With the Cross Country Chase debuting as a conditions race for the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, the handicapper’s ore is only stuck into two of Wednesday’s other cards, the Coral Cup and the Fred Winter.
Like all those with invested interests in the Prestbury Park bonanza, here at Ladbrokes News we are endeavouring to pick out a couple of gems from these wide open fields.
Having adopted our trend-spotter anoraks and after leafing through the formbook we’ve tried to lighten the load on punters by picking some well handicapped runners.
Limiting their animal’s exposure ahead of the Festival is often the trainer’s trump card where the handicapper is concerned, but the oldest of tricks is no longer so viable for the Coral Cup.
Unlike the other open hurdles at Chetenham, the County and Pertemps, there is no championship race over a similar distance to this 2m5f trip and as such this has facilitated a gradual rising of the entry mark.
For the second successive year any horse rated below 139 has been chopped and with only Hunters Hoof (25/1) being reckoned to improve that much in a field topped by Volnay De Thaix, off 158, you get an idea of the quality.
While top weight for Nicky Henderson’s hope is a burden too far, winners tend to be in form and in the higher echelons of the handicap in recent years, with particular emphasis placed on last-time out victors (8 of the last 13) and hurdlers in their second campaigns (9 of 11).
Factoring in these emerging patterns it may well pay for punters not to look beyond 12/1 chance Rock The Kasbah for Philip Hobbs.
Although penalised 6 lbs for Grade 3 success in the Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle in January, the six-year-old still receives the same amount off top weight here and bettered supplemented Champion Hurdler Lil Rockerfeller by 3 ½ lengths that day.
In contrast to its Wednesday predecessor, the top-rated horse to take the laurels in the Fred Winter remains Mr Thriller off 145 in 2009.
What this race has become synonymous with however is its unpredictability, with shocks rife in recent times.
This is advertised by an average winning SP of 20/1 over the last 11 renewals with the last four winners going off between 25/1 and 40/1 in the betting, so if there was ever a race to find value in at Cheltenham, this is it.
With this in mind, a box-ticking four-year-old to take a chance on is Akavit under David Bass, installed at 25s on the eve of the 2016 renewal.
Being tacked on 10lbs for a win last time out at Sandown in February is far from a hindrance as Ed de Jiles’ progressive juvenile who still receives seven pounds from top weight.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.