Five handicappers to follow at the Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham Festival Tips: Happygolucky is fancied to go well in the Ultima Handicap Chase
Cheltenham Festival Tips: Happygolucky is fancied to go well in the Ultima Handicap Chase

Paul Ferguson has selected five handicappers that are worth following at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, which includes horses for the Coral Cup and County Hurdle...

HAPPYGOLUCKY (ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE)

The top of the market looks strong in the opening handicap of the week, but with Escaria Ten a possible runner in the National Hunt Chase, the pair to focus on are fellow novices Lieutenant Rocco and Happygolucky. The former has yet to be confirmed as an intended runner (also holds entries in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase and National Hunt Chase) and is also fairly ground dependent (all of his winning form has come on testing ground), so preference is for Kim Bailey’s Happygolucky, who won at the track in December.

That victory came on the New course over slightly further, but he had the race sewn up a long way from home, suggesting that the sharper track should be fine. Having earlier won at Stratford (beat Paint The Dream, who has since won off 137) and finished a narrow second (behind Getaway Trump, who won off 140 at the weekend) around Fakenham, he is clearly not devoid of pace. He crucially boasts form on better ground, and was a solid fourth in the Martin Pipe last year, so has experience in big field handicaps. These two key points just sway things in his favour.

Ultima Handicap Chase
Happygolucky silk

Happygolucky

placed
Cheltenham Festival Tips

ALFA MIX (CORAL CUP)

Seventh in the race last year, Alfa Mix could return to have another crack at the Coral Cup – from the same mark (142) – having been chasing this season. An eye-catcher on a couple of occasions over an inadequate trip earlier in the campaign, I thought the ‘Plate’ might have been an option for Gavin Cromwell’s six-year-old, but he was only handed an entry in this race. Having fared better than the bare result last year – in what was a strong renewal – I think he can make an impact again, particularly if ridden with a little more restraint on this occasion. Prominent throughout, he only gave best from the final flight last year, whereas he has taken a lead in his three runs over fences this season. Alfa Mix could easily run well at rewarding odds on day two.

In the same race – and in the same ownership (JP McManus) – I was with Birchdale last year, and he, too, could have another tilt at the race. He finished just one place behind Alfa Mix last year, and again shaped reasonably well for a long way, and is 2lbs lower this time around. A Grade 2 winner at the track as a novice (he was upsides Brewin’upastorm when that rival fell at the last), he is another who could go well at a decent price.

Coral Cup
Alfa Mix silk

Alfa Mix

Cheltenham Festival Odds

IMPERIAL ALCAZAR (PERTEMPS FINAL)

The Imperial Racing team provided us with our handicap winner last year, and I’m hopeful that ‘Alcazar’ can do the same in 2021. He is the only handicapper who I backed prior to the publication of any entries/weights, such was the impression created at Warwick, when he surged around the field to win going away. That was just his second start at this sort of trip, having earlier raced a shade keenly before fading up the straight in Haydock’s valuable staying handicap on Betfair Chase day.

The seven-year-old was set to go chasing after that, but after missing an intended engagement at Uttoxeter (was declared to run in a beginners’ chase on 8th December), connections decided to head down the Pertemps route, and whilst winning so emphatically might not have been ideal in terms of his revised mark, I still think he is well treated. Upped 8lbs to 147 for that victory, the fact that he holds an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle shows the regard in which he is held, and he could easily become a Graded class performer before long. He remains lightly-raced after just six starts over hurdles, and is fancied to provide trainer Fergal O’Brien with a first festival success.

Of the opposition, Champagne Platinum caught the eye at Haydock recently, and off a 1lb higher mark, is respected. He was heavily backed to win the Kim Muir last year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were the subject of another plunge on the day.

Pertemps Final
Imperial Alcazar silk

Imperial Alcazar

lost

BLUE LORD (COUNTY HURDLE)

Willie Mullins has won five of the past 11 renewals of the County Hurdle and he looks to have plenty of options for the race once again. Both Ganapathi and Blue Lord are towards the head of the market, whilst both hold entries in the Supreme and the Ballymore, and if given the green light, I would be very interested in the Simon Munir & Isaac Souede-owned six-year-old. The son of Blue Bresil made a pleasing winning debut in Ireland in late-November, before racing too freely when second to Bob Olinger in Grade 1 company at Naas (2m4f). Dropped back to the minimum trip, he stayed to take third behind Appreciate It and Ballyadam at the Dublin Racing Festival, and a truly-run, big-field handicap might help him settle in the early part of the race. Also, the 2m1f trip on the New course might also prove to be just about ideal, falling somewhere in between the distance of Supreme and Ballymore, which are both staged on the sharper Old course.

A mark of 145 doesn’t seem excessive given the company that he has been keeping of late, and his form might well look a fair bit stronger by the Friday morning. To date, he has raced exclusively on soft or heavy over hurdles, but was a good ground winner on the level in France, before joining current connections. He also raced quite strongly when successful on the Flat, so I wonder if a hood might be considered at the festival.

County Hurdle
Blue Lord silk

Blue Lord

GENTLEMAN DE MEE (MARTIN PIPE)

JP McManus landed four of the five handicap hurdles at last year’s festival, with only the Martin Pipe eluding him. He did see his silks carried to success in 2019, however, and the exciting novice Gentleman de Mee could be up to the task this time around. Twice a runner-up as a three-year-old in France (travelled well on both occasions and probably ought to have won on debut), the son of Saint des Saints defied an absence of 460 days when winning a maiden hurdle over the minimum trip, at Naas last month. A half-brother to Paul Nicholls’ As de Mee (won the EBF Final in his novice season and went on to win the 2016 Grand Sefton at Aintree), he is bred to appreciate stepping up in distance, and can be expected to improve considerably for that recent maiden success.

A real unknown quantity, he still holds an entry in the Ballymore, but from a mark of 139, I would be surprised if his powerful connections didn’t opt to run in the concluding race of the meeting. It is also worth noting that he was ridden more patiently in France and I would expect that to be the case here – in a race which suits hold-up performers coming from off the pace – having made all on his Irish debut. You generally need a horse who is better than a handicapper to win the Martin Pipe and Gentleman de Mee could be just that. He boasts a very similar profile to last year’s County Hurdle winner, Saint Roi.

Martin Pipe
Gentleman De Mee silk

Gentleman De Mee

lost
Cheltenham Festival Races
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