Day One of the Cheltenham Festival is light on handicaps, but the two that it does serve up are very different in complexion.
Nonetheless, across both races, the aim for punters remains the same:
To pinpoint runners whose ability, and therefore racing weight in relation to their rivals, has been underestimated by the British Horse Racing Authority’s handicappers and avoid those who have been given a mountain to climb.
Ultima Handicap Chase – 2:50
A real mixed bag of a race with Festival regulars rubbing shoulders with doughty handicappers and a smattering of intriguing novices, including 6/1 favourite Out Sam.
+ Double Ross, Indian Castle, Ballyklan
The first mentioned was a four-length fourth to Annacotty off 3lbs higher in the Paddy Power at Prestbury Park in November, with that one now rated 10lbs better than he was when scooting up that day.
Indian Castle was fourth in this last year off 5lbs more and races off 1lb lower than when last winning, off 135, at Cheltenham in January 2014.
Ballyklan is 12lbs better off at the weights with Theatre Guide than when a 12-and-a-half-length fourth in a race the latter won last time out.
He has won scored in four of his six career starts on good ground and could well step forward if the sun continues to shine in the Cotswolds.
– Theatre Guide, Kruhzlinin, Beg To Differ
All three have been heavily censored by the handicapper for their most recent efforts, going up 11lbs, 10lbs and 10lbs respectively for 10-length, five-length and four-and-a-half-length wins in races that have not yet produced scores of winners.
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – 5:30
A fiendish race for punter, handicapper and trainer alike since the 140 ratings ceiling was introduced – a mark of 136 or better was needed to get in this year.
Virtually every horse in the race looks to have the scope to improve beyond their current BHA assessment.
+ Double Shuffle, Javert, Thomas Brown
The first mentioned was a comfortable victor off top weight on his handicap debut in December and hasn’t been seen since.
Re-opposing Fourth Act was second that day and has since scored by 11-lengths off a mark 3lb higher than when facing Tom George’s gelding.
The patchy form of Emma Lavelle inmates didn’t stop Javert scoring by 12l off 9lbs lower in December to take his tally over fences to two wins in two completions – it was the yard’s sole success from eight runs in December.
Thomas Brown unseated his rider when sent off favourite for the Kempton race won by Theatre Guide in February.
He looks particularly kindly treated off 140, given he beat a now-136-rated rival by 10-lengths on his last full round of jumping.
– Killala Quay, Twelve Roses
Charlie Longsdon’s Killala Quay was pulled up off 1lb higher in this race last year and he gave 4lbs and a beating to Twelve Roses last time out.