Handicap Breakers (Jumps) – BetVictor Gold Cup & Greatwood Hurdle
BetVictor Gold Cup – 2.25 Cheltenham – Saturday 18th November
One of the strongest trends associated with this race is the one related to official ratings and the desired bracket is between 136 and 150. This accounts for all but two of the last ten winners, with Al Ferof and last year’s winner Taquin Du Seuil having won off a mark of 159 and 156 respectively. In terms of this year’s field it eliminates the top horse Kylemore Lough as well as the bottom four (from Guitar Pete down to Lake Takapuna).
When we consider the age of recent winners it is clear that seven-year-olds come out on top, having been successful in six of the last ten renewals. There are five such representatives this time around, namely Days Of Heaven, Tully East, Theinval, Aqua Dude and Guitar Pete.
Weight can often play a big part in the outcome of competitive races such as this and the BetVictor Gold Cup is no exception. Of the last ten renewals only Al Ferof and Taquin Du Seuil have carried more than 11st 5lb to victory which suggests that Kylemore Lough down to Tully East are up against it.
Strong form on their most recent start is something that has served horses well in this race in the past. Six of the last ten winners had finished no worse than fourth on their last start, something that all but five of this year’s field have in common. However, this stat has to be taken with a pinch of salt as many of these horses will be making their seasonal debuts on Saturday so recent form may be as far back as March or April.
In terms of trainers, there are three yards which have tasted success more than once in the last decade, they are Jonjo O’Neill (2013 & 2016), Nigel Twiston-Davies (2008 & 2010) and the Paul Nicholls yard (2012 & 2014). The first named is without a runner this year but it is worth taking a second look at runners from the other yards.
The final factor worthy of mention is the betting and historically this is not a race in which it is worth taking a punt on one at a big price. In fact, seven of the last ten winners were sent off at single figure SPs with Little Josh (20/1) the biggest priced winner in the last decade. Kylemore Lough currently leads the market at around 5/1 with the likes of Tully East, Foxtail Hill, Le Prezien, Romain De Senam and Starchitect also available at single-figure odds.
ROMAIN DE SENAM – 5/6
Foxtail Hill – 5/6
Starchitect – 4/6
Taking all things into account, all of our contenders miss at least one of the trends but the one who appeals most is ROMAIN DE SENAM. Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old was one of the leading fancies for the Novices’ Handicap Chase on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival last season but missed the cut. He ran well in competitive 2m chases in the Spring but seems to have turned a corner since his return, winning at Chepstow in October before following up at Stratford a week later. Only one five-year-old has won this prize in recent years but it is worth noting that he was also trained by Paul Nicholls and with the possibility of further improvement to come from this gelding, he looks to have a leading chance.
Just missing out on the top spot is Foxtail Hill who showed a fine attitude to hold off the challenge of Le Prezien over 2m here in October. The eight-year-old jumped boldly out in front and having looked as though he would be overtaken jumping the last, he rallied gamely to maintain his advantage. He has gone up 7lb for that effort but the 3lb claim of Jamie Bargary will offset that to a degree. The step back up in trip shouldn’t hold any fears for him and he could take some pegging back if allowed his own way out in front.
Of the remainder, one who looks primed for a big run is Starchitect who was raised just 4lb for winning at Stratford on his seasonal reappearance. David Pipe’s six-year-old probably found 3m stretching his stamina last Spring and I think a strongly run race over 2m4f should suit him well. He is still 6lb lower than his hurdles mark over fences and with a run under his belt, he looks to have plenty going in his favour.
Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 3.00 Cheltenham – Sunday 19th November
Perhaps the strongest trend associated with this race is that looking at age and whilst no one age group has dominated, those aged between four and six have proved best to follow. The seven-year-old Khyber Kim is the only winner in the last decade to sit outside the desired bracket which doesn’t bode well for the trio of older horses in this year’s line-up, the seven-year-old Chesterfield and the two nine-year-olds The New One and Top Othe Ra.
In competitive handicaps fine margins can often make the difference and improving horses can often come out on top. The Greatwood is no different as seven of the last ten winners had no more than six starts prior to lining up here. Applying that stat to this year’s field leaves us with three horses, namely Jenkins, Mohaayed and Misterton.
However, that is not to say that lower-rated horses win this race, in fact the opposite is true. An official rating of 140 appears to be the benchmark as six of the last ten winners sat on or above this mark. In terms of this year’s field, the only qualifiers are the top eight as they appear on the racecard, The New One, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Tigris River, Old Guard, Chesterfield, Elgin, Project Bluebook and Flying Tiger.
In terms of weight, 11st 6lb appears to be the limit as only three winners in the last decade have carried more than that to victory. Of this year’s field, only the top-weight The New One, who carries 11st 12lb here, has such a burden to carry.
Good recent form is something that has served many punters well down the years in handicaps and this race is no different. To narrow it down, six of the last ten winners had achieved a top four finish on their most recent outing. Of this year’s line-up, there are only three who miss the cut on this basis, namely Ivanovich Gorbatov, Project Bluebook and William H Bonney.
The final factor worthy of consideration is the betting and although there have been big-priced winners in the past, generally this race tends to centre around those towards the head of the betting. In fact six of the last ten winners were sent off at single figure SPs and with no winner in the last decade having been sent off any bigger than 12/1 it is probably best to let the market guide your selections.
MOHAAYED – 5/6
Jenkins – 5/6
Flying Tiger – 4/6
All things considered, none of our contenders matches all of the trends but the one who gets the nod is MOHAAYED. On a rating of 137, he just misses out on the 140 benchmark but his overall form suggests he is up to this level. Also, despite having had only the six runs over hurdles to date, he has already run in the County Hurdle and the Scottish Champion Hurdle so the hustle and bustle of this race should pose no problems to him. Dan Skelton took this prize twelve months ago and he looks to have another leading fancy this time around.
Just missing out on the top spot is the likely favourite Jenkins. Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old has always been highly thought of by connections but his jumping let him down on a couple of occasions last year as he failed to live up to expectation. However, reports suggest his hurdling is much better now and despite being the least experienced runner in the field, he has to be respected.
Of the remainder, it would be no surprise to see Flying Tiger go well having won the Fred Winter over course and distance back in March. He ran well for a long way at Wincanton in the Elite Hurdle last week before getting tired in the ground and I think this sounder surface should help him turn in an improved effort.
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