The big names in British and Irish racing are lying in wait for the Cheltenham Festival. There’s no shortage of competitive fare on offer this Saturday though, with racing from Doncaster, Kelso and Newbury live on ITV. With a host of big-field handicaps, there’s a number of contenders who have strong claims at big prices.
Here’s three who caught the eye. Check out our tips and analysis over the weekend, as well as our Free Bets. We’ve previewed the world’s richest race, the Saudi Cup, and Joe Eccles’ Antepost series has another two selection for Chetltenham handicaps for you.
The market for a competitive handicap hurdle over three-miles is led by Paul Nicholls’ Blackjack Kentucky. The seven-year-old shed his maiden tag at the sixth attempt of asking after a couple of runner-up finishes earlier this term. He switches to handicap company today and could prove better than a mark of 130 in time.
One at a bigger price who makes plenty of appeal is SHADES OF MIDNIGHT. Now rising ten, Sandy Thomson’s charge is having his first start for over a year when he landed a Grade Two at Haydock. He finished eight-lengths clear of the field there with rivals rated 154, 152 and 161 trailing home behind him.
That success was one of a number of impressive pieces of form last season, including a ten-length win over fences and a half-length defeat to Paisley Park. The gelding returns to action here off a mark of 145.
He appears very well treated, particularly with the conditional rider Rachael McDonald claiming a further five off his back. A double-digit price, for all that he’s been off the track for 378 days, underestimates his chances.
The Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase went the way of San Benedeto last year. The nine-year-old is three pounds higher this term, but the talented Bryan Carver claims a valuable five. He should be near the head of your shortlists, but one nearer the foot of the weights is overpriced for me.
The Alan Jones trained TIQUER does all of his best work on a testing surface, with all five wins over fences coming on either soft or heavy ground. That includes an impressive eight-length win over course and distance in March 2018, as well as a cosy success at Chepstow over Christmas.
The veteran landed a competitive seven-runner contest with something to spare there. The form looks rock solid, with the second coming out and scoring by twenty-lengths since. The third was seeking a three-timer and the fourth got closer to re-opposing rivals Domaine De L’Isle and Bennys King next time out than he did Tiquer. With that in mind, he’s surely overpriced.
The action on ITV closes with the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase, a stamina sapping contest over three-miles-two. Nicholls has another at the head of the betting with the three-timer seeking Worthy Farm. He hasn’t had too much to spare in both recent wins at Wincanton though, and steps up in grade here.
Another rival hunting a hat-trick has strong claims. Jennie Candish’s FORTIFIED BAY has progressed rapidly since going over fences, recording RPRs of 87, 100, 127 and 135. He’s a rapidly improving sort who has stayed on very strongly to record back to back successes.
The in-form Aidan Coleman returns to the saddle. A combined twelve pound rise does demand more from the eight-year-old, however he’s only going in one direction and that’s upwards. If he hailed from the Nicholls’ yard, he’d be half the price. As a result, he’s worth chancing at an attractive price.
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The weights for the ten Cheltenham Festival handicaps were unveiled on Wednesday. Here, we’ve taken a detailed look at the contests, detailing the current favourite, top weights and the Irish angle.