A record setting 1,145 horses have been entered in this year’s Festival handicap races and with the entries made, and weights published, now is the ideal opportunity to search for the ante-post value.
Festival Handicap Chase
The Festival Handicap chase run over an extended 3m and can often prove to be a platform on to better things for chasers looking ahead to the Gold Cup or the Grand National. The current market is understandably patchy with no real clear favourite and many of the runners hold a number of possible engagements at the Festival. One probable runner is Shuthefrontdoor (14/1 bet365) who was a late withdrawal from the Towton at Wetherby. That omission could prove a blessing in disguise as it was desperate ground and a stamina sapping contest. Jonjo O’Neil has cited him as one for the handicaps at the festival. He ran well last year in the Pertemps finsihing 4th by just over 3 lengths when giving 4lbs to the winner. Theatre Guide (20/1 BetVictor) is another likely candidate who merits respect having placed in the Hennessy and also finishing 2nd to Monbeg Dude after having been outstayed close home. He won’t be making a mockery of a handicap mark but is of interest. Holywell (20/1 Ladbrokes) is another JP McManus owned horse who has been tried over this trip, and with course form has to figure highly.
Un Temps Pour Tout (16/1 Betfred) has been highly touted despite having his colours lowered by Zamdy Man on his first start at Haydock. On better ground he may come into his own and with Red Sherlock looking the maturer and more likely Neptune prospect it may be worth hazarding a bet on the French import.
The Pertemps qualifiers have been run at various courses throughout the season – Cheltenham, Haydock and Newbury etc. There have been some real standout performances in some of the trials; notably Fingal Bay (8/1 bet365) who recently returning from a long absence to triumph at Exeter. With a tilt at the World Hurdle unlikely, he has to be considered here.
Cross Country Chase
The Cross Country Chase is a unqiue race where course form is a huge advantage. Balthazar King (11/2 Coral) has been in impressive form again at Cheltenham with 6 course wins to his name now. He’s a real class act over this course and has been hitting new highs with his handicap mark. It is not unusual to see handicappers come back to this race and defend their crown and Balthazar King is more than entitled to.
Indian Castle (8/1 Coral) looks likely to contest this race and he still remains on a very workable mark. He stepped out of novice company well at Cheltenham and, although receiving weight (9lbs from Annacotty), he stood out as a strong traveller who really attacked his fences. He’s highly likeable for a trainer that has done well in this contest. The rest are proving difficult to really quantify; Standing Ovation (25/1 Betfred) has been an omission in competitive handicaps since his early season flourish which culminated in the Badger Ales. With the current field lacking in appealing betting options Indian Castle looks to be a solid option.
National Hunt Chase
The National Hunt Chase represents a more fuller antepost market but there is still some duplication in entries between the RSA and this four mile chase. Mendip Express (14/1 Stan James) has notched up a few wins this season most notably in his penultimate start in a handicap at Cheltenham. Newbury may have spoilt his preperation a little but it discounted the RSA and at a price he could mix it here if his trainer chooses to run him. Shotgun Paddy (8/1 Ladbrokes) proved his worth in the Classic chase and showcased great jumping around Warwick’s unforgiving obstacles. His ability will stand him in good stead and he looks to be another worthwhile bet.
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