The Cheltenham Festival is just over eight weeks away. While it’s the Grade 1 affairs that understandably take most of the column space, it’s always been the handicaps that I’ve enjoyed trying to unravel. Big field handicaps are always a challenge to unpick at the best of times but the ones at the Cheltenham Festival are a real test when it comes to our free horse racing tips.
The entries are not yet out for the handicaps but that doesn’t mean that it is too early to be doing a deep dive to dig up some each way plays in some of the most competitive races of the season. Below are 3 that are of huge interest in 2021 and even a special bonus one!
16th March 2021 – Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Three winners for Paul Nicholls in this race in the last eleven years so his are always of interest. Houx Gris looks his best chance here, clearly well thought of at home given that he was pitched straight into Grade 1 company at Chepstow on his debut for Nicholls.
He travelled powerfully that day before a mistake two out saw him stop quickly. The pair that beat him were both race fit so the run can be marked up. He may prove good enough for a Triumph in an ordinary year but this would look a more suitable target. A bumper winner on good and a hurdle winner on heavy when trained in France, that ground versatility will stand him in good stead.
Best price currently 20/1 with BetVictor and Unibet
17th March 2021 – Grand Annual Handicap Chase
The Grand Annual has been a race where novices have done well historically. Embittered has found wins hard to come by so far but that’s hardly surprising given the company he’s kept. Interestingly, he has saved his best form for the spring which has to be noted for the Festival.
He was third at this meeting in 2020 in the County Hurdle. The first two home – Saint Roi and Aramon – have suggested that it was a deep renewal. He has taken well enough to chasing, runner-up to Easywork and Andy Dufresne on his first two starts. He was a shade disappointing over Christmas at Grade 1 level but Joseph O’Brien is a man to trust to produce him to perfection on the day.
Best price currently 20/1 with bet365, Hills and Betfred with the last named offering an extra 5th place
19th March 2021 – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle
Always a fascinating contest, where Gordon Elliott is regularly thereabouts. Seven of his twenty-one runners have at least placed – two winners – in this race in the last decade. That kind of record in a race as competitive as this is exceptional and it would’ve been 8/21 but for Column Of Fire falling at the last in 2020 and The Bosses Oscar was unlucky not to make the frame in the same renewal for nine!
Fakeira has all the tools to make his presence felt. A solid runner-up in a Grade 2 event last time, the third has filled that same spot in a Grade 1 since. He will have entries in the likes of the Albert Bartlett as well but handicapping is surely the way forward. A proper end to end gallop and a stiff finish over this trip is going to suit him perfectly.
Elliott’s two winners of this race – Champagne Classic and Blow By Blow – both took in the Michael Purcell Memorial at Thurles at the end of February before running in this contest. Take serious note if in five weeks time, Fakeira pitches up in that Grade 3 event.
Best price currently 25/1 with Hills and Unibet
This one is purely a bonus as it’s hard to know where Dickie Diver will pitch up. He currently heads the market for the Ultima on the Tuesday but has seen some market attention in the Kim Muir on the Thursday. That would be an interesting move, JP McManus having three winners and three places in the last ten years in that amateur chase.
He could also potentially go up in trip for the National Hunt Chase. He looks to have the stamina for that kind of trip. Wherever he does end up at the Festival, he is a huge player, especially in a handicap from his current mark of 142. Very lightly raced for his age, a mark of 142 looks lenient and has the potential to massively underestimate him.