Grand Annual Chase Tips – Entoucas Appeals As Serious Contender

Croco Bay Grand Annual Cheltenham Festival

Croco Bay (near) powers home after the last to win the Grand Annual in 2019.

2021 Grand Annual Chase Tips

Previously the last race at the meeting, this contest has found a new home on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival. Daniel Overall has taken on the challenge of finding the winner.

Grand Annual Overview

Often a fast and furious affair, this year’s renewal will be run on the old course having been moved from Friday to the Wednesday. With that in mind, it could pay to be handy given the sharp nature of the old course while carnage can often ensue in behind.

Returning Runners Relish

With four of the last six winners having run in the race previously, it can pay to look at those who lined up in a past renewal. 

Gordon Elliott looks set to run last year’s winner Chosen Mate. Having won the race on just his fourth start over fences, it was hoped that he might progress to bigger and better things but he hasn’t progressed as expected. While he did win a maiden on the Flat during the summer, he’s finished down the field on his last two starts in competitive handicap chases although he ran an eyecatching race on his penultimate start before failing to stay over a longer trip next time out. While he will have to defy a lofty mark, the return to spring ground will aid his cause while he does seem to have been campaigned with this race in mind so a bold bid cannot be discounted. 

Eclair De Beaufeu (25/1) finished second to his stable-mate last term although he has only run once over fences since, falling in a Grade 2 at Navan. He has since raced exclusively over hurdles with his most encouraging run coming last time out; rated eighteen pounds lower over the smaller obstacles, connections may look to exploit that mark.

Us And Them (33/1) stayed on nicely last term to finish third having finished second in the 2019 Arkle. Having run off 148 in last season’s Grand Annual, he has slipped to an Irish mark of 143 following some disappointing runs but he is seemingly well suited by a strongly run two miles around Cheltenham although the shaper nature of the old course may not play to his strengths. 

Second in 2019, Bun Doran (33/1) has held good company since that performance, winning the 2019 Desert Orchid and finishing third in last season’s Champion Chase. While he’s finished well beaten on all three starts this season, he is now only 2lb higher than when second in this race two years ago and he did shape encouragingly in the Peterborough Chase over a trip further than ideal. Given his love for Cheltenham, it would not be surprising if he had another big effort in him and he could end up being an attractive each way proposition on the day once enhanced place terms become available.

Has The Pirate’s Raid Been Foiled?

After a series of weak finishing efforts over staying trips, Sky Pirate  proved a revelation over the minimum distance, winning a couple of handicaps off 134 and 135 respectively in impressive fashion. Still a novice over fences, those runs had connections pondering a tilt at the Arkle although his emphatic defeat at the hands of Allmankind has seemingly put paid to that. Now off 152, his handicap mark does not seem appealing at this stage and he may well look to his exploit five-pound lower mark over hurdles; he looks like a favourite worth taking on.

The McManus Battalion 

An entire article could be dedicated to JP’s likely runners in most handicaps the festival and the Grand Annual is no exception. 

Entoucas  has shaped with encouragement on all five starts over fences thus far, recording form figures of: 22244. While hopes were high for him going into handicaps after a trio of promising runs in novice company, he has flattered to deceive on his two most recent efforts while he is also prone to jumping errors, although he has been improving in that department. He still remains with potential and given his connections, a bold effort at Cheltenham seems likely. 

Sixth in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, A Wave Of The Sea (16/1) won the handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival that Entoucas was fourth in when last seen, while both are trained by Joseph O’Brien. No horse to win a handicap chase earlier in the season since 2004 has won the Grand Annual so the trends are against the five-year-old, while he also looks as though he’d appreciate a step up in trip sooner rather than later. 

Unexcepted (14/1) made an impressive start over fences when beating Entoucas by eight lengths in October but he has only been seen once since when struggling behind Energumene in the Irish Arkle. Seemingly not the most consistent, there are plenty of doubts surrounding him at this stage. 

Last year’s Martin Pipe favourite Front View (16/1) won on his third chase start before unseating on his handicap chase debut. He ran okay over hurdles when last season but he’s often looked in need of further than two-miles, although he’s one to note amongst the entrants. 

Last seasons Fred Winter winner Aramax made an inauspicious start to life over fences before springing a surprise on his third attempt over the larger obstacles when winning a beginner’s chase. Well beaten on his handicap chase debut by the other aforementioned JP owned runners, a bounce back to form here would not be surprising given his previous festival form while Gordon Elliott trained the 1-2 in this race last season. 

Other Irish Contenders

Third in last season’s County Hurdle, Embittered (20/1) has kept good company in his four starts over fences thus far, with his last two starts coming in Grade 1’s. Rated 144 over the larger obstacles in Ireland, he warrants respect given he’s rated 5lb higher over hurdles and we have yet to see the best of him while his trainer, Joseph O’Brien, looks to hold a strong hand in this race. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see who the trainer runs here while market support may well prove significant. 

Blackbow (16/1) has yet to hit the heights some may have expected of him over the larger obstacles although he did shape encouragingly in the Irish Arkle when last seen. Rated 153 in Ireland, connections seem to be leaning towards the Arkle with their lightly raced chaser. 

Grand Annual Big-Race Verdict

With Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus holding a strong hand in this race, it will be informative as to who they decide to run here. At this stage, preference is for Enotucas who has been running well all season while leaving the impression that there may be more to come. He also has experience in big field handicaps which is a big plus when assessing the chances of a Grand Annual contender.