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Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate sees declared runners take on 17 fences and a two mile five furlong trip in this Grade 3 Festival handicap chase on the Thursday of the Festival. Until 2015 this race was called the Byrne Group Plate, but it is commonly known as just the Festival Plate.
Trying to find a more game and determined horse than Village Vic is very difficult and that is why he’s our 2017 Festival Plate Chase tip for Philip Hobbs. He has been performing well in big handicaps here in the winter and looks likely to put up another brilliant effort as Hobbs bids for his first win in the race.
An all heart front runner who jumps well and wears his heart on his sleeve, he returned this season when second in the BetVictor Gold Cup over C&D. Despite a three pound rise, that failed to stop him from putting up another brilliant effort when third in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December, again over C&D. He once again jumped brilliantly in a bid to make all and rallied gamely under pressure when headed, only going down by one and a half lengths. Off that same mark, he again nearly made all here when second in a Grade 3 on New Year’s Day, just lacking a gear change towards the finish.
He has now been given a break and a mark of 158 on the evidence of those efforts is unlikely to stop him from going very close in this. It’s hard to dispute that he certainly deserves a big win to his name this season and with conditions to suit and the likely assistance of the champion jockey Richard Johnson, he looks set to go very close from the front at a track he loves dearly.
Philip Hobbs’s Village Vic is almost certain to make this a stamina test and has run with credit in all the races in which he has competed this season, placing in three Grade 3 races, never going down without strong resistance. That has, however, kept the damage to his handicap mark down somewhat, with him only being raised 3lb despite all of those great efforts in defeat. At the age of ten he has certainly wandered into the veteran stage of his career, but this plucky front-runner has a never-say-die attitude which has been shown on multiple occasions this season, jumping beautifully and battling back when headed. With two wins at Cheltenham and four places, he clearly handles the track very well and loves these fences, jumping with pinpoint accuracy. The fact that he is also completely ground versatile is another big plus. The Hobbs’ yard has hit form when it matters most and Richard Johnson will be dictating the fractions out in front, so a good ride can be assured. He looks set to go very close and has to be respected.
Competing in races at a higher level, Diamond King seems worthy of favouritism. An easy winner of his chasing debut at Galway, he has competed at Grade 1 and 2 level since and, considering the level of competition, he has not been disgraced. Dropping back into handicap company on a mark of 146, he would almost certainly be able to run a good race, though he does need to jump with more fluency as he has made mistakes on his last two chasing runs. He has wins on good and heavy ground, so that factor is removed. He is also a strong stayer at this trip as evidenced by his win in the Coral Cup last season – which also proves his Cheltenham suitability – so he has to be considered for a race like this.
Flattering to deceive on multiple occasions this season, it is hard to not be disappointed by Bouvreuil. After a good second in the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase at the Festival last season, he has been midfield on both of his starts this season, never posing a threat to the leading group. He has many lengths to find, with multiple horses likely to enter the race. However, at the age of six he surely should be capable of further improvement for Paul Nicholls, who is yet to win this race. The softer the ground, the better he is likely to run as he has avoided truly ‘good’ ground for most of his career. He does perform well at Prestbury Park, with two places at the Festival and he could be a good each way angle. However, it is hard to see him wining this, with a few of these horses definitely having his measure this season.
A rapid improver this season for Gary Moore, Baron Alco has to be a big danger in this. Second to the smart Whisper at Cheltenham in December over C&D, he managed to split Top Notch and Le Prezien in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase when finishing second in that Grade 1 contest. That form brings him straight into contention, and he will make sure that they go a good clip if given a soft lead which would greatly increase his chances. He stays the trip well and has shown that he enjoys the Cheltenham fences with that C&D second in December, so he has all of the tools to put on an admirable display. He still remains with potential and looks to be the dark horse in this race, with a best priced 16/1 likely to be underestimating his potential.
Falling when still in contention for the JLT Novices’ Chase last season, Garde La Victoire has shown some good form this season and notched up a game win at Sandown on his latest start, despite top weight. A C&D winner over hurdles, he stays this trip and is ground versatile which is a huge advantage. What is concerning though is the fact that he has fallen on two of his seven chasing starts to date and has not shown himself to be the most astute jumper on occasion. With a tendency to jump left-handed, Chleltenham should suit him, but the fact that he has fallen here previously does add some slight risk to backing him. With a clear round, he is a likely player off a mark of 158, and has definite each way claims at a best priced 16/1.
A P McCoy recorded the biggest Festival Plate win in recent memory when leading home Martin Pipe’s 7/4 favourite Majadou by 16 lengths back in 1999. Something Wells and Ping Pong Sivola were first and second and 18 lengths clear of the field for Venetia Williams in 2009, the eventual winner cutting adrift by half a length. At 33/1, Something Wells was not the biggest priced winner, with the success of 66/1 outsider Mr McGoldrick for Sue Smith a year earlier providing a big win for the bookies.