The Syndicate

Cheltenham 2019: Handicap Lunch

| March 6, 2019 | 2 Replies

Nick Luck speaking to Nigel Twiston-Davies

One final trip on the pre-Cheltenham merry-go-round and one that a lot of the mainstream media give a swerve for some unknown reason but a very worthwhile trip both personally and in terms of information gathered on the Cheltenham Festival.

The format is simple enough – we walk in to a deserted Cheltenham racecourse basking in full-on sunshine, look out over the fences and hurdles and dream of horses past and present at the home of national hunt racing the world over.

After a cup of coffee Nick Luck introduces those in power at the racecourse including new sponsors Magners, before we get down to the nitty gritty where the handicappers (one each for chasing and hurdles) talk us through the sort of ratings likely to be needed to sneak in to the handicaps over the week. That meant little to me but there were plenty of trainers present taking note of where they may now need to send their horses, but more importantly they were happy to talk on microphone to others present about their horses chances in their prospective races.

First on stage was Nigel Twiston-Davies who may not have his biggest or strongest ever team, but he has at least two in with pretty solid chances.

Al Dancer was the first one discussed and no shock there as he trades as the 100/30 favourite ahead of the Supreme Novices Hurdle that opens the card after wins at Carlisle, Ffos Las, Cheltenham and most recently at Ascot when taking the Betfair Hurdle by close to four lengths.

Nigel told us all that “He is very exciting and the softer the ground the better. He is as good a two-mile novice hurdler as I have trained…” which is high praise indeed, though whether he is value in a full field at that price I will leave for you to decide.

The other horse he did mention was Gold Cup contender Bristol De Mai, and I am inclined to agree with his trainer that he is massively overpriced.

Although well beaten last year he is still only an eight-year-old and ran well on his return to action to take the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November for the second year running. Although he fell in the King George on Boxing Day he is in great form at home now and has had a trouble free build up (for a change), and as he is rated 173, the same as the 4/1 favourite (Clan Des Obeaux) and last year’s winner (Native River 6/1), his point that he is over-priced at 40/1 has plenty of merit.

Next up to an appreciative crowd came the ever-popular Jonjo O’Neill, but I cannot say he emanated the remotest bit of confidence in any of his small string. Laughing and joking as always, he did admit that Minella Rocco seems in good sorts ahead of the Ultima Chase and then a tilt at the Grand National, but he had to have the horse’s wellbeing forced out of him by Nick Luck, and I won’t be backing the horse myself if his trainer isn’t that confident.

Ben Pauling is a trainer of some merit and although he started slowly, he gradually fed out some information that may or may not prove profitable by the end of the week.

Although he does feel Global Citizen has an each-way squeak at a big price in the Champion Hurdle it was novice chaser Kildisart that seemed to get him the most excited at this stage. He heads off to the JLT Chase off a mark of 147 with his trainer adding “…if I have one horse at the moment who is thrilling me, then it would be him. He is improving all the time and I just love his running style”.

Bright Forecast would be the second horse from Ben’s yard that I would take out of the overall conversation and he could be interesting stepping up in trip in the Ballymore with jockey Nico De Boinville seemingly looking forward to the ride.

Last of the trainers present was Charlie Longsdon and although he spoke about four horses, it was Castafiore who seemed the one with the better chance. Only a six-year-old and bred to be decent on the flat as a daughter of Street Cry, she won at Haydock in January before finishing second at Kempton on going that may well prove to have been too quick to see her at her peak. She will get her seven-pound mares’ allowance in either the JLT or the Close Brothers and according to her handler, has an each-way chance in either contest.

Away from the trainers, and as mentioned previously we had what could be best described as a fairly dry talk from the handicappers, with a few juicy exceptions.

In the hurdle races Uradel looks totally unexposed in the Coral Cup and may well have got in very lightly at these weights (though he is unfortunately priced accordingly), while Walk To Freedom, Aaron Lad and Abolitionist all got a positive mention from the handicappers ahead of the Pertemps Network Final.

And so, we come to an end for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival previews – as always, it is a privilege to write for you, and I can only hope that somewhere we have pinpointed a few winners.

With a larger than I would like percentage of my time spent in front of a keyboard, these are some of my annual highlights, with the opportunity to see some of my equine heroes in the flesh something I am eternally grateful for, so thank you Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Cheltenham Racecourse, and my good friend Mark Popham and all at Racenews for all the help I have received before writing my little snippets.

Sean Trivass

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