Top weight no barrier to Cheltenham Festival success for Ericht

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Cheltenham Festival handicaps can seem like an unfathomable abyss in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the jumps racing bonanza, with most entrants holding multiple potential assignments across the four days.

Nicky Henderson however, has done punters a favour, revealing the likely destination of Ericht as he outlined the plans for his festival team for the Sporting Life, saying:

“I think he’ll (Ericht) go for the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap.”

That’s the Rewards4Racing Novices Chase to you and me and the Seven Barrows maestro’s eight-year-old son of Alderbrook looks a worthy wager for the contest at 16/1, despite the fact that he may carry top weight.

Three years have gone by since this contest was reborn as a 0-140 handicap, a decision that has caused the weights to become condensed.

As a result the race has become fiendishly competitive, with the lowest-rated contestant last year running off a mark of 132 and the last two winners humping 12st and 11st 12lbs around Prestbury Park respectively.

The most recent of those was Rajdhani Express, trained by none other than a certain Old Etonian, who also has three runners up to his name in the contest.

Last year’s winner was in fact the first in the nine past runnings not to have either won or placed second in their previous race, unlike Ericht, who was a handsome nine-length winner at Musselburgh.

Those who would fear he has exposed himself to the handicapper should think more of his shrewd handler, as his previous mark of 135 would have had him only hoping to scrape in at 26th on the list of current entrants.

Having bombed on his handicap chase debut at Kempton when a 56-length fifth, it was a very reasonable rise considering the first three to chase him home at Musselburgh were all coming into the race off a win.

As well as having a more or less guaranteed festival destination, the unexposed fencer has previously performed with credit at the greatest show on turf.

Sixth in the 2011 Champion Bumper won by Cheltenian, he reaffirmed his liking for Cheltenham’s unique test when a five-and-half-length fifth to Medinas in the 2m5f Coral Cup over hurdles last season.

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

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.