The Centenary Novices’ Handicap, also known as the Close Brothers is a Listed contest which is the last race on the first day of the Festival. It is run over two and a half miles on the old course and is open to novice chasers rated from 0-145. It is a difficult race to win but was taken in good style last year by Tully East for Alan Fleming and Denis O’Regan. As always there are plenty of statistics and trends which can help us narrow down the field when searching for a winner and we’ll have a look at these below, you can also check out our Centenary Novices’ Handicap tips here.
Centenary Novices’ Handicap Trends Analysis
- Competitive but still few surprises – 11 of the last 13 winners came from the top six in the betting
- Match fitness key – 12 of the last 13 winners had run in the last 45 days
- Unexposed types do well – 12 of the last 13 winners had run in six or less chases
- Recent form helps – 8 of the last 11 winners finished first or second in their previous start
- Six and seven year olds do well – 9 of the last 13 winners were six or seven years old
A few do well in the trends here but it is Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be who just about comes out on top ahead of Divine Spear, Barney Dwan and Any Second Now. He had a nice prep run around a month ago which he won, he fits the age band and just about in the front six of the betting.
Trends – Key Runners
De Plotting Shed ✅❌✅✅❌
Any Second Now ✅✅✅❌✅
Barney Dwan ✅✅✅✅❌
Rather Be ✅✅✅✅✅
Divine Spear ❌✅✅✅✅
There have been a couple of early springers in the antepost market for this race but none more so than De Plotting Shed after comments from the handicapper describing him as a ‘headache’ to rate. He was backed into favouritism in the past few days and it is not hard to see why, he was a high class hurdler who reached a rating of 150 in that sphere and having run in four chases he has been given a rating of 143. He has yet to win a chase but has finished second on three occasions to some decent horses including leading RSA fancy Presenting Percy on chase debut and has since been running over trips slightly too short on inadequate ground. The soft ground may once more be his nemesis at the Festival.
Another Irish horse who has yet to win a chase but has similarly bumped into some impressive rivals along the way is Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now. He has been beaten on his last four starts by Arkle favourite Footpad twice, JLT favourite Invitation Only and Grade 1 winning chaser Monalee which is difficult to criticise and he has snuck in at the top of the weights here on a mark of 145. There is a reasonable chance he is a good deal better than his current mark as he was a more than useful Grade 2 winning hurdler on just his second appearance on a racecourse so he is definitely one to keep an eye on if lining up in the JP McManus silks which are so synonymous with Cheltenham handicap wins.
Barry Geraghty looks to have a nice decision to make on who to ride here as JP McManus is also represented at this stage by Paul Nicholls’ Movewiththetimes who has also yet to win a chase but has run well a couple of times behind the likes of Finian’s Oscar and North Hill Harvey. He has run three times at Cheltenham this season which will do him no harm in terms of experience at the track and considering he was viewed by many as a live contender for last year’s Supreme Novices’ a mark of 142 seems lenient enough, there have been questions over his commitment in a battle but if Geraghty rides and can deliver him perfectly he certainly looks like a well handicapped horse.
Previous Festival form is a big positive and that bodes well for the chances of Barney Dwan who was a valiant second behind the extremely well handicapped Presenting Percy in last year’s Pertempts and races here off the same mark as he was on that day despite having been successful on two of his three chase starts. He made a few mistakes on his chasing debut but jumped okay when winning the next two times and his trainer has been reasonably confident that a bit of better ground and a quicker pace should help him iron out those flaws, he looks on a fair mark and should definitely get into the race so is one to note as he attempts to go one better than last year.
Rather Be has won two of his three starts over fences without coming off the bridle and unseated on the other so it is hard to know exactly how good he is, that may also be a problem for the handicapper who has left him on the same mark he ended his hurdling career. He won a Grade 3 handicap at Aintree before being outclassed in the Select Hurdle but the form of that race has worked out very well and there could be some improvement left in him over fences. Nico De Boinville however nominated his stablemate Divine Spear as a horse that had a good chance of running a big race at the Festival despite being beaten at odds of 1/3 last time out, he had looked very progressive when winning his two starts before that however so is one to consider.
With not long to go until the Festival, you can view all our antepost previews and tips on our Cheltenham Festival tips section now!