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Cheltenham Festival: Early handicap fancies


The team at Timeform provide a handicapper to follow at the Cheltenham Festival following the publication of the weights this week.

Theatre Man – Ultima Handicap Chase AND Cheltenham Plate (both NRNB)

Some horses are just made for the Cheltenham ‘non-runner, no bet’ concession that is so widespread nowadays and Theatre Man, a likely big player in either the Ultima or Plate, looks the perfect vehicle for such. He’d be interesting in either, as he’s no sluggard with a view to the Plate yet saw things out so strongly on Trials’ Day that another crack at three miles for the opening-day staying handicap would be little issue in all likelihood. That power-packed finish came in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase that has proved such a rich pointer to future success in recent years and, with also-rans that day Prairie Wolf, Bowtogreatness and Blow Your Wad having already franked the form of this year’s renewal, Theatre Man’s form claims in getting closest to Turners-bound Ginny’s Destiny then are there for all to see. Back him for both. Dan Barber

Cleatus Poolaw - Pertemps Final

Progressive sorts promise to be thin on the ground in the Pertemps Final, and with that in mind, Cleatus Poolaw looks a very interesting contender. Leaving it until the last qualifier to book his spot at Cheltenham, he’s yet to race over three miles under Rules, though does have a point victory at that trip under his belt and promises to be well suited by the demands of this race. His record in Irish maidens includes a wide-margin success at Naas before chasing home the lightly weighted Noble Birth on his handicap debut there last weekend. He’d previously finished closest to Ballyburn when the current favourite for both the Supreme and Baring Bingham opened his hurdling account at Leopardstown at Christmas and will head to the Festival with a similar profile to the same connections’ Delta Work in 2018, the first of 3 straight victories in the race for Gordon Elliott, whose hand numerically this year is restricted to just Cleatus Poolaw and Farouk d’Alene. The latter will be conceding weight to all if declared and would likely be claimer ridden, leaving Jack Kennedy open to renew his partnership with Cleatus Poolaw with his recent suspension completed. Paul Goodenough

Firm Footings – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup

Gordon Elliott has assembled yet another strong team of handicappers for the Festival and, in common with many of his stable-companions, Firm Footings currently holds multiple entries over a variety of trips. The fact that two of those handicap options are in excess of three miles is particularly eye-catching given that Firm Footings has been campaigned exclusively around the minimum trip so far over fences. He’s been keeping some good company along the way - notably when placed behind Arkle hopefuls Marine Nationale and Hunters Yarn on his last two starts – and that form puts him firmly in the mix off a BHA mark of just 140. Indeed, it’s not out of the question that there will be better to come over longer trips as his pedigree strongly suggests he’ll be suited by them, being a full brother Monty’s Star (who is among the favourites for the Brown Adivsory Chase on Wednesday) and a half-brother to the top-class staying chaser Monalee. Irish-trained novices have won four of the last five renewals of the Kim Muir (including two associated with the Elliott yard) and Firm Footings holds solid claims of following in their footsteps. Phil Turner

Libberty Hunter - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual

Crebilly is a horse I’ve been keen on for a big handicap since his Exeter win over Tahmuras given his previous form against Ginny’s Destiny and Grey Dawning still leaves him looking very well treated on a BHA mark of 140, but he’s already favourite for his intended target so I’m deserting him for this article whilst retaining a connection by opting for a horse who beat him in a novice hurdle at Chepstow fourteen months ago. His name is Libberty Hunter and he gets in the Grand Annual off 139 which looks lenient. He would have been unbeaten over fences but for falling on his debut and his latest win over Matata at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day was easily his best effort yet after travelling smoothly as usual. Currently 12/1, he’s very low mileage for an eight-year-old and won’t have to improve much more to win again in a race where few of the Irish contingent make much appeal. Graeme North

Batman Girac - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Batman Girac, a winner on his second start in France, was sent off 7/4 favourite for a traditionally informative Grade 3 at Fairyhouse in December on his first outing for Willie Mullins. However, he badly failed to meet expectations, hanging markedly to his left and shaping as if something was amiss as he trailed home a distant seventh. But there was a lot more to like about his effort when fourth in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival. He was last of the 12 runners as they jumped two out, but he made good progress up the inside and stuck to his task well up the run-in to be beaten little more than five lengths. That offers a good platform to build on and this unexposed juvenile can prove much better than a mark of 133, mindful that he was his powerhouse stable's sole representative and strong in the betting for that Grade 3 at Fairyhouse. Tony McFadden



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1st Mr E. P. O'Brien silk 1. BUTCH CASSIDY (IRE) 9/43.25f
2nd Mr H. C. Swan silk ½ 10. SWINGIN SAFARI (IRE) 4/15
3rd Mr L. T. Turner silk 6 12. GINO BELLA (IRE) 9/25.5
J: Mr E. P. O'Brien (5)  
10 ran. NRs: 2  4 

20:00 EXETER

1st Mr Joshua Newman silk 2. HEARTS CORNER (IRE) 10/111.9f
2nd Miss Chloe Emsley silk 7 7. HARBOUR QUEEN (IRE) 5/16
T: J. Newman  
All 7 ran.


1st Miss J. Townend silk 1. BALLYGUNNER CASTLE (IRE) 5/42.25
2nd Mr R. W. Barron silk 9 5. OLYMPY DE CERISY (FR) 11/102.1f
6 ran. NRs: 3 

19:45 BATH

1st Charles Bishop silk 3. DARVEL (IRE) 13/27.5
2nd Billy Loughnane silk 1 7. KING OF SPEED (IRE) 7/24.5f
3rd Gina Mangan silk nk 4. SOI DAO (IRE) 9/110
12 ran. NRs: 1 


1st Mr D. O'Connor silk 8. ONEFORGONZO (IRE) 6/17
2nd Mr P. W. Mullins silk 4. ONLYAMATTEROFTIME (IRE) 1/12f
3rd Mr D. Doyle silk hd 11. MY FRIEND THE WIND (IRE) 28/129
13 ran. NRs: 6 

19:30 EXETER

1st James Bowen silk 5. KINGSTON PRIDE (IRE) 2/51.4f
2nd Freddie Gingell silk 1. WICKED THOUGHTS (IRE) 4/15
3rd Micheal Nolan silk 4 7. MURPHY'S MILAN (IRE) 16/117
J: James Bowen  
8 ran. NRs: 10  11  4  9 


1st E. Walsh silk 7. ANOTHER OCANA (IRE) 11/26.5
2nd Donagh Meyler silk 5. KNOW THE GAME (IRE) 9/25.5
3rd Gavin Peter Brouder silk 2. SUNNYVILLA (IRE) 10/34.33
J: E. Walsh  
All 8 ran.

19:15 BATH

1st Shariq Mohd silk 13. HAVANA GOLDRUSH 9/110
2nd Gina Mangan silk 2 10. RAVENGLASS (IRE) 17/29.5
3rd Cieren Fallon silk ¾ 4. JOHNJAY 7/24.5
J: Shariq Mohd (7)  
T: J. S. Moore  
All 13 ran.


1st Philip Donovan silk 8. CAPTAIN JIMMY (IRE) 9/110
2nd M. P. O'Connor silk 5 3. MISS VIVACIOUS (IRE) 16/117
3rd J. P. Shinnick silk 5. IT'S TIME AGAIN (IRE) 18/119
J: Philip Donovan (5)  
All 11 ran.
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