Another day, another brilliantly competitive handicap race at Cheltenham.
This time it’s the £120,000 Plate in which 22 runners are tasked with taking on more than two-and-a-half miles and 17 fences around the New Course.
A number of the runners here were very hard to leave off the shortlist, but we have to be brutal and we’ll pin our hopes on the winner coming from one of these six:
Even as a ten-year-old, we have to mark Celebre D’Allen down as a horse that has not yet shown his best form and that could be an important factor. He is still lightly raced having had some problems and will be having just his seventh chase start.
Philip Hobbs’ runner took in a couple of hurdles this season as well, winning both, so along with his recent Warwick chase success it means he comes into this on a four-timer.
The owner has won this race twice before and good money for this horse is expected. Big chance.
Shan Blue may yet have a major chance on this card in the Ryanair Chase, the horse who was leading by miles before crashing out of the Charlie Hall Chase back in October.
The horse who took advantage of Shan Blue’s fall in Yorkshire was Fusil Raffles and in handicap company he must have a major shout.
Nicky Henderson remains a man to fear at this meeting and he trains the seven-year-old who has great experience of this sort of race having finished a strong fourth in the Racing Post Gold Cup back in December.
He wasn’t so hot last time but is young enough to show more yet and is 3lbs lower in the handicap now.
Fergal O’Brien deserves to have potential Grade 1 types sent to him, but in the absence of that he is one to watch in the handicap races. He trains Imperial Alcazar in this race and what a chance he has.
A decent hurdler, Imperial Alcazar began chasing in November and has improved plenty in three runs since. Second on his first two starts, he was just learning his game but it all came together in on Trials Day in January.
In a novices’ handicap chase over this exact course and distance, one very well known for producing Festival types, Imperial Alcazar routed his field by ten lengths.
He has been shifted 8lbs by the assessors since then, but that performance was worth that much at the very least and there is no doubt at all that he has improved in the weeks since.
Simply The Betts
Paul Nicholls’ runner has an awful lot of weight to carry now and he has more than likely been just about collared by the handicapper.
That is all owing to his brilliant past performances though and he can’t be ruled out around Cheltenham. Simply The Betts in fact has won twice around here; once in 2020 in the same Trials Day race Imperial Alcazar took before following up in this very race.
He’s also finished second here in Grade 3 company and has plenty in his favour as connections no doubt expect to see a big run.
Spiritofthegames has been around the block a few times and is already a three-time runner-up at Cheltenham, though he has never got his head in front around here over fences.
Although generally regressive, he remains competitive and consistent but needs further help from the handicapper if he is actually to win a race of this depth.
The Glancing Queen
Alan King has already landed a big race this week and his mare The Glancing Queen is a firm Cheltenham favourite.
The eight-year-old’s form figures here across bumpers, hurdles and chases read 15852, the latter being an excellent runner-up effort in the Dipper behind none other than yesterday’s winner L’Homme Presse.
If her handicap mark doesn’t prove to be too restrictive, then she is another in with a major shout of winning this race.
Fifth in both a Champion Bumper and a Dawn Run at this meeting, The Glancing Queen has seen it all before and may yet be weighted well enough to be competitive.
Celebre D’Allen is certainly a contender if age doesn’t quickly get the better of him, but IMPERIAL ALCAZAR is following the same route that Simply The Betts took to victory two years ago and we may see the same result.