Cheltenham Festival ante-post: Handicap fancies (Part three)

Following the release of the handicap weights earlier this week here are a few more I like the look of with just ten days to go now until the 2019 Cheltenham Festival…

ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE

He’s been nibbled at all week, but Minella Rocco has undoubtedly been given a chance off 152 and is still well worth a punt at 10/1 in the opening handicap of the week. Rated as high as 166 in November 2017, Jonjo O’Neill’s son of Shirocco showed some real signs that the old spark was back when leading for much of the way over hurdles at Exeter just over a week ago and has some really solid previous Festival form in the book with his Gold Cup second in 2017 and victory in the four miler the year before. Albeit a seriously competitive race, it does represent a drop in grade for a horse that has become used to running in Grade 1s and he presents himself as a very useful second dart for those of us that already have Give Me A Copper in their portfolio for this contest.

CORAL CUP

I’ve been banging on about this on Twitter since the weights were released but I think Killultagh Vic is an outstanding bet, with 25/1 NRNB still on offer. Handed 150 by the handicapper, he disappointed in the Red Mills Chase last month but ran a cracker over hurdles the time before, when finishing less than two lengths behind Presenting Percy in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle. Willie Mullins admitted that he regrets not entering the horse for the Stayers Hurdle at the Festival and with a Gold Cup bid surely unlikely this would seem to be the ideal target, especially as he wouldn’t even have to shoulder top weight with at least Vision Des Flos above him among the intended runners. He has that all important Festival form on his CV too of course, with victory in the 2015 Martin Pipe, and on his day is a class act. He forms part of a quartet at big prices which I’m waging war with in the Coral Cup, alongside Brio Conti, Cracking Smart and Early Doors, although the latter seems more likely to take up his engagement in the Martin Pipe on the Friday (more of that later).

PERTEMPS FINAL

With the chances of the previously advised Dawn Raider of getting in now looking very unlikely (although he is entered to run at Thurles next Thursday and with a penalty if he were to win, you never know), one that does look like sneaking in at the bottom of the weights is Samburu Shujaa. Currently 27 on the list, needs just three to come out to get in and would go into the race in tip top form following back to back wins at Chepstow, the first of which he won by an impressive 16 lengths. The only time Philip Hobbs’ charge has been outside the first two in his last five starts was at Warwick in December, but arguably that was also one of his best runs, finishing within seven lengths of leading Albert Bartlett fancy Birchdale in fifth, with the decent yardsticks Clarendon Street and Johnbb also just in front – both of whom won next time out. 12/1 NRNB is available if you shop around while another one I previously advised – Sykes – can still be backed at 20/1.

BROWN ADVISORY PLATE

There’s been lots of talk about Jerrysback being a horse for the Ultima, over three miles on day one, but all season he’s been campaigned over two and a half so with the NRNB concession the 16/1 available would seem a bet worth having. Although disappointing in second when favourite at Haydock last time out, his run behind Vinndication at Ascot the time before was impressive form. A mark of 148 seems fair too.

Off just a pound higher Benatar is surely worth giving another chance to as well at what could be a generous 20/1. Third in the JLT at last year’s Festival, Gary Moore’s seven-year-old has been a bit disappointing this season and in honesty connections must be disappointed he hasn’t been dropped a pound or two in the last 12 months. Despite this, the pace of a Cheltenham handicap will help him settle and I’m convinced he definitely has a big one in him.

KIM MUIR CHALLENGE CUP

Nigel Twiston-Davies won this race in 2013 with Same Difference and he has a very interesting contender this time with Arthur’s Gift. Available at 20/1, the eight-year-old son of Presenting, is currently number 35 in the list meaning he needs 11 to come out to get in, but the low 130s previously being enough his mark of 138 should see him sneak in. Another horse that will appreciate a truly run race, he got his first win over fences at Carlisle a couple of weeks’ ago, winning with plenty in hand despite giving weight to the rest of the field. He has shown a liking for Cheltenham in the past too, adding to his appeal, winning competitive handicap hurdle at the course in December 2017 with Sykes, Jester Jet and Shantou Bob all behind him (all now rated over 145). He’ll appreciate a bit of cut in the ground and if he gets it would go into the 3m 2f Kim Muir with an each way chance.

COUNTY HURDLE

I’ve already recommended Lisp, Leoncavallo and Vision Des Flos for this two mile handicap, although following his win in the National Spirit last week it now looks as though the latter is heading for the Coral Cup instead (where he has Killultagh Vic in his way – yes, I really do like KV’s chances!). Another Colin Tizzard horse in the same colours may well be heading here though and that’s 33/1 shot Pingshou. On a very attractive looking 142, the lightly raced nine-year-old has been flying high in Grade 1s and 2s since returning from missing last season with injury, not being able to make a mark in two novice chase starts or the Grade 2 hurdle won by Global Citizen at Haydock in January. However, back down in grade he should be much more competitive and if he can return to the sort of form before his layoff which saw him win the Grade 1 Top Novices hurdle at Aintree and push Cilaos Emery and Melon all the way at Punchestown just after that, then he looks a big price here.

GRAND ANNUAL

The previously recommended 20/1 on Magic Saint is now looking very good, with Paul Nicholls’ charge now no bigger than 8/1 and as short as 6s. However, another one that took my eye after the weights came out, was Diakali, who can be backed at a massive 40/1. Now there are obviously risks attached to this ten-year-old, who can be a bit of a nutcase, but he’s been running in top company the last twice and back down in a handicap, off 147, you can see him blazing a trail in front and being difficult to peg back. A winner at Cheltenham already this season, it’s amazing to think it’s six years since he was fourth in the Triumph won by the ill-feted Our Conor.

MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONALS HANDICAP HURDLE

Another winner, like Diakali, at the Showcase meeting that raised the curtain on the season at Cheltenham in October was Dermot McLoughlin’s Canardier. We haven’t seen the seven-year-old since but he’s a young horse on the upgrade who is also thought enough of to be still in the mix for the Ballymore. This is his most likely destination however and his mark of 141 and price of 20/1 both hold plenty of appeal.

The other one in the Martin Pipe who looks very interesting is the aforementioned Early Doors, with Joseph O’Brien’s charge going to Cheltenham on the back of chasing home Apple’s Jade at Christmas, albeit 26 lengths behind. He’ll have top weight but with the weights likely to be very condensed it shouldn’t be such an issue and a price of 20/1 could be generous.

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