Jon Vine takes a look through the ante-post betting for the handicaps at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival and highlights five horses who could land big prizes at this year’s meeting.
I’ve had plenty of success with this article over the past couple of seasons. In 2018, I flagged up both County Hurdle winner Mohaayed, and Grand Annual champ Le Prezien, while also tipping placers in Barney Dwan and Theinval. I didn’t manage to pick out a winner 12 months ago, but two of the five horses I selected didn’t make it to Cheltenham, and I did highlight two big-price placers in Bun Doran and The Young Master, who finished second and third in the Kim Muir and Grand Annual respectively.
The markets for the major handicaps at Cheltenham opened soon after Christmas, and it’s taken me a little time to pick out my top five bets. The Storyteller has clearly been laid out for the Pertemps Final and could be very hard to beat, but at 7/1, he offers little value from an ante-post stand-point. Here are five longer selections who I fancy could run massive races come the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
2020 Cheltenham Festival Handicap Tips
The Cashel Man – Coral Cup
Not always a straight-forward sort, THE CASHEL MAN showed plenty of promise during his first season over hurdles, finishing a close second to both Pym and Reserve Tank over two-and-a-half miles at Kempton. Nicky Henderson’s charge then broke his maiden tag at Ffos Las during the summer, before hacking up on his handicap debut at Newbury’s Winter Carnival, destroying some capable rivals with an excellent front-running display.
The Cashel Man then gave hot-favourite Thyme Hill a real scare in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury. Henderson’s eight-year-old could even have held off the hot-favourite, had the leader not fluffed his lines at the third and second-last obstacles.
Although he is still eligible to run in any of the three novice contests at the Festival, Henderson has chosen not to enter The Cashel Man in either the Ballymore or the Albert Bartlett. This points towards a tilt at the Coral Cup, a race Nicky Henderson has won three times in the last ten years and The Cashel Man should be very well-treated off his current mark of 147.
Ex Patriot – Brown Advisory Plate
Having kicked off life over fences with defeats behind A Plus Tard and Cilaos Emery last season, EX PATRIOT battled bravely to snatch a maiden victory over fences at Thurles, before cruising home on his handicap debut at Gowran Park in March. As those victories came late in his first chasing campaign, Ex Patriot remained eligible to run in novice races until December 2nd, and enhanced his reputation with good placed efforts behind Brahma Bull and Battleoverdoyen.
Ellmarie Holden’s raider was then very well-backed ahead of the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Despite a few slow leaps at important fences, Ex Patriot was well in with a shout approaching the final flight. Sadly, Ex Patriot pecked badly on landing, conceding ground to Oldgrangewood, Lalor and Saint Calvados, and Derek O’Connor allowed his mount to cruise home in fourth.
Holden has got plenty of Cheltenham experience into her seven-year-old and a mark of 147 should ensure Ex Patriot carries a very competitive weight into the Plate. His jumping will have to be a little slicker if he wants to triumph at the Festival, but there’s no doubting Ex Patriot has the quality to claim Cheltenham honours.
Plan Of Attack – Kim Muir
Eyebrows were raised when Henry De Bromhead sent PLAN OF ATTACK over to Aintree in October. A winner on his second chase start at Wexford during the summer, Aidan Coleman’s mount looked very green when he hit the front two out. Yet, when The Hollow Ginge came at him, Plan Of Attack found a little extra and held on to claim a narrow victory.
De Bromhead’s charge then entered the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival as an unfancied 16/1 shot. Philip Enright kept his mount prominent throughout and another victory looked on the cards jumping the last, only for Roaring Bull and Fitzhenry to come through late on and relegate Plan Of Attack back to third.
Leading amateur, Barry O’Neill was in the saddle as Plan Of Attack scored at Wexford in July and he would be at the forefront of Henry De Bromhead’s thoughts should he decide to send Plan Of Attack to the Kim Muir. Four of the last seven renewals of this amateur handicap have been won by seven-year-olds and I think Plan Of Attack would be very competitive if he was to make his Cheltenham debut in day three’s curtain-closer.
Magic Saint – Grand Annual
Four of the last five Grand Annual winners had previously run in the race, and the odd one out, Solar Impulse would have run in the race the previous year, had the ground not gone against him. Of those who finished behind Croco Bay in last year’s renewal, the one I’ve got my eye on is MAGIC SAINT.
Paul Nicholls’ chaser was backed into favouritism for the race last season, but couldn’t make any inroads from off the pace and never landed a blow. It was a similar story on his reappearance in the BetVictor Gold Cup, where Harry Cobden’s mount could only finish fifth. Cobden decided to take a more prominent early position on Magic Saint’s following outing at Newbury and the change of tactic worked a treat, as Nicholls’ charge held off Bun Doran – who has gone on to boost that form by winning the Desert Orchid at Kempton – to claim a narrow victory.
Magic Saint travelled beautifully for much of the Paddy Power Handicap on New Year’s Day, before failing to finish off that two-and-a-half miler. Dropping back to two miles should be ideal at the Festival and, although Magic Saint is now rated six pounds higher than he was last year, he’s got enough class to cope with top-weight in handicap company.
Conflated – Martin Pipe
Named in honour of his mentor, the Martin Pipe is a race Gordon Elliott likes to target at Cheltenham. Elliott has won two of the previous three renewals, and looked set for a 1-2 in the race 12 months ago, only for Early Doors to fly home and spoil the party. With Envoi Allen, Easywork, Andy Dufresne, Abacadabras and Fury Road earmarked for the Grade One novice races, there’s a strong chance a classy youngster like CONFLATED could be pushed down into the Martin Pipe.
Having scored an impressive victory on his third start over hurdles at Fairyhouse, Conflated has accompanied short-priced stablemates in two big Graded races during the winter. First, Elliott’s charge crossed the line just six lengths adrift of Latest Exhibition and Andy Dufresne in the Navan Novices’ Hurdle. Conflated then ran a solid race behind Envoi Allen at Naas, staying on to finish a 14-length fourth.
Conflated was handed an official rating of 136 on the back of that performance, a mark which puts him perfectly in the frame for the Martin Pipe. Considering he’s clocked RPRs of 137 and 141 in recent runs, I’m confident that mark would not hinder his bid for Festival glory and Conflated could be Gordon Elliott’s first-string in a race he’d dearly love to win, again.