We’re just a touch over two weeks out from the Cheltenham Festival, which means you’d want to start getting your ducks in order. And while the focus at this stage still tends to be on finding the value in the Championship and novice races every day, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on the handicap entries for Prestbury Park too.
Some like to stall on for the ratings, while most of us are just reliant on the 48-hour decs and hope to find a piece of form that looks too bad to be true. But here’s four things you really need to weigh up before you decide on your handicap fancy.
Profile of Winners
This very important steer may have depreciated in value somewhat to this point because there’s been a significant drop-off in handicap entries, but there’s still some merit in understanding what the profile of a winner looks like.
If you take the County Hurdle for example – it’s far more common for horses who are a double-digit price to land it, only Saint Roi and Superb Story were single-digit winners in the last 13 renewals. The winners of that race are generally lower down the handicap, but that flips completely when you take something like the Ultima Handicap Chase – in which 10 of the last 13 winners have been rated 143 or higher.
Do winners in your handicap like coming in fresh? Do they need a run? Did they win last time out? These are crucial elements of landing the most-likely winner.
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Beware The Novice
You can study every bit of form in the book. You can watch every run every entry has had in the build-up to this race. You can even hear the thoughts of veteran trainers on how well their charge is doing at home.
But the one time something intangible absolutely works in your favour is when a horse is a novice and they’ve got improvement in them. This used to be slightly less of a problem before this year as trainers at least had the option of the two-and-a-half-mile novice handicap chase, but they’ve ditched that for the mares chase now and demoted it to being run at Sandown.
Be very careful that you don’t overlook an improving novice just because he’s not had too many runs. That generally means he’s unexposed. Trainers don’t pitch novices into massive handicap fields with the risk of doing more harm to them if they don’t believe they’ve got a live chance.
Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins know exactly how to prep one for a Festival handicap, with the former particularly cleaning up in them over the last few years. Does it help that half the field in a handicap chase at Cheltenham are wearing the Gigginstown colours? Probably, but their marks are always somewhat well received or they wouldn’t be going at all.
And that doesn’t just extend to trainers – JP McManus knows how to aim for a race, too. He took four handicaps last year courtesy of Saint Roi, Sire Du Berlais, Aramax and Dame De Compagnie. Never cross one of these out.
The Cheltenham Festival has been dominated by the Irish in recent years and so there’s a default sense in the back of your mind to be aware of same.
But it’s worth noting that the average hike from an Irish rating to a British rating for a handicap hurdle last year was in or around 5lbs. The figure wasn’t as high for chasers for whatever reason, but it’s something you need to be very aware of when it comes to picking your winners before the official ratings are due out this week.
If you think an Irish runner can win a handicap, plan for him to do it with an extra half a stone on his back.
*Paddy will be all over your telly box throughout the Cheltenham Festival sponsoring ITV’s live coverage from Prestbury Park – and you can get free and exclusive tipping columns EVERY DAY from Ruby Walsh, Matt Chapman and Mick Fitzgerald here on PP News.
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