A-Z of the best 50 horses part II: From Buveur D’Air to Identity Thief

Why Don Cossack is the Gold Cup winner-in-waiting and some dark horses for the handicaps

Identity Thief

Buveur D’Air

The 158-rated Yanworth is expected to be not far over an even-money chance when he contests the Neptune Hurdle but Buveur D’Air is rated only 4lb inferior on BHA figures yet can be backed at around eight times those odds for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. That figure has been based on his breezy win at Newbury in November being franked by his well-beaten rivals but he was also very easy on the eye, quickening up in devastating fashion to scoot clear on the run-in. Could he be the one to give Nicky Henderson his first Supreme winner since 1992 after a host of placed runners?

Ballyboker Bridge

It is not difficult seeing him being a different horse to the one that was a well-beaten third over the cross-country course at Cheltenham in December by Josies Orders when in receipt of weight, given better ground. Trained by Peter Maher, who has caused one surprise in this race with Big Shu, and he will be training Ballyboker Bridge, who won the P P Hogan in late January at Punchestown that has featured four of the 11 winners of the festival Cross Country race, to improve from race to race. At nine, he is young enough in this sphere to keep improving and he might be the one to shake up the Enda Bolger-trained pair of Josies Orders and Quantitativeeasing that head the Cross Country market.

Bouvreuil

Was never out of last place when he finished 29 lengths adrift of Vaniteux in the Grade 2 Lightning Chase at Doncaster when dropped back to 2m but that third run over fences now makes him eligible for the CHAPS Barbados Novices’ Handicap Chase over a more suitable trip judged on his win at Doncaster on his previous start where he tracked Vyta Du Roc up the long, home straight and pounced on the run-in to win readily. Runner-up in last season’s Fred Winter for Paul Nicholls, we therefore know that he likes the hurly burly of a Festival handicap and that latest run will ensure that he remains rated at just under the figure to contest that 0-140 novices’ handicap chase.

Dandridge

The Arthur Moore-trained seven-year-old could be a fascinating contender for the Grand Annual that closes the Festival on Friday. Not only because Arthur Moore has an exceptional record with his 2m chasers at the Cheltenham Festival including two wins and a second in this handicap since 2002 from few runners, but the valuable race at Doncaster in which he breezed to victory was a long-term target as his owner, Ronnie Bartlett, is the chairman of Albert Bartlett who were sponsoring the River Don Novices’ Hurdle on the same card. The coincidence here being that the Grand Annual also just happens to take place on the same day as the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Dark Lover

With many Irish-trained fancied contenders dropping like flies in the Foxhunters’ Chase since early February, maybe this could be the year when the British can register a first win after five seasons without a victory? Jamie Snowden’s charge wouldn’t be the most fancied of the home team by any means but, having lost his way for Paul Nicholls, he has been rejuvenated for the change of scenery and switch to hunter chasing winning both starts in this sphere following 16 months on the sidelines with a tendon injury. He can be a little each-way value. He is also in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir but unlikely to get a run in that amateur riders’ handicap chase.

Desoto County

Ted Veale finished third in the Coral.ie Handicap Hurdle before going on to win the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle on his next start and that’s the plan for this Gordon Elliott-trained seven-year-old who bypassed the Betfair Hurdle after only finding two that were better handicapped or too good at Leopardstown in early January so that he could be prepared with Cheltenham in mind. Trained by Donald McCain until this season, his owners, Paul & Clare Rooney, still had the runner-up in Britain’s most valuable handicap hurdle as Starchitect finished second and he could yet join Desoto County at Cheltenham but it would appear that one was primed for Newbury and the other will be primed for Cheltenham.

Doctor Harper

Is likely to be a leading contender for whatever handicap David Pipe elects to run him in. At the time of writing he is just 1lb over the threshold for the CHAPS Barbados Novices’ Handicap Chase which looked the most likely target when he was finishing second behind L’Ami Serge and then Bristol De Mai but his easy victory at Leicester may have scuppered that plan. The stable have won many an open handicap chase with a novice down the years though and it would be no surprise if he ended up in one of the other four handicap chases at the Festival in the colours of The Johnson Family whose silks are synonymous with winners at the meeting.

Don Cossack

I am sure that the key to Don Cossack is to get him rolling early enough in his races. Therefore he needs to be wound up gradually before an unstoppable momentum gathers. So Kempton wasn’t the ideal course for his running style. He was always on the back foot on the second circuit so he did particularly well to be as close as he was when he exited two fences out. He was behind Cue Card three fences out – but ahead of him when falling two out, I think he would have won. Especially if he is a horse that needs time to find top gear. He should be Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite  – especially as the King George VI Chase form has been the best guide to the race. The worry is that his jumping also let him down twice at Cheltenham and he can race lazily so it will be interesting to see if connections use cheek-pieces to spark him into life.

Double Shuffle

Being successful on your third chasing start after defeats in your first two novice chases, is not a bad profile for the CHAPS Barbados Novices’ Handicap Chase for the Tom George-trained six-year-old. Won two of his three novice hurdles and, currently rated 138, is below the 140 threshold. He has also been given some valuable course experience when finishing second and then fourth (behind More Of That) on his first two chase starts. He is unlikely to be one of sexier rivals attracting the attention so could provide decent each-way value.

God’s Own

Last season’s Arkle runner-up ran a creditable race finishing second giving 7lb to Josses Hill in his prep race over a trip that may have stretched him following an absence of 3½ months on soft ground. His best form is also on a spring surface so there is every reason to believe that he can battle it out in the Champion Chase. He might not need to improve much to be the one to chase home Un De Sceaux again, which he did last March in the Arkle Chase, when he was the only horse that put it up to the winner from after three out. Especially in a division featuring fading stars and ropey-looking form from last season’s race.

Identity Thief

In the absence of Faugheen and Arctic Fire, the first two home in last season’s Champion Hurdle, perhaps this can be the year that Henry De Bromhead gains ample consolation for Sizing Europe going wrong in the 2008 Champion Hurdle? The Fighting Fifth has been a good guide to horses running well in the Champion Hurdle recently and would have won that Grade 1 Newcastle race cosily, had he not ploughed through the final hurdle.

He did well to get back up to beat Top Notch, is still improving and he will be fresher than when beaten by Nichols Canyon at Leopardstown at Christmas.

What do you think?