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Cheltenham Festival tips: Best antepost bets for the handicaps

Our star pairing of David Massey and Rory Delargy have cast their eyes over the Cheltenham Festival handicap weights and offer their advice.

No tips at this stage with the value in the handicaps largely coming on the day when some of the outsiders will double in price to balance the books, which are currently dominated by wise-guy gambles and dubious favourites at skimpy odds.

The firms aren’t knocking anything out in the face of such gambles now, but the overrounds will contract sharply at declarations and some ricks will appear in every race. Patience, young grasshopper.

Here instead is a glance at each race in order with some 'interesting' runners highlighted – some are horses we both like, some are horses one of us likes, and quite a lot are horses neither of us like one little bit, but bear mentioning in a cautionary way. There’s also a joke or two.

Horse Racing Podcast: Hill to climb

Ultima Handicap Chase

The Irish have a poor record in the Ultima with only two winners since the days of Tom Dreaper’s domination of the sport in the 1960s. The main reason for that in recent years is that the Kim Muir is a better vehicle for Irish plots with the pick of the best amateurs offering an extra edge, while the proximity of the much more valuable Irish Grand National is also a big factor.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see this cross the Irish Sea given the number of entries. The Goffer has been well backed and is respected, but there is a hint of this being too clever with the gelding winning a charity flat race earlier in the month which has been well publicised. Such things can go under the radar but that’s not the case here and he’s become something of a wise-guy gamble.

The other well-backed Irish runner is Gavin Cromwell’s Inothewayurthinkin, but he’s been given a mark of 145 which makes him eligible for the Kim Muir, and may go there, while I’d also be concerned about his profile, being a 6-y-o who is untried at three miles. He’s unexposed, but I’d not be in a rush to back him at single figures.

I’ve put a good word in for Favori de Champdou wherever he runs, but he’s far from certain to take part and isn’t an ante-post proposition at present, while we both like Aye Right as a potential each-way bet nearer the time. Harriet Graham's veteran has been running well and has been given a chance by the handicapper but doesn’t have a sexy profile and is likely to be under-bet, so he’s one to bear in mind, as is the Ben Pauling-trained Twig, who was a good second over C&D in the autumn and is forgiven a lesser effort in the Coral Gold Cup. I think there will be a lot of absentees among those at the top of the handicap, so don’t be disheartened if your fancy is way down the weights.

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Best of luck with this project.

You should get 16/1 about naming two previous winners of the race, never mind trying to find the winner of the latest renewal. It’s like getting into a fight outside The 21 Club at 2:30am on Tuesday; just leave it, babe, it's not worth it.

Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle

Doddiethegreat went into both of our notebooks for this, although Nicky Henderson has been pretty vocal in singing his praises, which hasn’t helped the price. A winner over the Coral Cup trip as a novice before a long absence, he’s been campaigned at shorter this season, and very much caught the eye when staying on from a poor track position in the Betfair Hurdle last time. Prior to that he was a good second here to Go Dante and looks very well handicapped, although that also means he’s not certain to make the cut.

Seven Barrows isn’t a yard I’d follow blind in handicaps but Nicky Henderson has an excellent record in the Coral Cup with four winners since 2010. A mark of 132 means he’s only 58th in the list, but many of the entries are also engaged in the Martin Pipe and/or County Hurdle, and Henderson may look to pick up a penalty, which he did successfully with Call The Cops in the Pertemps a few years ago.

Grand Annual Handicap Chase

Master Chewy would be a serious fancy here off a mark of 150 given how well his form has worked out this season, but Nigel Twiston-Davies seems hell-bent on running both he and Matata in the Arkle, which seems peak Nige to me. In fairness to the Duffle-coated Don Quixote of the trainers’ ranks, that race is looking quite open with Marine Nationale’s defeat at Leopardstown. A change of heart would be welcome, however.

Pembroke finished alone over 2m3f at Aintree in December and looked a non-stayer in the Pendil at Kempton, but I’d not be against him if Dan Skelton dropped him back to 2m for this contest.

Harper’s Brook is a horse I’ve put up a couple of times this season, but he’s never beaten another horse in four runs at Cheltenham and that does look a rather damning statistic, when you think how important course form is. He’s been touted in places for this, but I’d be strongly against him if a gamble was to materialise. Sky Bet: Non Runner No Bet markets available for the 2024 Cheltenham Festival

Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle

White Rhino and Lord Snootie are a pair we’ve had on our radar for the Pertemps all season, although it’s debatable whether either will get a run as they are currently 29th and 35th in the list of qualifiers. Not many tend to drop out of this due to the qualifying criteria, but I’d hope one if not both of the selections will sneak in.

