By Johnny Ward
With handicaps becoming so compressed at the Cheltenham Festival, connections – particularly Irish ones – are increasingly worried not so much about being harshly treated but not getting into the race.
The 19 wins recorded by Ireland last year represented an anomalous occurrence, albeit one consistent with Irish racing being incredibly strong. Not surprisingly, given that Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins shared a dozen of the 19, they feature strongly in my list here of five handicappers to follow at the Festival from the Emerald Isle.
Max Dynamite at a generally available 8-1 for the County Hurdle:
Max Dynamite runs off the rating he had when last running in Ireland over hurdles, 141, which seems hugely lenient in theory, given he last ran when finishing less than four lengths behind Highland Reel in the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in December. Two placed efforts in the Melbourne Cup advertise his class.
Going to Cheltenham without having jumped an obstacle publicly since the Galway Hurdle in August is going to ask plenty of him, but if he can get into a rhythm it is easy to see Willie Mullins’ charge, who is tactically versatile, winning the competitive heat.
He has other options, though the County seems the main one.
Les Arceaux at a generally available 33-1 for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle:
This is the 14th running of the race, Ireland taking the prize home three times so far, which is not a bad figure given the modest number of non-British runners in the race historically.
Henry de Bromhead is certainly not known for training juvenile hurdlers but he had 47 runners on the Flat last year and is clearly evolving.
So is Les Arceaux, who can sneak into this juvenile handicap rated 125.
Ben Curtis said he found the ground soft enough after a Carlisle win on the level earlier this term, while his two half-siblings who hit the target were all-weather winners.
He probably found the heavy ground it too testing at Gowran last month and he took the eye with how he travelled and jumped in his other hurdling starts.
He should have more to give now.
Mall Dini at a generally available 8-1 for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase:
Mall Dini is owned by Philip Reynolds, who stated earlier in the season that the horse would likely end up running in the National Hunt Novices' Chase – but he has changed his mind since.
Reynolds is now adamant that Mall Dini will tackle the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup, in which he was an unlucky three-lengths fifth last year.
The horse was sent off 11-2, touching 7-4 during the in-race exchange betting as he travelled beautifully, only for rider Katie Walsh to suffer tactically at a crucial stage as the main players kicked for home.
Mall Dini was out of his ground, rallying to emerge as something of a moral winner.
He is 8-1 non-runner, no-bet, in what does not look an especially strong edition of the handicap. While he has had a chequered season, one week will have been the aim all along.
Glenloe at 10-1 with Betway for the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle:
Glenloe, with one win from eight starts, hardly looks a good thing for a Cheltenham handicap, but his claims look pretty clear.
It is notable that his brother, the talented Alfie Sherrin, won five races, all on ground with "good" in the description. Glenloe has little experience of conditions such as he might encounter at Cheltenham on Thursday 15, and improvement seems highly possible.
He has been placed in three strong staying handicaps this season and kept fresh for this after finishing a respectable third in a Leopardstown qualifier at Christmas, when he was given a fair bit to do. He is trained by Gordon Elliott, so positives abound.
De Plotting Shed at a generally available 6-1 for the Close Brothers Handicap Chase:
De Plotting Shed has been campaigned over progressively shorter trips in his maiden chase runs and that has smacked of a Cheltenham handicap plan from Gordon Elliott.
His debut second in Galway to Presenting Percy in October over a staying trip preceded defeats over around two miles the last two runs, albeit in races won by talented Willie Mullins-trained horses.
A feature of his chase outings, ridden the last three times by Davy Russell, has been how cleanly he jumps.
The handicapper has been fair with his rating of 143 and, given he was a 150-rated hurdler in Ireland (four wins, five seconds and fourth in a Grade One in 13 starts), his appeal is pretty obvious.
This is an incredibly tight handicap on ratings, with Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now another interesting Irish contender.
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