Cheltenham tips: Brendan Duke’s 5 best handicapped Irish horses at the Festival

With a week to go to the great festival, Dukey’s got an eye on some Irish raiders.

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With only days left until the Cheltenham Festival kicks off, I’ve been tasked with trying to dig out a few well handicapped Irish horses. It’s always a tricky business and it’s hard to find horses with tons up their sleeve. Connections must play their cards face up to a degree.

A horse with a stone in hand probably won’t be high enough in the weights to get into these races. Unless we’re dealing with the likes of Saint Roi in last year’s County Hurdle. There are a few horses with a similarly mysterious profile to him around this year.

My selections are a bit more tried and trusted. Some of them have multiple entries and I will make a best guess at the race connections are most likely to target.


Tuesday March 16 16:15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Zoffanien

ZOFFANIEN is of definite interest in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. This horse does have an ungainly head carriage and I have concerns about how much he would relish a battle up the hill.

Otherwise, he looks to have all the tools necessary for this race. He is a very strong traveller and jumps accurately. His experience will be another asset in a race which may come as a culture shock to many of the runners and he looked all over the winner on penultimate start in Naas.

Ultimately, he was worried out of it by Druid’s Altar. He gets a significant weight pull with that horse in Cheltenham and he made no mistake last time at Naas. He again tanked through the race and put inferior opposition away with the minimum of fuss. The Boodles will be a different kettle of fish, but I do see him looking the most likely winner turning for home though. At a decent price, I will take a chance that he can finish the job off.




Wednesday 14:30 March 17 Coral Cup – You Raised Me Up

YOU RAISED ME UP should get into the Coral Cup and that looks the race for him as this horse remains relatively unexposed. He ran a mighty race for an inexperienced horse in a big field handicap at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival. That experience will stand to him here and he has won both starts this season.

Last time out he gave weight and a beating to a couple of promising sorts, he also looked value for more than the winning margin. The step up in trip for the Coral Cup looks a positive and his pedigree suggests that the better ground which is predicted will help too. A mark of 140 asks a stiff question, but I’ll take a chance that the horse can find the answer.


Wednesday March 17 16:15 Grand Annual – The Shunter

THE SHUNTER has a myriad of festival options and I reckon the Grand Annual is the best choice. He should sneak in at the bottom of the weights and he has been on my radar for this race since his third in a handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival.

He saw too much daylight that day and did very well to hang on in for third despite racing with the choke out for so much of the race. That looks like strong form and he has since gone on to prove his versatility by winning over hurdles in Kelso.

Again, I thought he had a tough trip in that race, but he found a way to prevail. The horse has proven himself in a big field handicap at Cheltenham. He should relish the tempo and cover provided by the Grand Annual, while his stamina would be an asset up the hill. Whatever race he ends up in, this looks a progressive, well handicapped horse.


Thursday March 18 13:55 Pertemps Network Final – Lynwood Gold

LYNWOOD GOLD should go well in the Pertemps as this horse is something of an open book over hurdles. He has clocked up plenty of miles on the Flat though, with his latest start in that sphere came when running well in the Cesarewitch.

That run came off a mark of 91 and in that context, a hurdles mark of 134 appeals. He qualified for this race in Punchestown. That run came off a five-month break and screamed of a warm-up. I’d expect him to be finely tuned next week. In Jessica Harrington we trust!


Friday March 19 13:55 County Hurdle – Blue Lord

BLUE LORD is another horse with a few options next week and I hope he goes down the County Hurdle route. It’s not wholly fanciful to suggest that by the time this race comes around Blue Lord will have run well behind the Ballymore and Supreme winners on his last couple of starts.

Having run far too free, he did well to get within six lengths of Bob Olinger on penultimate start in Naas. There seemed to be a focus on getting him to settle last time out at the Dublin Racing Festival and that worked to a degree.

He was still keen, but stuck on well for third behind Appreciate It. The lack of experience is an obvious concern, but a mark of 145 surely underestimates this horse. He should be more amenable to restraint in this big field off what is usually a torrid pace and he’s more than entitled to his prominent position in the market.

Cheltenham tips summary:

Tuesday 16:15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Zoffanien
Wednesday 14:30 Coral Cup – You Raised Me Up
Wednesday 16:15 Grand Annual  – The Shunter
Thursday 13:55 Pertemps Network Final  – Lynwood Gold
Friday 13:55 County Hurdle  – Blue Lord

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