, Lucky Place ran a stormer over C&D, making well-fancied Gidleigh Park to work for his win. Lightly handicapped too and should go on soft ground. 14/1 (Unibet).


Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle – 2m 7F 213yds – Premier Handicap

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One of the hardest races to predict in the entire Festival. The Irish seem to dominate the race which seems to be the way to go for this race.

Cleatus Poolaw could make it four victories in the Pertemps for Gordon Elliott after a successful season over hurdles for the first time. He finished behind Ballyburn when he broke his maiden and fared well on his last start when hiked up in trip to finish second in a Qualifier. A nine-pound rise for an Irish horse is a fair mark.

Remember Chantry House? He won the Marsh (Now Turner’s) Chase way back in 2021. Since then, he’s failed to make an impact on chasing, apart from his win in the 2022 Cotswold Chase. He managed to sneak in to the Pertemps when finishing fourth at Huntingdon. He’s been dropped two pounds for that run and might just have its benefits for a former Festival winner.

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Gaoth Chuil has had a similar record to Cleatus Poolaw this season. Plenty of seconds and one win. That win came in the Pertemps Qualifier over Christmas and was hiked up six pounds before finishing within a length of Maxxum in the DRF. It’s another six-pound rise by the British handicapper, which he can easily defy.

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It’s been a busy old season for Icare Allen, with a trip to Aintree confirming his spot in the Pertemps, when finishing third. He remains on the same mark of 142 but looks too high in the handicap in a competitive field.


All the horses mentioned above are single-figure prices. I fancy one a little juicer. Gabby’s Cross fits the Irish narrative, trained by Henry de Bromhead. His last two runs have seen him finish second and hasn’t been seen in over 100 days to protect the handicap mark. A mark of shrewdness on de Bromhead’s part. 10/1 (General).

Each-way picks: Springwell Bay is an out an out three-miler. He’s only been risen two pounds for finishing a neck down in his last run. Such leniency gives him a big chance to claim this race for the British. 12/1 (BetUK).

The ground will have to be testing, but Cuthbert Dibble has had nothing to complain about all season. A six-pound rise may seem a little step for finishing half-a-length up at Haydock last time out. But if Gaoth Chuil can handle it, so can he. 14/1 (Betfred, BetUK).


County Handicap Hurdle – 2m 179yds – Premier Handicap

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Possibly the most entertaining race of the week. And with the ‘State Man’ rule now in place, the playing field has finally levelled.

King Of Kingsfield finished behind Ballyburn and Slade Steel last time out, by 14 lengths. His only win came over Mirazur West in a maiden hurdle, of which the second went and followed up. He looks to have some great talent, but Gordon Elliott isn’t prolific in this race.

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Nicky Henderson also doesn’t have a great record in the race, but Iberico Lord has landed some big prizes already this term. A Greatwood and Betfair Hurdle has seen him shoot up the ratings. A full nine pounds higher, it might just be a step too far.

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Absurde’s last win came in the Ebor in August under a certain Frankie Dettori in a completely different discipline. Afterwards he headed to the Melbourne Cup in an unusual preparation to get him back over the hurdles for the Winter. He wasn’t too far behind King Of Kingsfield in fourth at the DRF, but will want the ground quite dry.

Dan Skelton has a fantastic record in the race and is usually the flag bearer for the British in the County. This time he has elected L’Eau Du Sud as his main pick. When running in the Greatwood, he was pulled up to not travelling. That was his first time out this season but ran a tremendous race in the Betfair Hurdle. A six-pound rise may seem harsh, but he seems to be well handicapped for the race.


King Of Kingsfield may look the best on paper, but with Gordon Elliott’s record in the race I’m siding with L’Eau Du Sud. He wasn’t up to his best at the start of the season but seems to come alive towards the end. He represents the value of the principals. 12/1 (William Hill, 888Sport, BetUK).

Each-way pick: Lump Sum is one of the best form horses in the race. It was unusual that he didn’t hold an entry for the Supreme after he won the Dovecote at Kempton. He was only behind Jeriko Du Reponet in his only loss of the season, which shows you the talent this horse possess. 14/1 (Unibet, BetUK, BetGoodwin).

Impose Toi was only a neck behind Luccia in the Betfair Exchange Trophy and came third in a Lanzarote Hurdle that fell apart. He also has course experience after winning at the November meeting this season. He remains on the same mark as the Lanzarote. 18/1 (BetUK).


Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle – 2m 4F 56yds – Class 2

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The final race of the Festival is always one where we reminisce. And sometimes, the lucky last comes up trumps.

The stars seem to have aligned for Quai De Bourbon as Gigginstown and Willie Mullins team up for this horse. The last time the connections teamed up for a winner in the race was Don Poli back in 2014. Quai De Bourbon may want the ground to be running soft, but has been given a fair mark of 140, which is high enough in the weights.

Sa Majeste should go to the Coral Cup to avoid carrying an extra five pounds in this race, so Lisnagar Fortune should take his place as second favourite.

He represents the same connections as Festival winner Lisnagar Oscar. He was only beaten by a shoulder by Readin Tommy Wrong and ahead of Staffordshire Knot, which is the form race for novices in Ireland. The weight may be high but has plenty of quality on the evidence of his last win.

No Ordinary Joe has two options of going to the Coral Cup or here and as explained is a little more fancied for the former.

Waterford Whispers is not the best handicapped horse in the field after four runs over hurdles. He’s been given a mark of 130, after rising 10 pounds by the British handicapper. He has some talent, but the rise may be too steep.


Favourite backers should end on a high as Quai De Bourbon looks to be well handicapped for his talents. Connections have taken a while to rekindle their relationship but look to have a great future ahead of them. This horse should kick off a new dawn of a once formidable partnership. 4/1 (William Hill, 888Sport, BetUK).

Each-way pick: The form race from Cork is one I’ll always fall back on and Lisnagar Fortune came out with a lot of fighting spirit. His form has already been backed up by Readin Tommy Wrong, but expect him to go favourite, or close to, if he wins his novice hurdle. 10/1 (General).

Answer To Kayf looks a little more interesting at a price. Behind Loughglynn over Christmas, he won a competitive novice hurdle over Captain Cody. The handicapper has been generous raising him only three pounds and looks a good each-way chance. 14/1 (General).

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