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Charlie McCann: Day Two Handicap Fancies


We continue our preview of the Cheltenham Festival handicaps by examining the Coral Cup and Grand Annual on day two.

Coral Cup 2.50 Wednesday

Only one market leader has won the race in the last decade and the SP’s of the last five winners have been 16/1, 20/1, 28/1, 5/1fav and 33/1.  Six of the last ten winners have carried more than 11st and there have been four Irish trained winners in the last ten years.

State Man holds entries in the Martin Pipe and County Hurdle as well as the Coral Cup and there are many in Ireland who feel he is very well treated from a British mark of 141. At the time of writing Bet365 have pushed him out to 9/1 NRNB for the Coral Cup which suggests that they believe he will have an alternative Festival target given he is just 4/1 with the same firm for the two other events. I hope and believe the Stoke based firm are correct.

Good Risk At All has long been my fancy for the race and we put him up at 8/1 NRNB last month after his facile Ascot win from a 10lbs lower mark. He is a best price of 7/1 NRNB with Paddy Power 5 places and remains my main fancy for the race, but Camprond is another British trained runner who can ran a big race in one of the most competitive handicaps of the week.

Trained by Philip Hobbs and running in the colours of JP McManus Camprond – also entered in the Martin Pipe – has been off the track since finishing a good fourth in the Greatwood Hurdle in November when he looked to be found out by the drop back to the minimum trip. 

His win in the Grade 2 Persian War Hurdle at Chepstow on good ground is near top class novice hurdle form, he has run well in big fields, has winning course form and can go well fresh. However, and it is a BIG if, he should not be supported on ground that is on the soft side of good to soft or worse.

I would suggest connections will consider the weather forecast for the week on the Monday before committing to Wednesday’s Coral Cup or Friday’s Martin Pipe. At the time of writing the Cheltenham executive are giving the ground as soft – good to soft in places – with a dry forecast for midweek ahead of a band of rain due at the weekend.

Recommendation: Camprond 14/1 NRNB Bet365 Coral Cup Wednesday 2.50 EW 4 places and 20/1 NRNB William Hill 5 places Martin Pipe Friday 5.30 

Grand Annual 5.30 Wednesday

Two winning favourites in the last decade, both trained in Ireland, but double figure SPs in seven of the last ten renewals including a 66/1 12-year-old winner three years ago. I have always favoured progressive novice chasers in the race and this year is no exception although I do think the very well backed market leader Buddy Rich – well touted in the current glut of Festival preview nights – is vulnerable despite the flood of money for the 9-year-old.

Red Rookie has only had three runs over fences – and fell in the second of those starts – but he is a horse who should appreciate the end-to-end gallop that looks assured in this two-mile handicap chase and, if within a couple of lengths of the leaders coming to the last, should be finishing faster than most for Emma Lavelle whose stable star Paisley Park will be looking to regain his Stayers’ Hurdle crown 24 hours later.

The selection was made market leader for an Ascot limited handicap chase back in December and was still cantering when falling five out when it looked as if he was put off by leader Brave Seasca who kept jumping out to his left taking Amarillo Sky with him.

Red Rookie would surely have gone very close had he stayed on his feet, and he is due to reoppose Brave Seasca and Amarillo Sky on 13lbs and 8lbs better terms respectively. Brave Seasca has improved throughout the season and will appreciate going left-handed but is a best price of 8/1 with Bet365 NRNB 4 places while the slick jumping Amarillo Sky is 10s with Paddy Power 5 places.

Red Rookie was taken off his feet early at Hereford last time, which is a cause for concern, but he was well on top at the end and that track never played to his strengths. The hope is that the leaders go off too quickly and the selection is able to lay up somewhere near the gallop although he is unlikely to be in the first ten going past the post with a circuit to go.

Red Rookie also holds an entry in the Arkle on the opening day, but I would be surprised if he took the Grade 1 option. He has often suggested he would get further than the minimum trip, but I remember him cantering all over his field at Uttoxeter this time last year over an additional half-mile before his stamina gave way between the last two. 

In an ideal world I would prefer an additional furlong or two – but not four – but I do think he is currently overpriced. Soft ground would place a greater emphasis on stamina and that would be ideal.

Recommendation: Red Rookie 4.50 Wednesday EW 4 places at 20/1 with Bet365 and Unibet NRNB