Punters have a real dilemma in this year’s Grand Annual. It’ll be a fast-paced two-mile chase on the speed-favouring Old Course, and many of the contenders have put up strong speed performances on flatter tracks.
However, this is Cheltenham and the ground is on the soft side, so this may still take some getting. With those factors in mind, these are our fancied six against the field.
Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus are bound to be among the winners and placed connections this week and this horse could be one of their leading lights.
Entoucas has put in five solid performances this season without winning, but it seems he’s improving all the time and should go well in these conditions.
Venetia Williams has had somewhat of a resurgence of late, and this horse Ibleo has very much been part of that.
Winner of his last two at Sandown and Doncaster, we know two miles on rain-softened ground is up his alley but what we don’t know is whether he’ll be at his best on this track. An 11lb rise for winning a race he was a short-priced favourite to land may be hard to cope with, but he has speed between the fences and can go well.
There are some real highlights in Moonlighter’s profile; his best run was his most recent, and he’s also run to his very best form on both good ground and heavy ground which leads us to believe conditions aren’t a concern to him.
His progression has been steady but almost relentless. Nick Williams’ runner seems to keep getting a little bit better with each run, apart from one fall behind Zanza that is on a day when he was sent off favourite. Chance.
Not That Fuisse
The Skelton’s runner has done OK at Cheltenham over fences; second to Al Dancer in 2019, sixth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup soon after and third at the start of this season in a novices’ chase. They were all in small fields however, and so improvement will be needed from him in a race of this nature.
Despite having had eight attempts over fences, Not That Fuisse remains a little hard to read but he’s handicapped well enough and will hold a strong chance.
Not only does Sky Pirate make this list on merit, but his form lines are important in regards to other challengers as well.
Sky Pirate was a two-mile Cheltenham winner in December on a day when he had Ibleo back in second, while Zanza fell when in with a chance.
Conditions on the day won’t be a problem then, the only worry being whether or not his form has flattened out and if it has, then his handicap mark may well just hold him back enough.
Zanza’s chance in this race depends on how you read the form of not a completed race in his case, but one in which he fell.
The race in question is the aforementioned Cheltenham contest won by Sky Pirate back in December. That day, Philip Hobbs’ horse, having improved in lumps between races this season, was going very easily and looked to comfortably have the beating of Ibleo and Sky Pirate before falling at the third last.
True, his run could have flattened out for all we know, but we reckon not and so considering that he is now not punished by the handicapper for that performance and he’ll have improved even further, he must be considered very well in now.
Former champ Richard Johnson takes the ride and should be able to get a sweet tune out of this one.
In these Cheltenham handicaps we very often end up seeing a particular race during the season providing us with a crucial form line, and we have that this time around too.
The form from one specific December contest, featuring Ibleo, Sky Pirate and ZANZA is what we think will prove to be the most crucial in this event and it’s latter-named runner who gets the nod at these weights.
We’re not always keen on the horses kept off the track for three months before the Festival, a very modern training trend, however after his tumble it may well be just what Zanza needed and his trainer will have him in great form going into this race.