White Rhino moved well throughout when winning over 3m here in December and had the tactical pace to be an excellent second over 2m5f at the track prior to that. He will relish a strong gallop and is impervious to ground conditions, so won’t mind what the weather does.

Lord Snootie was expected to win his qualifier at Wincanton on Boxing Day but shaped as if amiss and then had to go to Haydock after a break where he impressed with the strength of his finishing effort having lost his pitch at a crucial stage. He could have done with winning that to get his mark up, but looks ready to win, and if it’s not here, there is a race at Uttoxeter for him on the Saturday, a contest he was an excellent second in 12 months ago.

Le Milos completes the shortlist of UK horses – last year’s Coral Gold Cup winner was expected to get a Grand National prep, but has been kept to hurdles this term, and has been given a couple of sighters which haven’t got close to the bottom of him. Lower in this sphere than over fences, his trainer is a shrewd cookie, and the only trainer to bag more than one handicap here last March.

Trustatrader Plate Handicap Chase

The Plate isn’t an easy race to assess at present, but we’re both in agreement on one lightly weighted contender. Richard Bandey has his small team in good form and has an improver here in the shape of Theatre Man, who has been keeping good company and finished best of the others in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Trials’ Day here, running on well to be beaten 2¾ lengths into second by Ginny's Destiny. The winner is a big fancy for the Turners, and Theatre Man gets in here off 137, which looks lenient on balance, and we hope he’ll sneak in at the foot of the weights.

Another who ties in with Ginny’s Destiny is Crebilly, who looked set to beat that gelding when tipping up two out at the Paddy Power Meeting. He was bit disappointing in a rematch, but got his head back in front at Exeter last time, and looks like he’s been line up for this. As a JP-owned novice, though, he’s unlikely to go under the radar.

Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Jockeys' Handicap Chase

“Just back Jamie Codd”. Well, that won’t cut it this year and the array of riders who win this when Codd doesn’t runs the gamut from “Top of the charts” to “Sorry, mate, you’re not on the list” (how many nightclub reference is he going to squeeze in?)

There have already been three false favourites in the ante-post lists for this (Stumptown still 7/1 in places despite not being qualified to run), and we’ve arguably got two new entries in that category, with Inothewayurthinkin having significant stamina concerns and Tuesday’s gamble Perceval Legallois given a stiff task based on his Irish mark, which is 7lb lower than the 144 he’s been given here.

Good Time Jonny has also been rated much higher by the UK handicapper, and while he has all the looks of a plot, there was little benefit in him being stuffed out of sight at Fairyhouse on Saturday in terms of the script – it didn’t get him dropped and he didn’t drift a jot in the betting – so there might be a chance (whisper it) that he’s just not that good over fences. The need to invent a plot here means that some horses with solid form get ignored, and this is a race where I’d not put anyone off backing an outsider with the right credentials – sound jumping, stamina and an honest outlook go a long way.

Bowtogreatness is interesting if squeezing in. We were with him in the Coral Trophy at Kempton where he arrived looking to win and possibly blew up before staying on again when the race was over. He needs a few to come out to get a run but has hinted at better on his last two starts and should be peaking at the right time.

We haven’t had a joke in a while, so here’s one stolen from Irvine Welsh. A woman walks into a butcher’s shop on a raw Edinburgh morning.

Wifey: “Is that your Ayrshire bacon?”

Butcher (standing over a two-bar gas heater): “Naw; just keepin’ ma haunds warm."

County Handicap Hurdle

This is the point in the week where we are most likely going to come to blows, because David keeps banging on about Teddy Blue, and even when I say that the Rodger Sargent-owned gelding is a thieving [redacted], he says he agrees, but he’s a talented [redacted] and we’ll be backing him if he’s 33/1, as that’s the “no veto” price where a selection can’t be blackballed. Gary Moore, Teddy Blue's trainer, calls Teddy Blue “a character”, but we both know that “character” is just racing code for [redacted].

