Show no restraint over Bondage

  • Last Updated: February 21 2013, 18:20 GMT

Ian Ogg picks out early fancies for a couple of the Cheltenham Festival handicaps after the entries were unveiled.

Bensalem: Too well handicapped to ignore

Trying to work out the Cheltenham Festival handicaps is a devilishly tricky task on the day, let alone before the weights have even been published but the odds compilers at Sky Bet have priced up the JLT Speciality Handicap Chase and the Coral Cup and I've found a fancy for both contests.

Cantlow heads the market for the three-miler. He races in the silks of JP McManus who appears to enjoy nothing more than a Festival winner and his trainer, Paul Webber, has deliberately kept his handicap mark intact for the Festival race of his choice.

It's not just the last part of the previous paragraph that's a problem for me, however. For even if he has been entered in three other contests but I'm just not convinced he's that well handicapped.

True, he's certainly open to improvement once stepped up in trip and he's only had a handful of starts over fences but he was beaten off 139 at last year's Festival and is already 4lb higher over the larger obstacles.

Our Mick was third last year and should go well again but the one that really takes the eye is Bensalem.

Now 10 years of age, he looked every inch the winner of this race in 2010 only to fall two from home but he made amends the following year when beating Carole's Legacy from a mark of 145.

Having missed 2012 he's back down to a mark of 143 and appears to have retained his ability judged on his reappearance run behind the promising Harry Topper in a strong race at Exeter.

That should have teed him up nicely for another tilt at this race which surely has to be his primary objective despite his alternative entry in the Kim Muir.

Alan King hasn't had the best of fortune this season but there's no doubt that he can get the job done at the Festival and we know this son of Turtle Island possesses all the requisite firepower to win this prize for a second time.

Looking to the Coral Cup, Son Of Flicka is another horse that could bid to land a Festival race for the second time and it would be no surprise to see Donald McCain bring him to the boil as he did 11 months ago.

The early money has been for Wonderful Charm but Robin Geffen has another interesting string to his bow in Cash And Go who could well benefit from a step back up in trip with the Betfair Hurdle, in which he finished seventh last time, often proving a useful guide to this race.

Cotton Mill was in front of him that day and is ahead of him in the betting for this heat too but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him try his hand in the Champion Hurdle instead.

Village Vic was another to run well at Newbury but it's a horse who finished ahead of him at Cheltenham earlier in the season that gets the vote.

Bondage has already shown his hand to the assessor to some extent having been put up by 18lb for his win over C&D in October but that form has been franked time and again with the second home, Medinas, successful in the Welsh Champion Hurdle earlier in the month.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, he hasn't been out since November when chasing home Coneygree, to whom he was conceding 3lb while he was giving the fifth-placed Village Vic half a stone.

The six year old has entries in two of the novice races but I can't believe that connections will allow him to line up in either of those events where he has little realistic chance of winning.

He is also entered up in the Martin Pipe, a race which is high up on Elliott's wish list, and that is a concern but he should get an attractive racing weight in the Coral Cup and that will hopefully be enough to persuade connections to head in that direction.

The demands of a large field and a decent pace should show him in a far better light than the novice race he contested last time and he's been freshened up after a long summer at the coal face, missing the worst of the winter ground in the process.

He was something of a slow learner over hurdles but had really got his act together in the second half of last year and looks capable of resuming his progress on the (hopefully) better ground this spring for a trainer who knows all about producing his horses to peak on the big day.


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