Why this season’s big handicap winners may pay handsomely at Cheltenham (Also, hello again!)

Its been far too long since I wrote a post on this blog which simply won’t do. Fortunately, a little titbit popped into my head earlier that I realise may well be worth following.

This season, all of Global Citizen, God’s Own, Frodon, Aso, Paisley Park and Elegant Escape have won major handicaps. Barring any serious mishap befalling any of them before March, I believe all six to be players for the five major Grade Ones at the Festival.

We’ll start in the Champion Hurdle division. Global Citizen has since played his part in successive group races after winning the Geoffrey Fielden/Intermediate Hurdle at Newbury at the beginning of December. He was no match for Verdana Blue and Buveur D’Air in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day but wasn’t beaten as far as initially realised having torn off in front and hung left into the straight. Back on a left-handed track most recently he made light enough work of Silver Streak and Western Ryder in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.

Those two were also defeated by Brain Power in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham, but he was in receipt of weight from those rivals and beat them by a smaller margin than Ben Pauling’s seven-year-old. Their prices, to me, do not reflect their levels of performance with Brain Power a best priced 16/1 while Global Citizen is available for some at 33/1.

With the Irish form looking mixed at best, Samcro looking more like Samslow (thanks to Paul Kealy for the nickname) and even Buveur D’Air now left with a few questions to answer, Global Citizen looks a value each-way bet at this stage with seven weeks until the off.

God’s Own, meanwhile, is unfortunate to be challenging in one of the most competitive ever divisions in National Hunt racing. Despite the competition, it is a class still utterly dominated, to boot, by a superstar in Altior.

He has been a likeable two-mile chaser for six seasons now and won his second Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November when fending off Ozzie The Oscar, a subsequent winner, off a mark of 156. No mean feat for a horse two months shy of his eleventh birthday.

Yet, there have been no signs that his enthusiasm has waned this season compared to last. He followed up victory with a creditable second behind the vastly improved Charbel in the Peterborough Chase and has an admirably consistent record in the Champion Chase. Third last year (at 40/1) behind Altior and Min, he was beaten fewer than ten lengths in both 2016 & 2017 while also being runner-up over course and distance to Un De Sceaux in the 2015 Arkle.

He won’t beat Altior, but with Footpad having failed to scale the heights of last season, Min and Fox Norton harbouring alternative options and Un De Sceaux and Simply Ned ageing just the same, many ahead of God’s Own have as many, if not more, question marks hanging over them. At 50/1, he may well give punters a grand each-way run.

So far, the thesis has been sufficient to provide each-way value, but the next two named may be potentials for the winners enclosure on St Patricks Thursday.

Both Frodon and Aso have returned victorious from Grade Three handicaps at Prestbury Park so far this season. What they have in common on top of that, is they both did so off top weight.

Frodon bombarded the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup field with a succession of exuberant leaps under Bryony Frost despite his diminutive stature. Off a mark of 164, it was one of the standout performances of the season and only Waiting Patiently is rated above him in the antepost market for the Ryanair. He flopped in that last season, but Paul Nicholls’ charge is still only seven and has surely improved. He is currently a highest-priced 16/1.

Aso returned from 13 months off the track with a decisive victory at Newbury in November which sparked a golden spell of form for Venetia Williams. Raised 8lb, he proved it was no fluke when, like Frodon, he won from the front at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. His mark at the time was 158. Having already run a big race in the Ryanair when third to Un De Sceaux in 2017, he is another who looks a revitalised beast. Even with 6lb still to find with Frodon on official ratings, 20/1 looks value for a horse who looks more than set to challenge.

The widest open of the Cheltenham showpieces is certainly the Stayers Hurdle with last year’s hero Penhill at the head of the market even though its likely we won’t see him until the Festival itself. Behind him, Apple’s Jade and Supasundae have other engagements lined up and so we fall on Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park.

There will be some concern that he finished only thirteenth in last season’s Albert Bartlett behind Kilbricken Storm, but he has racked up three successive victories this season, the first two in handicap company. To cement his reputation to the doubters, he won the JLT Hurdle (registered as the Long Walk) at Ascot for his first Grade One success, making him the spearhead of the British assault.

Ultimately, he looks a different prospect this season, so the Albert Bartlett showing can be put down to anomaly. Much like Sam Spinner last season, his form is the one to surpass this and 11/1 will be a price to keep an eye on as the Festival nears.

Finally, I’m putting my head on the line, ready to be jeered into submission depending on the result come Saturday. Elegant Escape will win the Gold Cup.

Now, I’m not normally one for trends. Nevertheless, Elegant Escape fits gloriously into an ultra-successful category of Gold Cup types. He is the fourth horse since 1994 to win the Welsh Grand National off a weight of 11st 6lb. The previous three have all gone on to win Cheltenham’s Blue Riband (Master Oats ’94, Synchronized ’10 and Native River ’16).

Having finished a gallant third in last season’s RSA and runner-up in the Ladbrokes Trophy, he has rock solid form in the book and is shaping better than ever this season. He has guts, bottomless stamina and emerging quality, all of which bode well for the big one. With the favourite yet to show this season and a number of the pretenders falling below par this season, Elegant Escape’s price of 33/1 will look even more generous if he wins this weekend’s Cotswold Chase (less so if he’s well beaten).

The six-piece would certainly pay off as an accumulator at least.

 

 

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