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Cheltenham Festival Handicaps – Irish Eyecatchers After Weights Announced

School Boy Hours (Ultima Handicap Chase)

There are a couple of serious sufferers of what is an extensive “Irish tax” ahead of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.

The likes of Floueur and Fakir D’alene have been more harshly treated even than some of their compatriots here, but SCHOOL BOY HOURS may be one who has gotten off slightly more lightly. 

This is not a race, despite recent success, in which Irish horses have excelled, which should make winning this year even tougher. However, after falling short on many occasions in his novice seasons, this horse won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

A 9lb rise for that success in a 28-runner field would not be harsh in a British handicap, so the fact it was achieved in one of the most competitive in Ireland suggests he could easily take that rise in his stride. He has never run in Britain before, but if kept fresh from that success, could go very well from a mark of 142.

Gaelic Warrior (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle)

It will be his debut for Willie Mullins if GAELIC WARRIOR makes it to the Cheltenham Festival.

He was heavily backed for the race as soon as his name appeared among the entries and he has been given a mark of 129. The handicapper has a virtually impossible job with this horse given a lack of evidence for Mullins and three defeats in France.

Two RPRs on his most recent runs suggest he could be quite well treated and the fact Rich Ricci and Mullins were keen to snap him up speaks volumes about his future.

Given this race was won by an 80/1 shot last season, confidence should be tempered a little at the prices but he will be one of the most talked about horses on day one.

Saint Felicien (Coral Cup)

Another who is extremely unexposed after only three starts, two of SAINT FELICIEN’s races have at least been for current trainer Gordon Elliott.

He looked to be on the periphery of the Champion Hurdle market after winning on debut at Gowran Park. That form has worked out very well with the runner-up winning in Listed company next time out.

Having won in France last March, he was no longer a novice by the turn of the year and was forced into open company. It was a grand effort for one so inexperienced to be second to Darasso at Grade 3 level for all he went off favourite.

However, that was due to reputation and not form. Similarly, his handicap rating of 149 could be seen as being on the steep side, but he has any amount of progression to come and should deal with any ground conditions come the Festival.

Andy Dufresne (Grand Annual handicap Chase)

ANDY DUFRESNE has two handicap options at the Festival in the Grand Annual and the Plate. His mark and form suggest he is more appealing for this race.

Officially rated 152 in Ireland, he has never run in a handicap, so it is difficult to say he is unfairly treated with a 3lb higher mark in Britain. Moreover, he is a Grade 3 winner over fences and ran an excellent race on his comeback run at Naas in November.

That is encouraging in terms of his ability to go fresh and he was beaten fewer than five lengths by Captain Guinness, who remains on course for the Champion Chase. He was conceding the winner 7lb too, who is now rated 162.

He could well be capable of more now handicapping and he does not top the weights here due to Sky Pirate’s presence, unlike in the Plate.

The Jam Man (Pertemps Final)

Ronan McNally was careful to place THE JAM MAN in Warwick’s qualifier for this race and his profile suggests a big run could be in the offing here.

He was ninth in the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle when connections opted to roll the dice and run there instead. Since then, winning has become a bit trickier for him, with his only victory since then coming over fences in November 2020.

However, though he failed to qualify through Punchestown’s event in November, that first run after a break may well have been needed, while his second in the Warwick qualifier saw him beat Sire Du Berlais and Alaphillipe home, both of whom are shorter prices.

Yet, he has been afforded the same 2lb drop in the weights as that pair having been down the field again in Ireland since. That may well have been a case of minding his mark for this race and he is a much more alluring price to go close.

Grand Paradis (Plate Handicap Chase)

Yet to win over fences, the grey GRAND PARADIS may face an ominous task defying a rating of 145 on that basis.

However, he won three of his four races in bumpers and hurdle races while his chasing career to date has seen him up against some very useful types. But for falling and being hampered in his first two starts, he may have gone close at Down Royal and in Grade 1 company at Fairyhouse.

His jumping is certainly a nagging concern, but he has been much better as he has gained experience. While retaining his novice status for next season is certainly a possibility, conditions could be perfect for him here.

This intermediate trip is one which he has run over in all five starts, while two starts back he lost out by just half-a-length to Floueur, now rated 146, when conceding 3lb. A sound jumping display may be all that is needed to see him right in the mix.

Ain’t That A Shame (Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup)

Floueur is proving to be useful yardstick by which to judge some of the Irish horse’s ratings. AIN’T THAT A SHAME is another who comes out leniently with this view.

Henry De Bromhead’s eight-year-old is relatively light on experience including just three runs over fences, but has performed with great credit in each of them. A third to National Hunt Chase favourite on his chase debut preceded an excellent runner-up effort behind the mighty Galopin Des Champs next time out.

That day, he beat Floueur by 16 lengths, but is rated 2lb below him off 144 if he comes here. That owes to being caught in the dying strides by Champagne Platinum at Navan last time out.

He would be up another two furlongs if coming here, but he may have been left in front too soon last time out and more patient tactics may well prove that he is extremely well-treated indeed.

State Man (County Hurdle)

An unexposed Wille Mullins runner will forever be the go-to for the County Hurdle after Saint Roi’s blistering success in the 2020 edition.

His equivalent this season looks to be STATE MAN who remains as short as 14/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle should connections wish to chance him in that Grade 1. There is a chance he could be up to that level too.

His rating of 141 is 4lb higher than Saint Roi’s, but that horse would have won doing as many handstands with that mark too. Furthermore, State Man has arguably achieved more, having fallen when in with every chance on debut at Leopardstown and then winning very cosily at Limerick.

Perhaps the culture shock of a competitive big field handicap could be too much, but he will almost certainly run in this race and bar misfortune, will make it into the 26-runner field.

Adamantly Chosen (Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle)

State Man is also entered in this race, but perhaps ADAMANTLY CHOSEN is more likely to run and possesses a likeable profile for the race.

It was a surprise that he was beaten in his first two starts over hurdles given his bumper form from last April is outstanding. That said, the winner of his first contest at Fairyhouse is a useful yardstick and he was 27 lengths clear of the third at Cork next time out.

At Thurles, he pulled the same distance clear of the horse behind, except this time he had no rival for victory. That looked more like the level he should consistently be capable of.

It would be no surprise if he were to be stepped up in trip and from a mark of 142, which Galopin Des Champs won off a year ago, he is very dangerous for Willie Mullins.