If Ruby Walsh is to be believed, there is no Willie Mullins plot in the County this year, but Ruby was justifiably keen on the chances of King Of Kingsfield when we chatted on Monday. Gordon Elliott’s novice has a similar profile to Colonel Mustard who was an excellent third behind State Man two years ago.

ike the Colonel, King Of Kingsfield has been running in Grade 1 company and the handicapper has left him off his Irish rating. He travels almost too strongly in his races and has been beaten after trading very short more than once but is the type to be suited by exaggerated waiting tactics in a County run at a brisk pace.

I quite like 2023 winner Faivoir, who caught the eye when fifth under the inexperienced Heidi Palin in the Betfair Hurdle, and who is plotted up this year just as he was when winning at a big price 12 months ago.

Faivoir gets home by a head from Pied Piper in the County
Could Faivoir pull off the County Hurdle double?

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle

Sa Majeste is the big talking horse with the handicapper giving him 140 despite the fact that he beat Noble Yeats on debut for Willie Mullins. I don’t have a strong view other than that it’s easy to make a case that the mark is lenient based on what the second did next time, but equally, the form can be questioned due to the proximity of the 107-rated third.

I’d also point out that while it’s been said that Willie had to get him a run to qualify for Cheltenham, that’s not actually true; the “four run” rule is for novices, and as a winner in May 2022, he could have gone straight into this race without a prep, as Aux Ptits Soins did when winning the Coral Cup on what was just his third run over hurdles. In truth, I’m not sure that helps anyone’s thinking, but I thought I’d lob it in regardless.

One to consider at bigger odds is Encanto Bruno who has been in and out over hurdles to date but has twice looked very good when the ground has been in his favour and has been confirmed for the race by Gavin Cromwell. He doesn’t want the mud and conditions are key, but he could be well treated. David isn’t as keen as me, but he can be my Teddy Blue if the cap fits.

There will be all sorts of plots in the Martin Pipe. Mullins plots, Elliott plots, Skelton plots, there was even a Pipe plot one year, and making sense of them will be hellish; in fact, having it as the getting-out stakes probably fits the UN description of cruel and unusual punishment, and I very much hope that we don’t need to find the winner to turn our week around.

And finally……..

An eccentric West Country farmer booked a top rider for a horse in a poor chase and told him that the beast would win easily, but he’d have to shout “HUP!!” loudly at every fence. The jockey dismissed the instructions as the bletherings of a madman and rode as normal, but the horse proceeded to blunder so badly at the first few fences that he was tailed off.

Chastened by this experience, the rider, now out of earshot of the others and the crowd, decided to shout the command at the next fence, which his mount flew. This continued for the rest of the race, with the combination passing three in the air at the final fence to win in a photo.

“Well done,” said the farmer. “But what the hell happened at the start?”

“Oh,” replied the embarrassed jockey. "I think the horse might be a bit deaf!"

"Deaf?! Deaf?!” came the startled reply. “He’s not deaf lad – he’s f***ing blind!!"

Published at 0924 GMT on 28/02/24

Antepost Punting Pointers portfolio

Nov 20 - 1pt win The Big Breakaway in Coral Welsh Grand National at 14/1 (LOST)

Nov 27 - 1pt win Torn And Frayed in Virgin Bet December Gold Cup at 25/1 (LOST)

Jan 15 - 2pts win Gentleman de Mee in Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at 3/1 (LOST)

Dec 4 - 0.5pts e.w. Captain Guinness in Champion Chase at 20/1; 0.5pts e.w. Haddex Des Obeaux in Champion Chase at 50/1

Dec 18 - 1pt win Irish Point in the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham at 16/1 (General)

Jan 2 - 1pt e.w Corach Rambler in Cheltenham Gold Cup at 33/1 (General - 1/5 1,2,3)

Jan 8 - 1pt e.w. Banbridge in Ryanair Chase at 20/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3) – minimum 16/1

Jan 22 - 1pt win Favori De Champdou in National Hunt Chase at 16/1 (bet365, Unibet)

Jan 29 - 0.5pts e.w. Excelero in Boodles Fred Winter at 14/1 (NRNB General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5); 0.5pts e.w. Corach Rambler in Cheltenham Gold Cup at 25/1 (bet365, Coral, Ladbrokes)

Feb 12 - 0.5pts e.w. Let It Rain in Weatherbys Champion Bumper at 16/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3 NRNB); 0.5pts e.w. Brechin Castle in Weatherbys Champion Bumper at 33/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3 NRNB)

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