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The Road to Cheltenham: Identifying Under-the-Radar Contenders

Lucky Loader is back with his Cheltenham ante-post blog which features two selections, including a 25/1 shot in the Grand Annual.

The main talking point in the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival last week was the handicap entries. Trying to find the winners in handicaps can be a bit of a minefield at times, especially from an ante-post perspective, but it’s not impossible. I think I’ve found a few that can outrun their odds, and come the day, they could look to be good value going into the race.

Handicap Entries Out

The first horse that has caught my eye in the entries is Annual Invictus. At this stage, he is entered for the Ultima and Kim Muir, but the betting suggests he is likely to go to the former rather than the latter. If he were to go for the Ultima, I think he is more than capable of running a huge race. The last time we saw him, he was a gutsy winner of the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster in January, where he got the better of Forward Plan by a nose. That looks to be a strong piece of form, as Forward Plan won the Coral Trophy at Kempton on Saturday.

When it comes to trying to find the winner of the Ultima, course form is always key. All of the last twelve winners of the race had at least one run at Cheltenham, and seven of those had won at the track. Annual Invictus falls into both categories, as he has won over fences and hurdles at Prestbury Park.

The Fresher The Better

The son of Mahler does have some previous Festival form after he finished eighth in the Kim Muir last season, but that was after a hard campaign. This time around, he’ll arrive at the Festival with just two runs under his belt and fresher prep, which could make a big difference. He’s currently 20/1 with Rhino, and I think that’s a bit of value. I can see him being around 12/1 on the day and not being too far off the market leaders.

Next on my handicap list is Straw Fan Jack for the Grand Annual. It’s more than fair to say that he’s not pulled up any trees this season, but he didn’t shape too badly when finishing second behind Grade 1 winner Pic D’Orhy in the 1965 Chase at Ascot last November over 2m5f. He is yet to run over 2m this season, but I think the step back in trip could see him in a better light.

Don’t Underestimate Class

If you go on his form from last season, he was a good novice chaser, which included a respectable fourth-place effort in the Arkle. The ground is key to him, with most of his best performances coming on good ground, but he’s now 8lb lower than when running at last year’s Festival, which is hard to ignore.

The field always goes at a strong pace in this race, which could bring his stamina into play. Sheila Lewis’s stable star might not have the sexy profile as some of his Irish rivals, but his current price of 25/1 is tempting. He’s definitely one I’ll be keeping by my side on the day.

Elsewhere, one horse that will be popular for the handicaps is Crebilly. It looks like all systems are go for him to run in the Plate, where he’s the 5/1 favourite. For some people, that price will be too short, but it could quickly evaporate if his fourth-place finish at Cheltenham in December is franked beforehand. That day, he finished behind Ginny’s Destiny and Grey Dawning, who look to have good chances in the Turners and Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

If both of them were to win, Crebilly could well be a plunge horse that bookmakers will be looking to dodge. I could see him possibly going off 3/1 or shorter. If he does go off that price, I’ll be happy to let him win because anything can happen in a big-field Cheltenham handicap. Moreover, I’ve not been impressed with his jumping. He has been prone to making the odd mistake, and if you are backing a horse in these kinds of races, you need a horse who is a solid jumper, and he doesn’t fit the bill for me. At the moment the Plate is a race I’m happy to wait for the declarations.

Next week will be the last column, where I will be looking for some last minute Cheltenham value before the Festival starts.

Antepost Tips This Week

Ultima Handicap Chase – Annual Invictus 20/1 (Each Way)

Grand Annual – Straw Fan Jack 25/1 (Each Way)

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