Cheltenham Ante-Post Tips: Four In-Form Handicappers To Note For The Festival
Cheltenham ante-post tips: Four in-form handicappers to note for Festival meeting
There are still three weeks to go before the entries are released for the handicap races at the Cheltenham Festival. Betting on handicaps before the weights are published is a risky business but several bookmakers are already offering NRNB on all Cheltenham races. We have picked out four in-form handicappers who will be worthy of close attention when the weights are published.
Trainer Fergal O’Brien has always rated Imperial Alcazar very highly and the gelding was fancied for the Pertemps final last year. He had won the Warwick qualifier in good style but was struck into at the festival and trailed home towards the rear. The son of Vinnie Roe was sent chasing in November and finished runner-up in his first two starts at Newbury and Chepstow.
His jumping was far from fluent at Chepstow but he looked a different proposition at Cheltenham at the end of January. Carrying top weight, he got close to a couple of fences but was spot on at the last and kicked away to win by 10 lengths. He was rated 144 and will be re-assessed before the Festival meeting. He could run in one of the novice events but the Paddy Power Plate (10-1 Betfred NRNB) looks tailor-made for him.
Dan Skelton trains Unexpected Party who has started favourite in his last four starts, winning at Wetherby and Ascot and finishing runner-up in the other two. He looked set to win at Cheltenham in November when cruising into contention under Bridget Andrews but was beaten by Gowel Road. He then blundered away his chance at the last when odds-on at Wetherby before redeeming himself with a smooth success at Ascot.
Harry Skelton rode him confidently that day, dropping him out towards the back before easing into the lead at the second last. He was probably value for more than his four and a half lengths winning margin suggests. He was racing off a mark of 130 that day and it is not surprising to see him quoted at 14-1 (Sky Bet NRNB) for the Coral Cup.
Venetia Williams has nominated the Grand Annual (10-1 Sky Bet NRNB) as the most likely Cheltenham objective for her progressive chaser Brave Seasca. The seven-year-old has already risen over a stone in the handicap after two victories at Warwick and one at Ascot. He was particularly impressive last time out when beating Cheltenham Festival winner Sky Pirate by seven lengths.
He was receiving 20lbs from the runner-up that day but a further rise is inevitable. So rapid is his improvement that Williams has entered him for the Arkle Trophy. That race could yet become a tempting alternative after the withdrawal of ante-post favourite Ferny Hollow.
Martin Brassil produced Longhouse Poet to land an almighty gamble in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park. The eight-year-old was backed from 25-1 into 5-1 favourite before easing out to 9-1 on the day. He had to dig deep to repel the persistent challenge of Franco De Port by three-quarters of a length.
That success earned him a quote of 33-1 for the Aintree Grand National, although his trainer hinted that the Irish National might be more realistic this season. He has been put up 9lbs by the handicapper to a mark of 154 with bookmakers Bet365 introducing him into their betting for the Kim Muir Challenge Cup at 8-1 (NRNB).