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The Conditionals Handicap, known as the Martin Pipe, is a two and a half mile handicap hurdle open to horses aged four years and older and exclusively for conditional jockeys. It is the second to last race of the Cheltenham Festival and always provides a competitive field. There are as always some trends and statistics which can help us dig through the field and uncover those with the best chances and we’ll look at those below. You can view our Conditionals handicap tips here.
A few do well in our trends here but it is Ben Dundee and Deal D’Estruval who come out best. Both fit all the categories we have set out and are equally interesting for the race, it is difficult to know whether they will turn up on the day as they are otherwise engaged but if doing so they’d be hard ones to ignore.
Flawless Escape ✅✅✅❌✅
Sire Du Berlais ✅✅✅✅❌
Blow By Blow ❌✅✅✅❌
Ben Dundee ✅✅✅✅✅
Deal D’Estruval ✅✅✅✅✅
Ok Corral ❌✅✅✅❌
Early Doors ✅✅✅✅❌
Mr Big Shot ❌✅❌✅✅
The antepost favourite for this at the moment is Gordon Elliott’s Flawless Escape who has had three starts over hurdles so far and has finished in each position on the podium. He was second to a Willie Mullins horse on hurdle debut and went one better next time up, he then ran in a competitive handicap hurdle behind the thrown in Total Recall at the Dublin Racing Festival and was beaten just under four lengths which reads very well. A mark of 137 seems fair despite being nine pounds higher than his last run and he looks sure to go well for last year’s leading trainer at the Festival. Gordon Elliott has another trio who are prominent in the market in the shape of Sire Du Berlais, Ben Dundee and Blow By Blow. He won this race with Don Poli in 2016 and he had a similar profile to Blow By Blow, who was a high class bumper horse so he has to have a chance if lining up. The handicapper did no favours to Sire Du Berlais and he is nine pounds higher than his last run despite only finishing second beaten five and a half lengths but looked as if there was plenty of improvement left. Ben Dundee was heavily backed on his debut for Gordon Elliott and hacked up and has since run well a number of times so could have a chance off a fair enough mark of 139.
Deal D’Estruval has been talked up as a potentially very leniently treated horse following his second to a Charles Byrnes gamble at the Dublin Racing Festival and he would be very interesting if turning up here. He has entries all over the place but whatever he is declared for he’ll have a decent chance especially as the Mullins horses have been firing on all cylinders coming into Cheltenham. Another who holds more than one entry but is interesting is the Nicky Henderson trained Ok Corral, he is entered in the Ballymore but could be reasonably treated in a handicap as he was only narrowly beaten by Yorkhill in a bumper back in 2015 before coming back off an absence to win two of his three hurdles starts so far and was only beaten by a useful looking stablemate.
Joseph O’Brien has achieved a remarkable amount in his short training career and has a big chance of a Festival winner this year with Early Doors who has seen some support for this race over the past few days. This is his only entry and he’s guaranteed a run which is more than you can say for a majority of these. He was an impressive winner of his first two starts including a Grade 3 before struggling a bit when upped to the top level, he was beaten just under six lengths by Supreme fancy Mengli Khan, before finishing down the field behind the brilliant Samcro in the Deloitte. He will find this much easier than those assignments back into handicap company and the experience of four runs over hurdles will do him no harm, so you can see why he has been nibbled at in the market.
David Pipe is an excellent trainer especially at targeting his horses to produce their best at the Cheltenham Festival and he’d love to win the race which is named after his father with Mr Big Shot. He has not been seen since winning at Carlisle in April 2017, is three from three under rules, with none of his rivals having got within eight lengths of him so far, it’s pretty hard to know how good he is. A rating of 138 seems like a bit of a guess from the handicapper and he could well have been aimed at this ever since his victory last year, especially considering David Pipe’s record.
For more Cheltenham content including trends, tips and previews take a look at our Cheltenham Festival tips section.