A plethora of bookmakers are now offering ‘non runner, no bet’ concessions on all races at the Cheltenham Festival which may have sucked the value out of the markets for the Graded races at Prestbury Park. However, this offers the chance to take the plunge into the handicaps for some risk free big price options.
Here are five possibilities for the many handicaps on offer during the four days. They are all by no means certainties, but if one lands, can cover your festival outlays.
Bigmatre – Close Brothers Novice Handicap 16/1
Perhaps a forgotten quantity, hailing from the upwardly mobile Harry Whittington Stable.
He was eye-catching on debut at Ludlow and then impressive when scoring at Newbury. He had Cyrname the best part of five-lengths behind him that day in a race which also featured Hell’s Kitchen, with both those rivals having scored at Kempton over Christmas, in what appears a strong piece of form.
Already at a rating of 145, he is already at the ceiling for what is often an extra intermediate novice contest masquerading as a handicap. Next week at Doncaster, where he is scheduled to run, should tell us more about his likely Festival destination.
An impressive win could rule him out of this contest. However, with the stable already holding a live Arkle proposition in Saint Calvados, he could easily see himself stepping up to two and a half miles in the spring, a trip connections are keen to try him over. If he does end up a 150 horse, then he would be no back marker in a JLT at which he is available at around the 25/1 mark.
Steely Addition – Pertemps Hurdle 33/1
Having joined Philip Hobbs in the summer from Hugo Froud, the six-year-old has gone from strength to strength in the Autumn which now leaves him tantalisingly placed for the aforementioned contest off a mark of 137, which would have secured the lowest available racing weight in last year’s renewal.
In clear need of the run on his stable debut, he has since impressed, first at Wincanton and then at Chepstow where he was handed a 14lb rise for a 10-length victory which now leaves him perfectly handicapped for this contest.
It is worth noting that he has been not been seen during the Hobbs’ stables well documented quiet patch, and a better racing judge than me has already advocated the Exeter mid-February qualifier as the perfect place to reappear and seek the required top six finish to secure his spot in the line-up.
Any Second Now – Grand Annual 12/1
Despite being the ante-post favourite for the race, the 12/1 available in places looks exceptional value about a horse sure to be popular as we get closer to the event, and has the potential to be sent off a 9/2 shot If not shorter on the day.
Despite Ted Walsh’s novice chaser yet to get off the mark over fences, he has chased home three of the very best of Ireland’s novices in Footpad, Invitation Only and Monalee on his three outings over the larger obstacles and is a Grade Two winner over hurdles.
He possesses a touch of class which can counteract a lack of experience in what is often a rough and ready helter-skelter contest and he is the unexposed sort of horse which could pick off seasoned handicappers up the hill.
Air Horse One – Coral Cup 33/1
Now rated 147 over hurdles, in theory, a placed effort at the weekend at Ascot may be the best result in regards to being greedy about his chance at the Festival. That is 1lb lower than what Supasundae claimed this contest off last season.
However, we have yet to see the best of this progressive seven-year-old this season, and he remains unexposed over intermediate distances.
He was entitled to be in need of the run when fourth on his seasonal bow at Ascot, in a race that ended up being a hot line of form, and then was well in the mix at Newbury before the petrol tank emptied abruptly, somewhat typical of the handlers’ horses at around that time.
A return to two miles was a none event at Ascot in their pre-Christmas feature handicap and this weekend he proved much more effective over just shy of 2m4f back at the Berkshire venue.
He is just one of many from Harry Fry’s stable who may benefit from the yards quiet winter and he could be more than a couple of lbs well in when the Festival comes around.
Luccombe Down – Pertemps Hurdle 40/1
He is no means certain to get a run, and will need to potentially go up 8lb to sneak in, which means a winning reappearance may have to be on the cards.
However, if making the cut he has the course form to make his presence felt from the same hotel and connections which sent out Barney Dwan to be a clear second in this contest last season.
He would have possibly finished second and closest to the progressive Thomas Campbell when finishing third in a qualifier in October, before falling away in ground which would have been unsuitable at the November Meeting
The best of his form is on good and a return to spring ground would suit, and an enterprising front running style (which this horse often undertakes) has succeeded in this race in the past.
Bonus selection – Blaklion – Gold Cup 25/1
Obviously this horse is not a handicap selection. However, I couldn’t leave without mentioning the brave Blaklion who now seems set to have his Grand National prep in the Blue-Ribbon event.
Impressive both when destroying the field in the Becher and when in defeat to stablemate Bristol De Mai at Wetherby, the former RSA winner could be the durable, consistent stayer who grinds his way past his rivals in what looks an open looking contest with question marks regarding many of the central protagonists.
His current price represents tremendous value for a horse with solid each-way claims and could easily be sent off 14/1 or shorter with a few defections from the Irish contingent above him.
As always, many thanks to Michael Harris (@mjyharris) for providing the photo.