The feature race on the Saturday of Cheltenham’s Open meeting, this Grade 3 handicap has been a stepping stone to bigger targets in the past. Grade 1 winners Al Ferof and Imperial Commander have both been successful in the past decade; it’s a race where a younger ‘handicap blot’ is often lurking. The great Martin Pipe farmed the contest, winning seven renewals in a ten year span from 1996-2005, while Paul Nicholls has been responsible for two of the last four winners. We are taking a look at all 43 runners entered in one of the early season marquee races.
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Annacotty – The defending champion followed up his win in this contest with a further victory at Cheltenham in January. His last three wins have all come at this venue, making him something of a standing dish here. He comes here from a nine pound higher mark than he won off last year which naturally demands more. However, it would be folly to write him off, especially if the rain comes.
Art Mauresque – While rain would be a huge plus for Annacotty, it would be a sizeable negative for Paul Nicholls’s charge. Arrives looking for a hat-trick of wins after victories at Newton Abbot and Chepstow already this season. He is a difficult one for the handicapper to get a handle on given that he does very little in front and he may yet have the improvement needed to contend.
As De Mee – After spending last season taking on the best novices in Graded chases, he finally broke his duck over the bigger obstacles when he won comfortably at Fontwell. His jumping that day was considerably better than it was most of last season, but that will be tested around this much more difficult circuit.
Aso – Enjoyed a solid first season over fences last year, including when only beaten 14 lengths by Douvan in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. This trip is more suitable than shorter, but he is soft ground dependent and has failed to make much of an impression in three career handicaps.
Ballynagour – Holds no secrets from the handicapper, but has finished an excellent runner up in both the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter and in Market Rasen’s Summer Plate earlier this season. The latter was off this mark, so he has the ability to contend but is likely to find younger legs improving past him.
Bouvreuil – Nailed close home when second in the Close Brothers Plate at the Festival, this is likely to have been pencilled in the diary for him ever since. He lacked consistency last season, but he is only five and it is likely that, with another summer on his back, he can progress further up the handicap this season.
Buywise – Just 2 lbs higher than when a half length second in this race last year, he is likely to have plenty of supporters. He has a tendency to try to take a few souvenirs home from the fences, however, and that will always make him more of an each way bet rather than one for win purposes.
Double Shuffle – Has held his form well over the last year, running to a solid level in the majority of his starts. He shapes as if he is capable of winning off this mark, but the three times he has run at Cheltenham, he has faded up the hill each time.
Frodon – One of the babies of the field at just fouor years of age, he is 3/3 over fences in the UK. The first pair of wins came at 4/9 and 4/6, while he was arguably handed his most recent when Shantou Village walked through three out at Wincanton. This is a much bigger field and whether he is ready for a traditionally rough handicap must be open to question.
Full Shift – Won at Kempton on Boxing Day on just his second start over fences, but followed that with an abject showing at Musselburgh. Ran well when fourth behind Empire Of Dirt at the Festival, but he has been poor the last two times he has been seen in action. He is simply too untrustworthy to have any confidence in.
Johnny Og – A brave front runner, he gave connections a great thrill at the Festival over four miles in the National Hunt Chase when fading late on. This is much more like his ideal distance, and he is warming up for a potential tilt at the Open meeting with a strong display at Stratford.
More Of That – The former World Hurdle winner took well to fences last season, finishing his campaign with a third in the RSA chase at the Festival. A broken blood vessel that day is a legitimate excuse and it would be no surprise to see him make it 5/6 at Cheltenham, given the sufficient test of stamina at this trip.
Potters Cross – Successful the one time he competed last season, he returned with a Chepstow win to begin the 2016/17 season. This demands more and the runner up did nothing for that form next time out. However, the yard are much healthier than they were for the majority of last season and, as a consequence, they could have a few who are well handicapped.
Sizing Granite – A Grade 1 winning novice chaser for his previous yard, he found things much harder in his sophomore year over fences last time round. He has joined the Colin Tizzard yard from Ireland he has a little to prove over a trip this far.
Sizing Platinum – Another Potts horse to join the Tizzard ranks, he comes here off the back of a runner up effort to Fox Norton at Cheltenham’s first meeting of the season. The bare form of that run needs improving on, but it is entirely possible with that first run under his belt.
Stilleto – Has only been seen nine times in total in his career but is already on his third trainer. He only made it as far as the third fence when joint favourite for a Festival handicap and from a pound lower is still well weighted for a canny new yard
Taquin Du Seuil – Former Festival winner when landing the JLT in 2014. He kept warm company after a comeback win last season off 4 lbs lower and isn’t entirely handicapped out of things. Although there are likely to be a few who will improve past him.
Tenor Nivernais – Paid for his consistency last year with an inflated mark, having been placed in a trio of big handicaps over two and half at Cheltenham. This is likely to be tough unless there is plenty of give underfoot.
Thomas Crapper – Smart on his day as he showed when winning at Newbury in April, but those going days are few and far between. That was his first win since November 2013 and he is unlikely to be adding to that tally here.
Top Gamble – One of the flag bearers for Kerry Lee last season in her debut as a trainer. He slammed Dodging Bullets in the Game Spirit at Newbury before thrashing Sizing Granite at Fairyhouse. This trip has stretched his stamina in the past, however, and from a mark of 160, this looks a tough ask.
Village Vic – Enjoyed an excellent time of things last season, winning four handicaps on the bounce including a pair here, going up over 2 stone in the handicap as a result. Boasts a strong record fresh, but this will demand more of him to win again.
Vintage Vinnie – Had dropped to an excellent mark when taking full advantage at Market Rasen in September, but couldn’t repeat the dose at Newton Abbot in October. Last year was a write off due to the stable form and, although he is still feasibly treated, he will face competition for the lead here.