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Five handicappers to follow at the Cheltenham Festival

Jonathan Vine in Tips 22 Jan 2019
A view of the runners in one of Cheltenham's big handicaps.

Our expert lists five talented horses’ punters need to watch very closely in the big handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival.

This time last year, I published a similarly titled article and managed to pick out the winners of the County Hurdle and the Grand Annual. Given that success, I’m going to go with a similar ploy this season, so here are five dangerous horses who warrant ante-post backing ahead of the big handicaps at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

2019 Cheltenham Festival Handicap Tips

Paul Nolan’s charge produced an eye-catching display on his chasing debut at Naas in November, streaking clear after the last to claim a comfortable victory over two capable Gigginstown horses. Discorama then found the step up to Grade One company a little too much when he entered the Drinmore at Fairyhouse, but was far from disgraced in finishing sixth as Delta Work and Le Richebourg fought out the finish.

Discorama has previous here at the Cheltenham Festival, having run on well to claim second behind Blow By Blow in last year’s Martin Pipe. Nolan’s novice finished four lengths behind 147-rated Cadmium in the Drinmore, so a mark in the mid-to-low 140s would see Discorama enter the Close Brothers with genuine winning chances.

Things haven’t exactly gone to plan for Gary Moore’s mercurial chaser this season. Benatar was well-beaten on his reappearance behind Beggar’s Wishes and wasn’t competitive again in the 1965 Christy Chase. Moore’s seven-year-old then made his handicap debut in the Silver Cup at Ascot, where he ran a decent race to claim third behind Valtor and Jammin Masters.

Despite his recent failings, the handicapper hasn’t been particularly kind on Benatar, refusing to drop his rating below 149. I’m sure Moore would like the handicapper to show some leniency before the Festival, but The Storyteller was rated 147 when he ran away with the Brown Advisory Plate in 2018 and there’s no doubting Benatar – third in the JLT last year – has the talent needed to produce a big performance at the Festival.

Benatar (right) beating Finian's Oscar in the Noel Chase last year.

The Young Master looked back to his best at the start of the season. Neil Mullholland’s popular chaser defeated Traffic Fluide on his reappearance at Chepstow, before comfortably seeing off some capable challengers at Cheltenham’s International Meeting. The soft ground went against Mullholland’s 10-year-old in the Ladbrokes Trophy and The Young Master has been put on ice until the ground firms up again during the spring.

Last year, The Young Master carried very little form into the Kim Muir and ran a lovely race to finish sixth. Sam Waley-Cohen’s faithful mount will have to carry seven more pounds on his back if he returns to the Kim Muir this year, but horses towards the upper-end of the ratings have an excellent record in that staying handicap and The Young Master remains as hungry for success as ever before.

Wonder Laish was expected to claim victory as he carried an odds-on price into a handicap at Navan in November. Yet, the way he travelled through the race and quickened away from his rivals after the last smacked of Graded quality. A 17-pound rise wasn’t enough to deny Charles Byrne’s seven-year-old at Fairyhouse in December, with Wonder Laish holding off Tudor City to claim his second big prize on the bounce.

Talk coming from Ireland is that Byrne wants to step Wonder Laish into Grade One company. A step up in trip could be suitable too, so it’s no surprise to see the Irish raider carrying short odds in the Coral Cup. Wonder Laish is, however, unproven over further than two miles and looks to have bundles of pace. A mark of 144 would see him carrying a competitive weight into the County Hurdle and, with Davy Russell on his back, Wonder Laish would likely be backed towards the head of the betting.

Bun Doran (centre) battles it out with Ozzie The Oscar at Cheltenham earlier in the season.

Tom George’s eight-year-old kicked off the new season with a sparkling display here at Cheltenham, bounding to a comprehensive victory when carrying 11-10 on his back. A month later, Bun Doran returned to Prestbury Park and looked set to claim a second successive victory, only to be denied by a fantastic late charge by Ozzie The Oscar.

George decided to skip Cheltenham last year, but the previous season Bun Doran ran in the Close Brothers, where he secured a good sixth-place finish. Good ground is clearly his preferred surface, but the fact Bun Doran stays further than two miles should be extremely beneficial should he enter the Grand Annual and a mark of 148 would see Paddy Brennan’s mount handed a favourably mark near the top of the weights.

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Five handicappers to follow at the Cheltenham Festival

Our expert lists five talented horses’ punters need to watch very closely in the big handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday 12th March.

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