The only thing harder than trying to decipher the chances of each horse in a 20-runner Cheltenham handicap chase is doing so when they’re all novices and that has been our challenge here.
With strong winds and soft ground the likely order of the day, these inexperienced chasers face a tough task and with that in mind we’ve gone for a combination of the best handicapped and toughest horses in the field to form our final six:
A Plus Tard
As a five-year-old with plenty more to give it’s easy to see why this one has been heavily backed this week, but given that the trainer-jockey-owner combo is Rachael Blackmore, Henry De Bromhead and Cheveley Park Stud it’s possible some punters have just allowed themselves to be a little carried away.
The French-bred has indeed improved plenty in his three runs in Ireland so far since coming over but off a mark of 140 I couldn’t say with any confidence that he’s particularly well handicapped for this event.
Good Man Pat
Having comfortably won a novice handicap at Plumpton back in February Alan King bumped this six-year-old up straight up to Grade 2 company last time out at Kempton where he was not disgraced.
Having not put in the very best round of jumping however he was beaten far enough in the end and it’s possible he could feel the effects of that somewhat, despite 139 not being a mark that looks too harsh in the context of this race.
More improvement is to come overall though and with this ground likely to suit better than the surface he encountered at Kempton a big run could be on the cards.
Highway One O One
A win in this would be some story for Winchester trainer Chris Gordon and his Highway One O One should definitely be on the premises at the business end of the race.
He’s one of the more experienced types in this contest with six runs over fences to his name so far and his form is holding up very well, the only negative being that we can’t say he’s massively improved over the course of this season for all those outings.
His run here behind Kildisart on Trials Day should stand him in good stead though and he’s a little overpriced at a general 12/1.
Kelly Morgan’s gelding was expected to have a nice easy prep last time when going off at 1/5 up at Kelso, but he managed to unseat regular rider Ross Chapman there and he may be undercooked for this as a result.
His earlier form at Ayr and Kempton holds up quite well however and he’s another who has perhaps been dismissed a little too lightly by backers, most firms offering at least 20/1 about him on the eve of the race.
Riders Onthe Storm
County Kildare’s Tom Taafe knows his way around and will have this six-year-old gelding spot-on for the big day and he’s certainly been backed accordingly in the days before the race.
Given the overall expected rate of improvement for such a young and inexperienced chaser, it’s arguable that his best performance came on his second start over fences when finishing third in a Grade 1 at Limerick on soft ground over 2m3½f, leading many to believe these conditions will bring out the best in him. A definite for the shortlist.
Although what little form he has around Cheltenham over hurdles so far is a mixed bag at best, Philip Hobbs’s chaser put in a performance of true quality second up over fences when running second at Haydock to Mr Whipped on heavy ground.
He made his chasing debut in similar conditions to what he’ll find here, save for having to tackle the Cheltenham hill and the wind, when he beat Lithic at Sandown and with that horse having upheld the form well it seems his profile overall is that of a horse who should be rated more than the 141 he gets in here off. Richard Johnson rides too meaning he will not want for help from the saddle.
Both Highway One O One and Good Man Pat look solid enough types and are both fairly priced as decent each-way prospects, but I can’t help feeling that there’s more to come from this SPRINGTOWN LAKE who looks a classier type than his current mark suggests.