Even on the forecast soft ground, Friday’s Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3, Class 1) will be over in not much more time than it takes to read out that race title if it has been a long and tiring week. Writing this on Wednesday, I am predicting that will be so.
The Grand Annual, as I prefer to refer to it, will be the twenty-seventh of 28 races across the four days, some of which have verged on the impossible to crack. With 20 runners declared – the safety limit having been trimmed in the recent safety review – plus two reserves, it goes into the merely “very difficult” category.
We can, of course, look at the 10-year trends for this historic race, with place impact values and % of rivals beaten being the best measures, as usual.
As with Thursday’s handicap preview, there is surprisingly little to be seen in terms of those trends. Age and BHA mark – often two of the most significant categories – are pretty close to neutral across the board.
There are, however, minor positives to be seen for horses coming off long lay-offs and for those who finished fourth or worse (including pulled-ups) on their most recent starts.
The flip side of the latter is that last-time winners have fared unexpectedly poorly – including just one winner from 44 representatives – as have shorter-priced horses (the two are probably related).
But, otherwise, carry on as you were: this race may be tackled primarily from a form-inspired angle.
There is no surprise that Magic Saint is the early favourite given that he looked to be going places fast when winning at Wincanton last time, putting in some smart late sectionals in the process. Nor is it surprising to see Not Another Muddle close up in the betting on the back of his ready win at Sandown last time which has still earned him one of the lighter weights on 10-11.
That pair along with Whatswrongwithyou, who looks to have a bit more on his plate, are the three horses with “ps” on their Timeform ratings, indicating the likelihood of further improvement. They are also the first three in the betting at the time of writing.
Instead, I would like to put in a word for one at a bigger price, though not a much bigger price, in Mind’s Eye.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained seven-year-old caught the eye running on well into fifth behind Quamino in a valuable handicap at Leopardstown on Dublin Racing Festival weekend last time and had been far from disgraced when mixing it with smart company in a Grade 1 Novice Chase on the same track on Boxing Day.
Indeed, that latter effort earned Mind’s Eye a 141 Timeform timefigure which puts him right in the mix in this. Unlike plenty of his rivals, Mind’s Eye still has potential to improve, having run only five times over fences and 13 times in all.
What he is very likely to have to contend with here is a strong pace. Gino Trail is a confirmed front-runner (consolidated Timeform EPF of 1.0), as is Foxtail Hill (1.2) if he gets in and Diakali (1.5). Theflyingportrait, Tree of Liberty, Whatswrongwithyou and Brelan d’As also come in at 2.2 or less. No prisoners are likely to be taken.
If those pace-forcers end up overdoing it, then the likes of last year’s winner Le Prezien (3.6), the unreliable Champagne At Tara (4.3) and Marracudja (4.2) could be among the main beneficiaries. Mind’s Eye comes somewhere in between at 2.4 and may well be asked to race in mid-division.
Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that an each-way bet is advised. The win book at best early odds is 122% (you would need to stake a total of £122 in proportion to all the horses’ odds to guarantee a return of £100 whatever the result), but the place book is 99% per-place for 1/4 those win odds for four places and 93% per-place for 1/5 and five. The latter is slightly better providing you are still getting top price.
Each-way is a better proposition than win only, all other things being equal, and that is the way to play Mind’s Eye, a useful novice who could find the improvement required to take down some more experienced rivals in the Festival’s penultimate race.
Recommendation: 1 pt each way Mind’s Eye at 14/1