Festival Focus: Handicap Chases
Amongst all the championship races and the novice races. The Festival is littered with fantastic handicaps. The Ultima serves as a Grand National trail, see Noble Yeats for reference, and the rest serve as a route for future stars in the future. Best of Bets takes a deep dive into the most competitive Handicap Chases of the week.
Ultima Handicap Chase – 3m 1F – Premier Handicap
This is a race which lifts the crowd with excitement after two of the opening races, it keeps the momentum going. Last year Corach Rambler and Derek Fox produced an incredible run from out the back with a lap to go, to threading the needle between two rivals up the run-in.
He’s gone into favouritism for this race, after a great run in the Coral Gold Cup (formerly Hennessey) in November. He hasn’t been seen since, and has been kept fresh for the race by Lucinda Russell. He clearly likes the track, but will he be able to defy his 6lb rise within a year? I think he can certainly be up there again and emulate Un Temps Pour Tout by winning it twice.
Into Overdrive has to be nominated as one of the horses of the season. Three runs, picking up from where he left off, with wins aplenty. He started this season at 132. He’s now 147. It’s a dramatic rise in the weights, but a rise in talents after competing in Class 4 chases last season. A second season chaser, he’s been beaten by L’Homme Presse, who isn’t a bad horse to be beaten by. The North can win this race for the third year in a row.
Nassalam for Gary Moore, who turned 71 on Wednesday, has progressed this season. After a slow start, he grabbed a place in the New Year’s Handicap Chase. He stayed on well that day and Moore clearly thinks that a step up in trip is in order. He would be an interesting watch as he goes off a winning mark of 144.
Fastorslow and The Goffer head the Irish challenge for Martin Brassil and Gordon Elliott. It wouldn’t be remiss to say that the British handicapper has treated some of these horses a little too harshly. Fastorslow’s is rated at 150, despite having two poor runs in Grade One’s and The Goffer won a handicap chase at the Dublin Racing Festival, and has been put 11lbs, when rated 146 on his last British start. It doesn’t make sense and with them both towards the top of the market, they can’t just be trusted.
Verdict: Oscar Elite; Third in last season’s run off a mark of 138, he’s only been put up 4lbs since his win in the Reynoldstown. A similar mark could produce another good race from this horse, who’s had this race on his radar all season. 12/1 is generous price with Coral.
Each-way: Slipway; Hasn’t competed much at this level, no run at Cheltenham. But he’s been handicapped perfectly for this race. He looks to be a national horse, and this is a great trial for the big race, so expect him to run a race to put him into the field. 50/1 with Coral is worth a shot.
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – 1m 7F 199yds – Premier Handicap
This field is dominated by Irish raiders, but the race is an even mix of British and Irish winners in the last 10 years. It could be an interesting battle.
Aucunrisque is the main British hope. He fended off Filey Bay in the Betfair Hurdle, which has affected his mark, and has risen to 147. On his last chase mark, 139, he finished within a length to Boothill, who hasn’t franked the form much. But his Betfair Hurdle was franked by Rubaud, which could help him for this race. He’s had a good novice chasing season, but the mark may be a little too high.
The green and gold army come next in the market, with Dinoblue the current favourite. She’s making her handicap debut, after finishing second in a mares’ chase last time out. She’s been given a mark of 140, which is more than fair, given her chasing record has been 4122. Her formbook reads very well, and could be the one to beat in the field.
Saint Roi is making his handicap chase debut, after unseating last time out in the Irish Arkle. Given that Willie Mullins runs El Fabiolo, and JP McManus has Jonbon in the big race, so it makes sense for him to come here, but given that he is a Grade One winner, it’s unclear to see why he’s not favourite.
Andy Dufresne is the top weight in the race, which is already a negative. Despite by losing by 38 lengths, he keeps his rating at 155. However, that was his exact mark for last year when he finished second last year in the same race, on heavy ground. The current weather shows that the ground could go on the soft side and may give him a chance at top weight.
Unexpected Party, is one of the few races who hasn’t won over 2m. But, he’s been placed four times this season. Third Time Lucki, might be Dan Skelton’s first pick for the race, but this horse has been
dropped to sub-140 (138), and makes him look appealing.
Verdict: Riviere D’Etel; Gordon Elliott was very bullish about this horse’s chances during his stable tour. It’s still a question where he will put her, but this race looks to be best suited to go here. NRNB at 16/1 with Betfair.
