Harry Allwood has four fancies chalked up at 8-1, 10-1, 14-1 and 20-1 in the handicaps at this year's Cheltenham Festival.
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I've had my head in the form book for longer than I care to admit this week (!) but have managed to find four contenders in the handicaps who I think will go close. Best of luck with your bets over the four days, and please remember to gamble responsibly.
Race: Ultima Handicap Chase - (2.50pm, Tuesday).
Trainer: Kim Bailey. General odds: 14-1.
Happygolucky found only Vintage Clouds too good when second in this contest two years ago off a rating of 147 and looks to hold decent claims of going one better.
Kim Bailey’s charge improved again following that effort when winning a valuable handicap with a bit to spare at Aintree but endured a lengthy absence afterwards due to a tendon injury.
However, he produced an eye-catching effort when third behind L’Homme Presse in a strong renewal of the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on his return to action in November, with the second also franking the form by winning the Rowland Meyrick on his next start.
Happygolucky failed to back that effort up at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day but looked out of his comfort zone dropping back in trip, and I’m inclined to draw a line through that outing, especially as the bounce factor could have been to blame, too.
This test is certain to suit better and the nine-year-old has produced some of his best performances at this track, including when fourth in the Martin Pipe at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
He now finds himself on a career-high rating of 152, but his victory at Aintree, and his effort at Newcastle this season suggests he is capable of being competitive off this mark. He’s also relatively lightly-raced for his age and it is wise to think this has been his long-term aim.
One slight concern is that Bailey – at the time of writing - has failed to record a winner from 21 runners in February and March. At 14-1, though, Happygolucky looks a shade over-priced with plenty of other factors in his favour and it will be disappointing if he isn't competitive.
Race: Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle. - (2.50pm, Wednesday)
Trainer: Sam Thomas. General odds: 20-1.
I am hoping connections of Good Risk At All gain compensation here after their seven-year-old was denied a run in the Coral Cup last year when he was first reserve, with a non-runner after the cut off time adding insult to injury on the day.
He was one of the ante-post market leaders in 2022 after bolting up in an Ascot handicap off a rating of 127, but was instead pitched into a Grade One at Aintree – which he was sent off at 11-2 for - and although he failed to get involved, it is easy to forgive that effort.
He returned this season with a victory at Carlisle off a rating of 137 where he travelled like the best horse in the race plus won with a bit to spare. Based upon his previous efforts, a rating of 143 here definitely looks manageable, and he surely has more to offer with just seven runs over hurdles under his belt. It is also worth forgiving his latest effort, too, where it appeared he failed to stay three miles at Haydock having raced keenly.
Thankfully, with a maximum field of 26, he is guaranteed a run in the Coral Cup this time, even if the 24 horses above him do stand their ground, and the lack of a recent run is not a concern as his record following an absence of 98 days or more reads 121.
The selection was successful at this track on his second outing in a bumper in 2020 and while three of his four wins have been on soft or heavy ground, he did win a Listed contest at Newbury on good to soft. He also has a high cruising speed, which bodes well for him being just as effective if faced with quicker conditions, and this race is his only entry at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
I expect Sam Thomas has had this contest in mind for some time and his charge fits the trends, so is worth siding with at 20-1.
Race: McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle - (2.10pm, Friday).
Trainer: Dan Skelton. General odds: 8-1.
Dan Skelton has made it no secret how much he thinks of this youngster who caught the eye in defeat on Festival Trials Day and looks attractively handicapped with a rating of 136.
The six-year-old has improved with every run this season and looked a potential Graded performer when bolting up at Ludlow two starts ago where he clocked a decent time considering he was eased down and not asked for maximum effort.
It was no surprise he was sent off a short-priced favourite for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Festival Trials Day following that performance, but he failed to stay the extra trip after travelling best. That was still a respectable effort, though, and a strongly run contest over this trip looks certain to suit.
He’s proved he handles the New Course at Cheltenham and his handler, who has operated at a 27 per cent strike-rate so far this month, has won three of the past seven renewals of this race. The Alcester handler was also quietly confident about Pembroke’s chances when discussing his charge at a Cheltenham Festival media day hosted by The Jockey Club in February.
Given the nature of this race, I wouldn’t want to back the selection at any shorter than 8-1, but he certainly has more to offer, and it will be a surprise if a rating of 136 does not underestimate him.
Race: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle - (5.30pm, Friday).
Trainer: Harry Fry. General odds: 10-1.
Might I produced some notable efforts in defeat last season, including when trying to concede weight to Constitution Hill! He was also not beaten far by Jonbon in Haydock’s Supreme Trial plus finished second in a Grade One at Aintree on his final outing.
Given the promise he showed as a novice hurdler, it was a shade disappointing he was not able to go close off a rating of 142 on his return to action at Haydock where he failed to get home having raced keenly throughout (he also got worked up beforehand).
He’s closely related to Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Stattler, so it was easy to see why connections decided to try three miles, but he settled much better when narrowly beaten in a 2m1f handicap on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham.
He was gaining on the winner, who got first run on him, all the way to the line there and I’m confident this test is going to prove ideal for him, especially with a strong pace assured.
The form of his latest effort has worked out well, too, as the third has won in good style since, and the sixth was travelling well when falling next time out.
Harry Fry operated at a 22 per cent strike-rate in February and said “we’ve always had the Martin Pipe in mind” when I asked him if Might I was a definite runner before writing this piece.
He will have to shoulder top weight, but the top 17 contenders left in are set to carry 11st 7lb or more, so that isn’t too much of a concern, and this improving seven-year-old looks sure to go close.
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