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Withington wizard Fergal O’Brien’s Imperial Alcazar has been all the rage for Thursday’s Pertemps Network Final (1.55pm) and is Paddy’s best-backed horse in any of the Cheltenham handicaps since being a 12-1 poke when we initially went NRNB.
It’s easy to see why as the seven-year-old, who sports the same silks as Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander, was a very decent novice last year, winning twice and finishing runner-up the same number of times including a wafer-thin defeat by Protektorat in a Listed heat at Cheltenham.
He probably needed the run when well beaten on his seasonal debut at Haydock in November, after being off the track for almost 300 days, but he then qualified in no uncertain terms for the final in a Pertemps qualifier at Warwick in January, comfortably accounting for Mr Harp by two and a quarter lengths.
Another local trainer Kim Bailey’s Happygolucky has also been well supported for Tuesday’s Ultima Handicap Chase (2.30pm) and any punters who supported the Jeremy gelding at an initial 20-1 for this 3m 1f event should be feeling well pleased with themselves.
You’d have to think connections are more than happy with his handicap mark of 147 as he hasn’t been seen in public since jumping well to scoop a novices’ chase over course and distance by three and three-quarter lengths in December.
Bailey landed this contest in 1999 with the ‘Storming’ Norman Williamson-ridden Betty’s Boy and if the money’s right, he has another leading contender.
Jonjo O’Neill Junior will be pleased that this year’s Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (4.50pm) on the Thursday will be contested by professional pilots as he looks sure to keep the ride on his famous father’s well-backed Time To Get Up who was an initial 14-1 chance.
Stepping up to three miles last time really worked the oracle for this eight-year-old, who was five lengths too powerful for Shanty Alley in a handicap chase at Wincanton last month.
One interesting bit of form in this horse’s back catalogue is an 11-length second to Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase hot favourite Monkfish in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in 2019 and it wouldn’t be the greatest of surprises to see him contesting next year’s Grand National given current progression.
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The best-backed Irish raider in any of the handicaps so far in Wednesday’s Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (4.15pm) is Kilkenny conjuror Joseph O’Brien’s Embittered, who has contracted from 16-1.
This fellow has yet to win over the larger obstacles, having previously been a scorer in both a bumper and over hurdles, but that could just be in his favour as it means he’s probably running off a more lenient handicap mark than otherwise might be the case.
Indeed he’s rated 5lb less than he is over timber and his shrewd connections clearly think a bit of him as he has contested top-class races on his last two starts, each time finishing fourth beaten around 20 lengths, having finished runner-up to the useful Andy Dufresne in a Grade 3 novice chase at Navan in December.
It’s surely a question of when and not if he opens his account over fences.
Gentleman De Mee, like Time To Get Up is owned by legendary owner and gambler JP McManus, and this guy is another furiously-backed potential Irish combatant in Friday’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.50pm) with some fortunate customers having obtained an incredible 25-1.
There’s not a lot of form to go on as after finishing second in a couple of hurdles in France for Guillaume Macaire, he transferred to Willie Mullins’s powerful training operation on the Emerald Isle, where he made a winning debut at long odds-on in a maiden hurdle at Naas last month.
Now it’s some jump from winning a small heat at Kildare’s county town’s track to scoring at ‘the Olympics’ of Jumps racing, but some people seem to think he can achieve it and there’s no doubt he’s a highly-intriguing contender.
5 best backed horses ahead of Cheltenham:
Thursday 13:55: Pertemps Network Final – Imperial Alcazar
Tuesday 14:30: Ultima Handicap Chase – Happygolucky
Thursday 16:50: Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase – Time To Get Up
Wednesday 16:15: Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase – Embittered
Friday 16:50: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Gentleman De Mee
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