Each-way pick: Epson Du Houx; Kept to the same mark as third in the Dan & Joan Moore at Fairyhouse, will want better ground than heavy last time out. Kept fresh for the race, and looks a good each-way price at 20/1 with Betfair.
Magners Plate Handicap Chase – 2m 4F 127yds – Premier Handicap
There’s always a big handicap chase over two-and-a-half miles at every meeting at Cheltenham, and this is where all the fan favourites from those races come to compete, along with their Irish equivalents.
So Scottish is a short-priced favourite for Emmet Mullins, and has been kept fresh for this race and hasn’t been seen since November at Ascot. That day he lost out to Boothill, who has had a mixed season. He’s been put up seven pounds, but he carries a light weight on his back, and his record over fences has been 112. This will be a big test in handicap company.
Adamantly Chosen is Willie Mullins best pick after being beaten a long way by Mighty Potter. Gerri Colombe has franked Adamantly Chosen’s December form, and a horse bringing Grade One form into a handicap has to always be fancied.
Second-weight Haut En Couleurs is making the step into handicap company, bringing a whole host of Graded form with him. He finished second to Janidil in the Red Mills Chase, and has been raised to career high mark of 157. Given he’s in a competitive handicap, he looks like he’s got too much to carry.
Il Ridoto was due a win in one of the handicap chases, and finally got it on Trials Day. For that he’s been raced 8lbs, but doesn’t carry more than 11-1. He has a chance to back up his win and make it a double for a very talented handicapper.
Midnight River also won his 2m 4F Cheltenham handicap on New Year’s Day and hasn’t finished outside the top three on all completed chase starts. With a 7lb rise, and given the Skelton’s record in big handicap race, they stand a real chance with Midnight River
Verdict: So Scottish; Despite the big rise in his mark his weight he carries is light. His chase record is phenomenal and can really sock it to his opponents. JP McManus might have made a shrewd pre-Cheltenham investment with this one. He’s a little too short, but any shorter than 4/1 isn’t worth putting money on. 4/1 with bet365.
Each-way pick: Shakem Up’Arry; Ran a good race on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham, and keeps his same mark at 139. Champagne Gold is also interesting. A long break, not seen since October at Cheltenham. He may just flown under the radar. Shakem Up’Arry is 20/1 with Betfair and Champagne Gold is 25/1 with bet365.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase – 3m 2F – Premier Handicap
Once again, it’s an Irish dominated field for the Kim Muir. This race is all about the amateurs, so the next big name in jumps racing could come out and win this race.
Stumptown for Gavin Cromwell looked well when winning at Sandown and has received a 10lb rise. H looks well weighted and looks absolutely correct to be favourite. The slight negative I have about him, is he doesn’t perform too well on soft ground, and given the various forecasts around, it doesn’t look good.
Mr Incredible, on the other hand, loves the mud. He finished second last time out at Warwick behind Grand National hopeful Iwilldoit at Warwick. There isn’t any particular worry with him and seems to suit English courses better than Irish ones. His 3lb rise puts him in fair contention.
Sam Curling may not be a trainer’s name you know, but he is training an exciting contender for the Irish National, Angles Dawn. He unseated in the Irish National Trial at Punchestown, but put in a gutsy performance when winning at Down Royal. He looks well weighted as well, and given his lack in Cheltenham experience, he could go very well.
Dunboyne for Gordon Elliott didn’t run a race in last year’s Pertemps. But he has progressed over fences, and was narrowly beaten last time out on deep ground at Gowran Park. An 8lb rise looks harsh, but he actually looks fairly handicapped for the race. Soft ground is an absolute must, however.
Monbeg Genius and Anightinlambourn are probably the best British chance. But Monbeg Genius has looked really good in handicap company, at Chepstow he looked really well. Anightinlambourn has the Cheltenham track experience and both have been handicapped fairly. Given it could get soft, Monbeg Genius might just get the nod as the best chance for the British.
Verdict: Dunboyne; Previous Festival form, progressive over fences, looks like he’ll get the rain, and a decent handicap marked.
Each-way pick: Fakiera; Could produce a 1-2 for Gordon Elliott. Similar to Dunboyne, he wants softer ground, looks fairly handicapped, and despite a poor run last time out, he’s looked progressive over fences and is due a win. Check out our betting partners for the latest odds