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Road To Cheltenham (The Handicaps)


Irish Horses Have the Edge in Festival Handicaps

With the road to the 2022 Cheltenham Festival almost complete, the final unsolved puzzle revolved around the weights for the nine handicaps at the meeting. Trainers went through various emotions on Tuesday afternoon with the publication of the festival ratings, many of which were resigned to the possibility of their charges failing to make the cut for a contest they have probably been targeting all season.

Irish-trained entries hold a significant hand, being responsible for eight of the top ten in the weights for the Boodles and Martin Pipe and seven of the top ten in the Coral Cup, Grand Annual and Pertemps Final. The final race at the festival, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle is expected to be totally dominated by runners from across the Irish sea with 24 of the top 33 coming from the emerald isle.

The Nine Handicaps

Tuesday

2.50pm Ultima Handicap Chase. 3m 1f (Old Course)

Only 16 horses ran in last year’s race, with the bottom weight rated 132. With the current entry standing at 82 and a maximum field of 24, the last horse to make the cut on this occasion could easily be at least 10lb higher.

Death Duty and Does He Know, current 8/1 market leaders with William Hill, are both expected to run in the 3m 1f handicap, although Gordon Elliott’s charge needs a few to drop out before his place is guaranteed. Potential Scottish challenger Corach Rambler (12/1 with bet365) is less certain to make the cut off his rating of 140. THE SHUNTER (12/1 with Unibet) also has an entry in the Paddy Power Plate but would have a major chance here is allowed to take his chance.

4.50pm Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. 2m 1/2f (Old Course)

Despite an entry of 50 and a maximum field of 22, this race could cut up with several also holding an entry in Friday’s Triumph Hurdle. None of the leading contenders appear in danger of missing the cut in a race dominated by Irish runners, in particular Gaelic Warrior (11/4 with Betfred) and THE TIDE TURNS (11/2 with bet365).

Wednesday

2.50pm Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle. 2m 5f (Old Course)

With 110 entries, this is one handicap that looks sure to be oversubscribed come the final declaration stage. Leading British contender Good Risk At All (8/1 with Coral) at number 66 is in serious danger of being disappointed, as is Nicky Henderson’s I Am Maximus (14/1 with bet365). WINTER FOG (10/1 with William Hill) would have a big chance providing his mark of 138 is not too low.

4.50pm Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. 2m (Old Course)

Unlike the earlier Coral Cup, only 18 horses need to drop out of this 2m handicap chase for the maximum field of 20 to be reached. As in most races Irish horses feature towards the head of the betting. But Brave Seasca, and especially the Colin Tizzard-trained AMARILLO SKY (10/1 with 888Sport) could provide a home victory.

Thursday

2.10pm Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle. 3m (New Course)

The Emmett Mullins-trained WINTER FOG (15/2 with bet365) also holds an entry in Wednesday’s Coral Cup and Friday’s County Hurdle. But this is the one race where the eight-year-old is guaranteed a run. The horse just failed to land a big gamble at the Dublin Racing Festival and will be keen to recoup losses this week. Fergal O’Brien’s Alaphilippe (8/1 with Betfred) is expected to head the British runners. The Big Galloper (12/1 with Betvictor) and Great View (16/1 with Unibet) both need horses to drop out in order to guarantee their place.

4.10pm Plate Handicap Chase. 2m 4 1/2f (New Course)

67 Entries for the Plate but leading fancies CELEBRE D’ALLEN (6/1 with bet365) and The Glancing Queen (10/1 with Coral) should just about gain their place. 

5.30pm Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase. 3m 2f (New Course)

This is sure to prove a tightly-knit handicap with only 6lb covering the first 25 horses in the weights (maximum field of 24) as things stand. Joint top weight FRONTAL ASSAULT (5/1 with Coral) has been touted for this amateur riders contest for some time, while GB hope OMAR MARETTI (14/1 with Unibet) could go well if sneaking into the race.

Friday

2.10pm McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle. 2m 1f (New Course)

Narrow Betfair Hurdle runner-up I Like To Move It and Dan Skelton’s Greatwood Hurdle winner West Cork head the GB challenge for this 2m 1f handicap which has attracted an entry of 81.

State Man (7/1 with Unibet) and Top Bandit (7/1 with Coral) head the betting for Ireland, along with ECHOS IN RAIN (10/1 with Coral) who takes a big drop in class after finishing third behind Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle and gets in here on a mark of 150.

5.30pm Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. 2m 4 1/2f (New Course)

A maximum field of 24 and with only 5lb covering the first 33 horses in the weights, this looks a handicap in name only. Should the two main GB contenders, Langer Dan (5/1 with bet365) and Good Risk At All (11/1 with Paddy Power) fail to make the cut for the festival finale, it looks like heading to Ireland, the only question is, with which horse?

If STATE MAN (9/2 with Betfair Sportsbook) was to run here rather than the earlier County Hurdle, it would be no surprise to see Willie Mullins’ charge go off at a very short price for the festival’s ‘getting out stakes.’