In this series, Rory Delargy looks at 5 relative outsiders in the Festival Handicaps, horses who haven’t been splashed over the front pages of the trade papers, paraded at Media Days for the leading yards or tipped up at one or more of the legion of preview nights which have littered the past weeks. With everyone trying to unpick the major races, the handicaps, oversubscribed as they are, tend to be glossed over, with the few contenders who are talked up in advance usually proving overbet, as results at last year’s Festival suggest. Aside from the well-touted Alderwood, last year’s handicaps went to relative outsiders, with eight of the eleven winners priced at 16/1 or bigger.
2. The Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase
Registered as the Centenary Novices’ Handicap, the Rewards4Racing-sponsored contest is one of the newer contests at the new 4-day Festival, and has already had a change in conditions which makes historical results less trend-friendly than many of the week’s more established events. Like most Festival handicaps, though, it’s pretty hard to get a run without showing your hand to some degree, and the best way for trainers to ensure their charges are on a fair mark for this contest is to minimise the opportunity the assessor has to see the main contenders in action. As a result, it’s not unusual for horses to gain a handicap mark after just a couple of runs over fences and then be put into quarantine to protect a potentially favourable mark. For that reason, I’ll particularly concentrate on those with a lightly-raced profile.
BUTHELEZI – John Ferguson (Bloomfields) 6-11-4 (OR 134)
Buthelezi may have only won a small-field affair at Plumpton to date over fences, but he took the scalp of Une Artiste in doing so, and is only marginally worse off should the pair clash again. He jumped well before fading behind the smart Balder Succes on debut at Warwick, and was again not knocked about when runner-up next time. Put away after his Plumpton success, when he was noticeably better than his main rival at most fences, he will appreciate the forecast quicker ground (won on good to firm on the Flat), and has the scope to do better again. His trainer is 0-21 at Cheltenham, and no doubt that statistic will be used as a stick to beat him with, but Ferguson is learning the intricacies of the jumps game all the time, and his handling of this gelding has been assured to date.
He’s 20/1 across the board, which is not a bad price, but that uniformity suggests than a couple of firms will look to get something in the book by pushing him to 25/1, and my recommendation is to wait for that sort of price unless the current odds begin to evaporate.
Update(05/03): All systems go with Denis O’Regan confirmed, and with doubts about a few others, it may pay to take a little of the 20/1. I still think there will be other more obvious gambles, though, so am holding out in the hope of a push.
PRESENT VIEW – Jamie Snowden (Sir Chips Keswick) 6-11-07 (OR 137)
I didn’t intend to include Jamie Snowden’s recent Kempton winner in my list, as I expected him to be among the market leaders, but with 16/1 still available with Ladbrokes and Corals, it seems churlish to leave him out. His credentials are almost unimpeachable – a notably sound jumper who guaranteed his place in the field by routing his rivals at the Sunbury venue on BetBright Chase day, he was taking his record over fences to two wins and as may seconds from just 4 runs (also won his only completed start in points). Good ground will suit this fluent mover, and there’s not a lot to crab. One of the few in my list who will definitely attract support at current odds, he needs to be backed before the odds compilers wipe that 16/1 off their boards.
Update(05/03): The 16/1 looked too good to be true, and has quickly been hoovered up. Still a major player, but at a best price of 10/1 now, he no longer fits the criteria of this column.
FIRTH OF THE CLYDE – Malcolm Jefferson (Robert Goldie) 9-11-7 (OR 135)
Owned and bred by Ayrshire permit holder Robert Goldie, Firth of Clyde has reaped the rewards of his breeder’s patient approach, and is now thriving as a 9-y-o. That’s fairly long in the tooth for a novice, but he’s as lightly races as many younger horses in this contest, and is still progressing. Bred to stay well, he’s done most of his racing at shorter trips, winning handicaps at Wetherby (2m) and Market Rasen (2¼m) this winter. He enhanced his reputation in defeat last time at Kelso, when finishing powerfully only to run out of room in the dying strides, and that effort suggested strongly that he would benefit from a step up in trip.
He’s not the sexiest in the line-up by any means, but his trainer knows how to win a Festival handicap, as he showed when successful with Attaglance and Cape Tribulation in 2012. Attaglance is also entered here, but a decision to commit Firth of Clyde would be a statement of intent, and his unfashionable profile will ensure he’s overpriced – that’s the case at 25/1 currently, but support for the market leaders should see him drift in some books.
Update(05/03): Non-runner in this, but still holds an entry in the Byrne Group Plate. Would make some appeal there if taking his chance, so one to monitor.
BENEFIT CUT – Renee Robeson (Howard Cooke & Terence Jenner) 8-11-05 (OR 133)
Rajdhani Express proved that it was possible to win this race off the back of an excusable flop, and Benefit Cut is trying to achieve the same feat after pulling up on his latest start at Leicester. That run came quickly after solid efforts on his first two chase starts, running well in defeat at Ascot before an easy win at Market Rasen. He was entitled to go well last time, but the pressure was on to ensure he qualified for this listed race, and he wasn’t remotely beaten up when his chance had gone. He isn’t competitively priced at present, but that “P” next to his name will put most punters off, and he will surely drift to much bigger odds on the day, assuming he’s fully recovered from those exertions. Renee Robeson went close with the novice Ogee in the Festival Trophy a few years ago, and she’s nobody’s fool.
Update(05/03): Non-runner in this, and holds no other entries, suggesting that he’s not recovered quickly enough from a hard race last time.
GRANDADS HORSE – Charlie Longsdon (Whites of Coventry) 8-11-10 (OR 138)
Perhaps a little too exposed to win such a competitive race, Grandads Horse still looks overpriced at 33/1 given how solid his form is when getting conditions in his favour. That was palpably not the case when third at Sandown in November, but the way he struggled on through the mud there after looking the first beaten marks him down as having remarkable resolution, and the only time he’s been out of the money over fences was in a valuable listed contest at Market Rasen last summer. He does stay a bit further than 2½m, but with his only other engagement coming in the Byrne Group Plate, which is now run over a slightly shorter trip that this novice event, he looks set to run here if taking up an entry.
His current price is, like many of the unheralded horses I’ve outlined, only going to get bigger, and he’s available to back (for small money) at 70 on Betfair. While admittedly looking more of an each-way poke at top price than a win-only bet, he’s still worth having in a prospective portfolio.
Update(05/03): Left in at the 5-day stage, and also retains a Byrne Group Plate entry. Lack of a definitive jockey booking is a worry in terms of ante-post betting, but NRNB takes that into account, and a general price of 33/1 is sure to be topped at some stage. Shop around after decs for best price.