10 Handicappers to Follow

I have revisited the Cheltenham Festival for Festival Trends subscribers to compile a list of horses to follow this Season.

I spent may afternoons during lockdown going through the meeting, mainly to see where it all went wrong, but also to spot the horses that ran well and are worth looking out for this Winter. After watching, rewatching, analysing the trainer comments both before and after the meeting and studying the post race form analysis by both Racing Post and Sporting Life race readers I have selected 42 horses for this list.

I've tried to avoid the obvious ones like Envoi Allen and Epatante as, although they'll win races this Season, they probably won't be doing it at big prices. I've also given Defi Du Seuill a swerve as I still haven't come to terms with his loss in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Having had my biggest ante-post bet last Season on him for that race at 11/2 and see him run like that at long odds on, well let's just say, we're not friends any more.

The ones I have chosen range from novices to experienced handicappers to well established Graded horses. They represent a fantastic blend of up and coming stars, not so familiar dark horses and some firm favourites of the jumping scene.

Each race has had a thorough write-up to explain my reasoning behind each selection. I haven't just plucked these horses out of thin air and stuck them in a list, there are solid reasons for the inclusion of every horse. But don't just take my word for it.......

To give you an example of what you can expect from the List I have chosen the write-ups of 6 handicaps from the 28 Festival Races I looked at along with 10 of the 42 horses I'll be following this Winter....

Novices Handicap Chase: TORPILLO was a decent 4yo hurdler and took full advantage of the 4yo weight allowance when making his Chase debut against Mister Fisher. He wasn't quite as good on his next two starts in top Graded company and arrived at Cheltenham looking to get his chasing career back on track. He was the sole 5yo in the race and was 40/1 but ran way above those odds to have every chance swinging into the straight holding a prominent position. Nothing was going better than him at the third last but he couldn't go with his more fancied rivals as they quickened away from him coming down to the final fence and he weakened on the run up the hill while running better than his finishing position would suggest. I'm not sure that Cheltenham really suits him either and I think he should be able to get back to winning ways on a flatter track and with that first year of chasing under his belt. BEAKSTOWN was held up well off the pace through the early stages of the race before making steady headway through the field down the far side on the final circuit. At the top of the hill he had made nice progress on the inside, going easily, to sit on the heels of the leaders and jumped the third last in fourth place. He came through to jump the second last just a length behind the leader, and eventual winner, and was still within 3 lengths of him at the last but couldn't quicken from there and was passed by two others before eventually finishing 5th. A Grade 2 winner over hurdles I don't think we've seen the best of him over fences yet and he should have no problem picking up races this Season.

Boodles 4yo Handicap: In amongst all the Gordon Elliot plot horses that filled 3 of the 4 places was David Pipe's NIGHT EDITION who very nearly spoiled the Irish raiders party. He came from off the pace with a storming run over the last flight and laid it down to the eventual winner before just giving way in the last 50 yards and having to settle for second, The front two pulled away from the rest and this was a fine run from a horse battling against an obviously well plotted handicap good thing. On this running Night Edition should have no trouble winning races this Season. The JP McManus/Paul Nicholls trained MICK PASTOR came to the UK with a big reputation and although his debut run was a little underwhelming he set the record straight with an emphatic win at Ludlow a couple of months later. It did mean he got to carry topweight here and that probably led to his downfall although he was travelling upside the eventual winner at the second last going just as nicely. He stuck on very well from there on in and passed the line in the bunch of finishers a couple of lengths behind the front two. This was a great run in the conditions lugging a big weight and he'll be one to look out for in all the big handicaps, probably starting with the Greatwood Hurdle here in November.

Pertemps Final: It's a weird handicap with trainers trying to hide the true ability of their horses in qualifier after qualifier with the Irish dab hands at this kind of campaign. We witnessed another cheating sneaky Gordon Elliot performance as a couple of his runners improved buckletloads on their trial runs to finish a clear 1-2. KANSAS CITY CHIEF had a much more orthodox campaign for the final as connections strove to get him a handicap mark big enough to make the cut for the race. He did that by recording a win at Taunton followed by a second in the Haydock Qualifier and then ran out when just about in command at Doncaster prior to finishing 6th here. He tried to make all the running and sat going strongly at the top of the hill and was still bang there as they ran to the final flight but was outpaced by the 'better handicapped' runners through the last furlong. He didn't lose any ground on those around him and came home to run well and should be able to continue his progress back in 'normal' handicap company this Season. He may even be up to winning a Pertemps Qualifier along the way.

Kim Muir: The bloke who writes the Racing Post comments was not watching the same race as me with regard to BOB MAHLER because there is no way he was one paced from the last. After being headed at the top of the hill he stayed chasing the leader but was the fastest finisher once they met the rising ground after the last. He was definitely closing down the front two before running out of time. Having won over 4m1f on his previous start at Musselburgh it looks very much as if staying is his game and is one to follow in any endurance chase this Season.

Grand Annual: Another pair of well fancied Gordon Elliot handicap good things filled the first two places but they probably won't be trained to win that many races between now and next March and make limited appeal as horses to follow. The Grand Annual is though a great pointer for the following year's race with plenty of horses improving on their previous years placing. The fourth and first UK trained runner to come home, GREANETEEN, strikes me as a chaser on the up and can do well this year while TWO TAFFS will do much better when returned to longer distances. He's now a 10yo but hasn't had that much racing and should be able to pick races up now he's back down to a mark just 1lb higher than his last chase win.

Martin Pipe Hurdle: Gordon Elliot was denied another handicap win when his main fancy came down at the last, just as he was making his challenge, leaving PILEON in the lead. That one had probably gone a little early and had been in front for most of the home straight by the time Indefatigable came with a storming late run and he had little left to give. Under a more restrained ride he should gain compensation this Season. The one that really caught my eye though was Nicky Henderson's lightly raced 8yo MILL GREEN. With just 3 behind him at the top of the hill he made relentless progress down the straight and powered up the hill to finish a never nearer 6th. His one bad run came over 2 miles which is hardly surprising as judged on this run he probably needs to go up to 3 miles. Any Pertemps Qualifiers over that sort of distance should be his for the taking.




If you'd like to join the fun this Winter, receive all the race write-ups and follow all 42 horses on the list you can sign up for the Season below.

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The Cheltenham Horses to Follow is included in the Winter Service Package