Cheltenham Festival ante-post: Early handicap fancies

Thought I’d share a few who I think look interesting with regards to the handicaps at Cheltenham next month, a week ahead of the entries being revealed and with just a month to go now until the Festival itself.

ULTIMA CHASE

The price has gone now to be honest, with the 20/1 available a couple of weeks ago well and truly snapped up, but I think Give Me A Copper has big claims of landing this one for Paul Nicholls. Now best priced 7/1 if you want the NRNB insurance, this is a horse that was entered for this year’s Gold Cup and I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually was in the lineup for next year’s race. Very lightly rated for his nine years, this son of Presenting had the perfect prep at Sandown at the start of the month when fourth and should come on a bundle for that run. Rated 145, he could well turn out to be very well handicapped indeed.

Another one who could turn up here after a disappointing season is White Moon. I had high hopes for Colin Tizzard’s grey at the start of the campaign but for whatever reason he just hasn’t fired. With that being the case I wouldn’t be surprised to see his sights lowered and him dropping into a handicap at the Festival. This is a race that would suit trip-wise and 25/1 NRNB is tempting.

CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES CHASE

Available at 14/1 NRNB with Skybet, Highway One O One looks a cracking each-way bet. Chris Gordon has already nominated it as the target for the seven-year-old, who is rated 143 so won’t have any issues getting in. Ran a great race when second to Kildisart at Cheltenham on trials day after being stepped up in trip for the first time and is a horse with some class about him, having lined up in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad at Christmas and Grade 1 Henry VIII before that this season.

CORAL CUP

Cracking Smart is a horse I’m very interested in with regards to handicaps at the Festival, although guessing which one he’ll go for is the tricky part. Of course, this is the beauty of NRNB but this race would seem to be his most likely destination. Gordon Elliott’s charge has had his fair share of injury issues but is a classy individual, having finished just a length behind Next Destination in last season’s Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas. He made a pleasing enough return in the 3m Christmas Hurdle won by Apples Jade at Leopardstown at Christmas and is definitely one to keep on side. Rated 150, he can currently be backed at 20/1 NRNB.

I also like Joseph O’Brien’s Early Doors for this one, a horse who probably isn’t quite good enough for the Stayers Hurdle but has some top form having finished second in that Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle and third in last year’s Martin Pipe. Rated 143, he can be backed at 16/1 NRNB.

PERTEMPS FINAL

This is one of the most competitive handicaps of the week and a bit of a minefield at this stage but I’ve narrowed it down to two I like, both who have qualified from the same race. The race in question was the qualifier at Cheltenham in October, won by The Mighty Don, a horse that has since ran in two Grade 2s and a Grade 1 and is now rated 150. That day he beat Sykes, getting four pounds, by just a short head. Nicky Martin’s runner hasn’t been seen since although is entered in another qualifier at Haydock this weekend, which one can only assume is serving as a prep for the final. Available at 33/1 NRNB he certainly is worthy of some interest.

Meanwhile, an even more fascinating contender is the horse who finished third in that Cheltenham qualifier – Dawn Raider, trained by none other than Pat Kelly, who has of course won this race twice in the past with Presenting Percy and Mall Dini. Now, his current mark of 123 obviously wouldn’t get him into the final but fear not as both of his previous winners were in a similar situation at this stage of the season before elevating their marks to get in. Looking at today’s entries for the weekend, low and behold Dawn Raider is there, entered at Gowran on Saturday. My advice would be to take the 20/1 NRNB available for the Pertemps now because if he hacks up at the weekend that will most certainly be gone.

COUNTY HURDLE

There are three who look particularly interesting to me here. I landed a touch a couple of years ago when Arctic Fire won this race off top weight and I’m hoping it could be the same story with Vision Des Flos this year. Colin Tizzard has stated that he is likely to aim at handicap with the six-year-old, admitting that he’s just short of Champion Hurdle class, and this would surely be the obvious race. Second, just two lengths behind Buveur D’air, in the Contenders Hurdle earlier this month he would be a classy entry if he takes his chance here and can be backed at 16/1 NRNB with Skybet.

Available at 20/1 meanwhile is Alan King’s Lisp, a horse that has been the model of consistency this season, having followed up victory on his seasonal return at Fontwell with second place finishes in the listed Gerry Feilden, just half a length behind Champion Hurdle bound Global Citizen, and the ultra competitive Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot, when coming home ahead of Western Ryder and Tolworth second Grand Sancy. That’s top class form in anyone’s book and he must be better than a 20/1 shot here after a proposed dart at the rearranged Betfair Hurdle this weekend first.

Finally, at 33/1 I also like the claims of Dr Richard Newland’s Leoncavallo, who has unfortunately been forced to miss the Betfair Hurdle because of the rules regarding flu vaccinations within the last six months. This is a horse that was third in the Galway Hurdle last summer, less than four lengths behind Sharjah, and he looks overpriced under a trainer who knows how to land a big handicap.

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