Handicap hopes: Your EW Cheltenham Festival Super Yankee

When the discarded betting slips are swept up Friday, the regrets will focus almost totally on the championship races, ignoring the fact 10 contests, or almost 40% of the total, are handicaps.
Handicap hopes: Your EW Cheltenham Festival Super Yankee

They don’t get much publicity, mostly because they are rally cars at a Formula One meeting and, even at this point, there remains uncertainty on runners and riders. But they tend to be the best betting heats, so to reassert the esteem of the poor handicappers, here is a Festival ‘E/W Super-Yankee.’

Five horses at generous prices with alternatives for the inevitable risk of non-runners.

Today, 2.50 Ultima Festival Handicap Chase

Verdict: Kruzhlinin. Alternative: Un Temps Pour Tout.


Three races in and very short priced favourites have defined the market in the first two. Time to let the belt out. The historical trends for this race indicate that the likely winner will have solid track form, possibly at the festival, priced in single figures without being favourite, aged between seven and nine and officially rated between 142 and 146 and will have won or been placed in their most recent run.

The texture of the race will be determined by the running plans Philip Hobbs picks for top weight Sausalito Sunrise who was raised 13lbs for a recent win at Ascot. Without the penalty he would have carried about 10-13 in this which may well have made him a good thing.

On the assumption Sausalito goes elsewhere, Hobbs’ Kruzhlinin should go well off 148. Grand National bound, he won well from Le Reve at Ascot in January, will be well primed and is nicely fancied at around 9/1. An alternative is Un Temps Pour Tout, from the Pipe stable who used to harvest these contests for fun. A high class hurdler he is rated a stone less over fences and if he finds some courage, could be well in with 10-11.

Today, 5.30 Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase

Verdict: Thomas Crapper: Alternative: Thomas Brown.


There’s a recent bias for the winner to come from the upper end of the weights although last year just 6lbs covered the entire field. The winner will tends to have strong recent form, be aged six or seven and have come first or second last time out. Favourites tend not to win (2 of the last 10), nor do outsiders (2 of 10, at 16/1 or longer.)

Robin Dicken’s Thomas Crapper doesn’t hit much in the trend analysis, but there are counterbalancing arguments and peel a few layers from the onion and there are many strong positives. Runner up in the same race last year to Irish Cavalier at a similar handicap mark, he loves the course, the going and the time of year and looks to have been prepared specifically out for the race. He has been nibbled into 12/1.

A major danger for Crapper is his near namesake Thomas Brown, trained by Harry Fry. This particular Thomas has also won at the course and was highly tried in his hurdles career indicating that he is held in high regard.

Tomorrow, 2.50 Coral Cup

Verdict: Diamond King, alternative Rock The Kasbah.


The Coral Cup is always a white hot handicap hurdle, run at a serious pace and a wall of fast finisher’s always seem to be lined up in the run to the last hurdle. Winning favourites are as rare as hen’s teeth, indeed there has been only two single figured priced winners in the last ten years.

Although there has been some success for older contestants, there is a preponderance for unexposed five or six-year-olds among the winners. Ireland has a reasonably solid record and the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury normally provides to be a strong indicator of success.

It’s a tough task to pick a couple of gold nuggets from this minefield, but Diamond King looks bright and shiny. Previously trained in England by Donald McCain he was moved to Gordon Elliot last summer and since then his form has been on an upward trend as his new trainer grew to know him better.

After a couple of pleasing pipe openers he stayed on well to beat Jennies Jewel at Punchestown in January and his penalty for that win was enough to ensure he gets in to this week’s contest. He has been consistently supported from 16s to half those odds in the run up and looks sure to be prominent.

Dangers are plentiful, but Rock The Kasbah is on a streak of two for the in form Philip Hobbs and is still improving.

Thursday 2.10 Pertemps

Verdict: Unknowhatimeanharry: Alternative: Leave at Dawn.


Since moving to a four day festival several years ago the Cheltenham executive have added several egg and spoon races to pad out the card.

The Pertemps Final goes back to 1974 and has always been a weak link in terms of quality although recently the qualifying conditions have been raised. Solid trends are not apparent — four of the last 10 winners have winning form last time out another four were fifth or worse. Only one of the 10 has been favourite and another was 50/1.

But don’t be discouraged, the answer is in there somewhere. Uknowwhatimeanharry has several options at the festival, but he is shortest for the Pertemps than any other race. Eight years old, exposed, ready and uncomplicated. He stays three miles well, won a grade two at Cheltenham in December and hacked up in a qualifier for this race at Exeter in last month. Among his myriad of rivals is Leave at Dawn, a Charles Byrne/JP McManus collaboration. Fifth of twenty-one when last seen at Christmas, he has been backed into favourite in recent days, which is not insignificant for this stable.

Friday 2.10 County Hurdle

Verdict: Townshend: Alternative, John Constable


Another ferocious handicap hurdle, once honoured as the festival closer, now relegated to early on Friday afternoon. The trends are very clear. It is likely to be won by an Irish trained five or six year old with a clear preference for racing left handed who is officially rated between 131 and 139 and experienced over hurdles, although not necessarily at Cheltenham. Only three of the last 10 winners have been successful last time out.

Willie Mullins has eight entries to choose from, but if the dice falls correctly and enough ahead of him in the weights come out then Townshend presents a seriously interesting proposition. The five year old was imported from France last year for Mrs Ricci and has had only run once in Ireland when he ran fourth to Gordon Elliot’s Squouateur at Fairyhouse three weeks ago.

He left the impression of a horse that would come on well for the run. Rated 131 in Ireland the British handicapper has upped him 4 Lbs, just in case, and is intriguingly short priced at around 12/1 in the light of what he has achieved to date. The alternative is John Constable from Evan Williams’ yard, who has been hanging around all winter waiting for his day to come.

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