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A Wave Of the Sea struggled in Grade two company in Punchestown in November, but now back handicapping he’s found his level again for the ever-enthusiastic trainer Joseph O’Brien. In February he came out on top in a fiercely competitive 20-runner field to win by a neck, keeping to his task well and jumping well.
In one of the most exciting stories of the Festival, The Shunter has a chance to pocket a £100k bonus if he can win here. He won the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso and now has his eyes set on one hell of a bonus.
In between those runs he was third in that race A Wave Of The Sea won at Leopardstown – but he was carrying a stone more than the winner on that day and here he carries two pounds less. That’s a 16lb swing and if there’s one thing I know from Operation Transformation, that can make a big difference.
Farclas was a Festival winner three years ago in the Triumph Hurdle and obliged with three wins at short prices in his first season chasing. But like an adorable puppy who spends his days chewing through your TV cable, he hasn’t been the easiest to train. He took 522 days off before returning at Punchestown where he finished fifth.
He has come on for that run with two placed efforts at Leopardstown in big 22-runner handicaps and will need to put all that experience to good use if he is to reward the patience of connections here.
A novice chaser who was less than four lengths behind superstar Envoi Allen in the Grade three Killiney Novice Chase in January – that’s a tidy piece of form. He stepped up to Grade one company in February and to be fair, that was like going on a date with your high school sweetheart and then thinking you could woo Mila Kunis. Fils D’oudairies was beaten 44 lengths by Monkfish and now makes his handicap bow.
It hasn’t gone to plan for Caribean Boy so far in his career, as he’s been a beaten favourite twice in between winning what was a poor Graded race at Newbury – life’s a beach, eh? He made a couple of mistakes at Sandown last time out finishing fifth but has been dropped 1lb after that run. He’s only raced in a field of more than eight once (a 16-runner handicap in France where he finished ninth) so there isn’t going to be the usual social distancing he’s used to here.
Mister Whitaker was third in this race last year at 22/1 and comes back for another bite of the cherry off two pounds lower. He is a bit of a Festival specialist, running at the feature event three times, finishing first and third in between pulling up after losing a shoe.
This season he was outclassed in a Grade two at Wetherby before never troubling the leaders in a Warwick handicap. Now back at Cheltenham, can this course and distance winner spark into life?
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Veteran racer Top Notch has never quite managed to trot into the winner’s enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival, his best efforts were two runner-up efforts where he was beaten just a neck and less than a length.
He has had just one run in the last 14 months – beaten 29 lengths into sixth by Mister Fisher in December at Cheltenham – and in that time has also had two wind operations. Top jock Daryl Jacob says this is his favourite horse ever, and he’ll be punter’s the favourite if he can return to winning ways here.
You don’t need to be a racing expert to know to do well you need to stay on your feet. If someone can remind Assemble that would be great. He fell when well beaten at the last fence in Limerick on St Stephen’s Day and followed that up by taking a tumble at the fifth fence in Leopardstown last month.
If he can stay on his feet, he was a runner-up in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse, but he will need to get his landing gear out if he is to challenge the main protagonists.
The Skelton yard will be hopeful Oldgrangewood can bring them some handicap success at Cheltenham, and jockey Harry would probably appreciate it if this fella didn’t dump him on the turf like he did at Warwick last time out. He was close to the leading challengers on that day so it’s hard to know quite how close he would’ve got to winning, but he is a course and distance winner and has placed in a big Festival handicap before.
Smarty Wild was fifth in that race in Warwick when a beaten favourite and it looks like the handicapper has got an iron grip on this horse. A winner off a mark of 130 at Kempton, he now races off 136 and trainer Philip Hobbs must remember not to send the handicapper a Christmas card this year.
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A beaten favourite last time out Sully D’Oc AA isn’t just a catchy name. In fact, he’s not a catchy name at all. He won a handicap chase at Ascot in October and that came off the back of a not-so-terrible performance at last year’s Festival. In the frame two fences out, he stumbled at the last and faded into sixth. He’s another one who has taken a hike in the weights and will need to pull out a career best to win here.
Coole Cody has put in plenty of running this season, with a couple of eye-catching performances towards the end of last year. A winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap at Cheltenham in November this cool customer is game up the hill and as brave as the locked down lads who have grown out their mullets. He was well beaten in a Grade two last time out, but his Cheltenham form is eye-catching.
Dead Right started the 2019 season with two runs where he was massively outpaced and pulled up on both occasions. Very much mirroring the rest of the world on a Monday morning, Dead Right looked uninterested, uninspired, and un-arsed on both runs. But a break is as good as a change and after 306 days off Dead Right returned in September last year to win a handicap chase at Market Rasen. He’s had another 173 days off now so comes here fresh.
Happy Diva has had 35 runs over either fences or hurdles in his career and it certainly seems like her happy place is at Prestbury Park. She’s been there seven times and finished in the first two on four of them – coming in second behind Simply The Betts in this race 12 months ago. She’s four pounds lower now and Cheltenham could spark her engine up again.
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Kiltealy Briggs is a novice chaser who is having just his fourth start over fences in this race and is yet to get his head in front. A two-time winner over hurdles, he pulled up in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival 12 months ago before deciding to go chasing and will need a career best effort to banish those nightmares from last year.
Laskalin only arrived at Venetia Williams’ yard from France in mid-February, but he won four of his eight races over fences in France so is clearly useful. Luckily, this French import had no issues getting in past the Brexit brigade and it’ll be interesting to see how he does on his debut for the yard on the biggest stage of them all.
Maypole Class finished lame last time out at Wetherby, but before that had won back-to-back handicap chases albeit in much smaller fields. A lot like Luke Shaw, this fella is open to plenty of improvement but might be carrying a little bit too much weight.
Paddy’s Poem has never been out of the top three in 10 races over fences which is testament to just how consistent he is. In honour of his name, a little rhyme for you – If you’re looking for a winner to pay for a take-away, this lad could pay the bill. But don’t forget he’s never been here, so is untested up the infamous hill.
We are approaching four years since Two Taffs last entered the winner’s enclosure, and he has made as many appearances over the last few years as Danny Drinkwater. It’s been a busy time for Two Taffs who has had six runs in four years, a wind operation, and a change of stable. Now at the Twiston-Davies yard the good news is he has tumbled down to a winning mark of 141.
Champagne Court has made five trips to Cheltenham, but never made the frame and connections are unlikely to be popping any corks here. He had a wind operation at the end of last year and returned over 3m to no success. He’s dropped back down in trip now but is likely to have forgotten what it’s like to be in front.
Eamon An Cnoic was turned over at 5/6 over hurdles last time out and that never bodes well going into the Festival. Punters are like elephants and we never forget the horses that have burnt our fingers. He has been popping over the smaller obstacles since the turn of the year and hasn’t been seen over fences since being tailed off 40 lengths behind the winner in the Paddy Power Chase here in November.
Huntsman Son had a few of these behind him when he won at Wetherby in October, but the handicapper didn’t miss a trick and hiked him up nine pounds for that run. That extra weight on ground that didn’t suit helped contribute to Huntsman Son getting pulled up at Cheltenham in December and again he’ll be one of the top weights in this one.
The Unit will be taking some inspiration from Vintage Clouds who was an OAP who did the business on the opening day in a big handicap. Despite being 10 years old this is his Festival debut as he looks to give connections a huge success at a massive price.
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