Cheltenham handicap watch: Double Shuffle looks thrown in

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The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, the concluding contest on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, underwent a change in 2011 which meant that only horses with an official rating of 140 or less were allowed to enter.

Since then all four winners have been rated no lower than 137 and 11 of the 16 each-way finishers in the same period have also been positioned in the same ballpark.

This dominance from those towards the top of the ratings hints at trainers knowing they have a horse capable of being Graded class, but keeping their potential under wraps to retain a lowlier mark.

Irish Cavalier took this handicap off 137 last year, being kept off the course since a satisfactory run over Christmas. Another run and victory threatened to take him over the entry threshold. He has since finished fifth this season from a rating of 156 in the ultra-competitive Paddy Power Gold Cup.

There is a horse with a very similar-looking profile loitering towards the top of both the ratings and the betting for the novice handicap this year and he is one that looks almost guaranteed to run as it is his only Festival entry.

Double Shuffle only ran three times over hurdles, getting to a rating of 138. Although it was always assumed that chasing would be his game down the line.

He opened the season in two novice chases at Cheltenham, gaining valuable course experience.

Tom George’s six-year-old was runner-up in the first behind Art Mauresque, who was tackling a Grade 3 last time. Then he improved to finish an 11-length fourth to leading RSA Chase fancy More Of That.

Double Shuffle was last seen in December making his handicap debut at Ludlow off top weight and seemingly winning with a bit in hand. The second that day has run again since and won off a 3lb higher mark by 11 lengths.

The handicapper may have been slightly generous by putting Double Shuffle up by only 4lb to his current mark of 138 and he seems to have been put away by George with this race in mind.

On the basis that the expectancy is that he will be a better chaser than hurdler and he remains open to plenty of improvement after only eight career starts, odds of 14/1 on Double Shuffle winning the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase certainly sticks out as great each-way value.

It would be no surprise to see him contesting more high-profile handicaps next season from a mark perhaps beyond 150.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Craig Kemp

Craig has written for Ladbrokes since the 2010 World Cup, having previously gained a Media & Sports Journalism degree and contributed to publications including the Racing Post. His main areas of interest are horse racing and UFC, but he is also an avid X Factor gambler and likes nothing more than indulging in a spot of Hip Hop Karaoke.