All you need to know about the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 15.
By Gavin Beech
When and where can I watch the Plate? 4.10pm, Cheltenham Racecourse, Thursday, March 15, live in stunning HD on Racing UK, Sky Channel 432, or at Racinguk.com/videos.
What Grade? Grade Three
What course is the Plate staged on? New Course
What Distance? 2m 5f (17 fences)
How much prize-money? £105,000
Weights & Allowances: Handicap
Sponsor: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable
Key Statistics and Trends:
· Twenty-six of the last 30 winners were rated 141 or less.
· Only two favourites have won the race since 1999.
· The Pipe family have a tremendous record in the race; Martin won it four times between 1997 and 2002 and his son David has landed the prize three times since 2010.
· Only two horses have carried more than 11st to victory since the turn of the century.
· Empire Of Dirt is the only one of the last eight winners to have previously won a Graded race.
· Only one five-year-old has won this race and that was Majadou in 1999 for Martin Pipe and AP McCoy.
· Nineteen of the last 20 winners had previously won a race between 2m3f and 2m5f.
· Road To Respect (2017) became only the second novice to win the race since 2005.
· Horses returning to the contest have often done well - There have been two dual winners (Elfast and The Tsarevich), while the likes of Mr McGoldrick, Dublin Flyer, Smartie Express, King of the Lot and Fondmort were placed on more than one occasion. Palarshan, second in 2007, returned the following season to finish fifth.
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable took over sponsorship for this two-mile, five-furlong handicap chase for the first time in 2015. The contest was formerly known as the Mildmay Of Flete Handicap Chase, in memory of the second Baron Mildmay of Flete, an amateur National Hunt jockey who rode three winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
The 2009 renewal was run as the Freddie Williams Festival Plate in remembrance of legendary bookmaker Freddie Williams, who passed away in 2008.
The first running, which resulted in a dead-heat between Slender and Canford, took place at Cheltenham in April, because the last two days of the 1951 Festival were abandoned due to a waterlogged course.
Red Rum, the only triple winner of the Grand National (1973, 1974 and 1977), finished fourth in the 1971 renewal.
Last five winners and closing stages:
2017 - Road To Respect:
Road To Respect had been seen more of an RSA contender by his trainer Noel Meade when he was a novice but the decision to drop back to the intermediate trip and into a handicap was rewarded magnificently. The six-year-old powered to an impressive six-length success to provide Meade with his first chase success at the Cheltenham Festival.
The gelding was probably a touch fortunate to still be in the race having overjumped the first fence but from that point onwards it was plain sailing and he was not for catching after hitting the front before the second last. The winning trainer said:
“I actually wanted to run him in the RSA Novices’ Chase, but Gigginstown had something else for that and this race made sense, given the way the handicapper assessed him.
“The ground was a big help to me. We’ve always thought of him as a very nice horse. On his second chase run, in the Grade One Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse, he was very disappointing – he was only third or fourth, and I thought he might win. He came here and was clearly well-handicapped!”
Road To Respect has since gone on to prove he is a graded performer, winning two Grade One contests and a Grade Three event in just four subsequent starts.
2016 - Empire Of Dirt:
Empire Of Dirt had never run at Prestbury Park prior to the 2016 Festival but he proved an instant hit, running out an easy four-length winner despite having been hiked up 9lb for his Leopardstown success earlier that year.
The fast-improving nine-year-old was severely hampered at the third fence but the strong pace helped, and Bryan Cooper’s mount travelled powerfully into contention before hitting the front two out. The Irish Jockey said:
“It has been a frustrating Festival so far, but the horses have been running well and they have just been coming up against some really good horses.
“If you look back through his form, he is a classy horse with very good form and better ground helped him as well. He travelled really well, and Colm Murphy always kept the faith and said he was a lovely horse. He felt there was big day in him, so it was good we got a bit of luck.”
It was a dominant display from a horse firmly on the rise, confirmed by his three-quarter length second to Sizing John in the following season’s Irish Gold Cup.
2015 - Darna:
Darna became trainer Kim Bailey’s first Festival winner since Betty’s Boy took the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase in 1999, and his fourth in all, when he caused a 33-1 shock in 2015.
Bailey reflected afterwards: “It’s great. The Martins (Julie and David) have had horses with me for a long time and we paid a lot of money for this horse – for us anyway, we paid £120,000 for him.”
Darna’s one-and-a-quarter length success provided jockey David Bass with his first Cheltenham Festival winner.
A delighted Bass said: “I’ve been coming here for six years and have had some decent chances on horses trained by Nicky Henderson, but it’s not happened until now.
“It’s a hard place to get on the right one and to finally do it is a relief – and a brilliant feeling.”
2014 - Ballynagour:
David Pipe quickly worked out that Ballynagour was a horse who was best fresh and the French-bred eight-year-old was wrapped up in cotton wool after his flop in the Paddy Power Gold Cup earlier that season.
Dropped 3lb for that, he burst back to life, running out one of the easiest winners of this race in its history, with Tom Scudamore only needing to push his mount out to score by an emphatic eight lengths. Pipe was quick to praise his staff afterwards. He said:
“It’s great for everyone involved and all back at the yard – I would have loved to have seen them in the office after we’ve had the two winners today!”
“He’s not been the easiest horse to train as he’s had a couple of niggles. He bleeds on occasions, so we don’t do very much with him. We give him an easy life and don’t race him too often.”
It was the sort of performance that marked the horse down as a potential Grade One performer, but he proved a tough horse to get right and his only subsequently success came in a Grade Two hurdle race at Auteuil.
2013 - Carrickboy:
Venetia Williams has a good recent record in this race and the Herefordshire-based trainer pulled off one of her greatest Cheltenham Festival coups when unconsidered 50-1 chance Carrickboy achieved what so few horses have been able to in Cheltenham Festival handicaps, leading from start to finish.
The trainer confirmed they were tactics that had been discussed beforehand, saying: "If you went for a handicap like this and he was behind a wall of horses he'd just curl up, so his only chance here was to be right up in the front rank.
“Liam [Treadwell] has done a great job and he quite possibly enjoyed the better ground, as he led them a merry dance."