The weights for the Cheltenham Festival handicaps will be revealed on Wednesday which will mean lots of video watching and burning the midnight oil over the next few days.
Nearly all my bets will take place in the handicaps where there are more chances of horses slipping under the radar and where the safety net of non-runner no bet (NRNB) can be used most effectively.
These are only early thoughts but here are a few that look as if they could be competitive at decent prices. Several do hold more than one entry, so it may be worth holding on until more bookmakers go NRNB, but they are certainly worth closer inspection.
Horse: COO STAR SIVOLA
Race: Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50, Tuesday)
General odds: 25-1
Coo Star Sivola won the Ultima last year under Lizzie Kelly
Coo Star Sivola has an excellent Festival record which includes a win in this race last season off a rating of 142.
He has been placed in both the Fred Winter (132) and Martin Pipe (138) in recent years and is one of those who is likely to have had this race as his target all season, hence why he has yet to show his full hand this season.
Race: Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Wednesday, 4.50)
General odds: 33-1
A busman’s holiday during half-term week to Taunton with the kids saw Montestrel produce a lack lustre effort.
However, there was more promise in the run than the bare form suggests as he was immediately anchored well back at a track where, on fast ground, the leaders are often hard to catch.
This third run qualifies him for the race, and I will be checking closely what rating the handicapper gives him once he has assessed that run.
The Williams family have a good record in this race, and he seems to have been earmarked for this target plus he also defeated Quel Destin earlier in the season.
Race: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap (4.10, Thursday)
General odds: 20-1
Benatar finished third at the Festival in 2018
Benetar finished between Terrefort and Kemboy when third behind Shattered Love in last year’s JLT Novices’ Chase. He takes a strong hold in his races, so the likely decent pace should make him easier to settle than in smaller fields.
Initially, he looked to perform disappointingly last time out, but given Cyrname’s subsequent Ascot Chase rout, he probably paid for trying to lead the chase behind a clearly well-treated rival that day.
Race: Johnny Henderson Grand Annual (4.50, Friday)
General odds: 33-1
There is little doubt the fact he has moved from Paul Nicholls to Ben Haslam is the reason for his generous odds given he was sent off at 10-1 off a similar rating when brought down in the race last year.
However, Haslam is having his best period since taking out his licence and Bouvreuil scored on his first start for Haslam at Wetherby in December.
Bouvreuil has been placed on all his three completed runs at the Festival, including off a higher rating in the Brown Advisory Plate which he also holds an entry in, along with two hurdle races, although I am sure he is unlikely to return to the smaller obstacles at the Festival.
Horse: EARLY DOORS
Race: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (5.30, Friday)
General odds: 20-1
I am hoping Early Doors goes two places better than last year in this race
Third in the race last year, his chance will depend on the weight the handicapper allots him, but if he produces a similar performance to last year when he raced off a rating of 142, he will be a leading player.
A remote second to Apple’s Jade over Christmas, he has now been placed in two Grade Ones, so if he turned up in this race again, he would be of great interest.
He also holds and entry in the Coral Cup.
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