CeeBee early Cheltenham Festival Handicap Preview

Ceebee takes a look at some of the handicaps at next week's Cheltenham Festival and he has suggestions in the Grand Annual, Ultima Handicap Chase and the Festival Plate.

Three big priced horses to watch out for in Cheltenham Handicaps next week:

Croco Bay – is generally 25/1 for the Grand Annual Handicap Chase. Last season he finished 3rd in the same race off an official mark of 149. This year he runs off 147. That’s about the extent of it. Festival form! Last year’s winner Next Sensation is heading the market at 10/1 and he’s 1lb higher. Croco Bay has a 3lb swing to make up 5L which looks a little difficult but he’s had a (marginally) better season than NS.

CB was a close third behind Simply Ned at Kelso first time out. He was then set a tough ask behind Sprinter Sacre here. Last time over hurdles was a poor effort. After a mid-season break he may just have been using the outing to knock off a few cobwebs. Back over fences at a trip and track which clearly suit the 25 or even 33/1 could be a nice final race touch

25/1 is available with William Hill and Ladbrokes, but neither are non runner no bet at this stage.


Double Ross – is 40/1 in a few places for the Ultima Handicap Chase. Firstly the favourite here, Out Sam, as short as 6/1 in places is unlikely to get into the race. He’s 72nd on the list. If he doesn’t make the cut the rest at the front end will be cut a few points. Similar to Croco Bay the key with Double Ross is Festival form (although he has loads of good course form also). Double Ross was placed in the 2013 Martin Pipe Handicap and then placed in the 2014 JLT G1 chase. In 9 starts at Cheltenham Double Ross has won 3, placed 4 times and been unplaced just twice (both times as a rank outsider in G1 events). That’s tremendous course form. His last effort here was a decent 4th in the Paddy Power Chase off 153. That form has worked out well with the likes of Buywise and Annacotty running well through the winter. Double Ross is off just 150 now. The extra half a mile will probably suit as well.

Coral are now non runner no bet and going 40/1 so that is the place to have an interest if you are playing.


Darna – Just like the other two above, Darna ran well at a previous Festival. Whilst the others placed, this fella won the Plate Handicap Chase last season. He won off 140 and was raised 7lbs but having ran just twice he now finds himself returning off just 144. Darna was brought down in the Topham (where Rajdhani boosted the Plate form). This season he was pulled up in the Paddy Power Chase but that was easily excused. He needs good ground and certainly didn’t get it in November. Goes here fresh but the Kim Bailey yard are in flying form so could run well again. He’s also 33/1 with Boylesports and Ladbrokes, but neither are non runner no bet at this stage.

(With Non-Runner No-Bet not yet widely available I won’t be suggesting any specific bets but do keep an eye on these. They aren’t ‘sexy horses’ so shouldn’t be too popular over the coming days, but with their festival form they won’t be completely ignored. They will shorten a fraction closer to the time, especially when extra place specials appear.)

Four of the more obvious ones running next week:

Next Sensation – has shortened substantially for the Grand Annual since mentioned on here a few weeks ago. He is favourite currently but is still 10/1. The last two favourites of the Grand Annual went off 6/1 and 4/1…

Arbre de Vie – 20/1 into 12/1 last week for the Coral Cup. At this stage it’s probably worth waiting until the day when there’ll be 5 and possibly 6 places on offer each way. Willie Mullins’ 6yo was 2 from 2 heading to Cheltenham last March. He ran a real eye-catching race travelling like a dream but not getting home over 3miles in the Albert Bartlett. He then ran second to Sort it Out in a hot Punchestown handicap. He was unlucky enough that day not enjoying a smooth passage. His chase career has been put on hold after a disappointing yet quite unlucky effort at Thurles. Fortunately for connections his hurdles mark of 150 underestimates his ability.

Squouateur - top price 8/1 for the Martin Pipe Conditionals this fella certainly hasn’t gone under the radar. Gordon Elliott likes to target the race due to his close friendship with the Pipes. He has twice trained the second home. The 5yo Squouateur has had just 4 starts for Gordon and won 3 of them. The last effort was a 2m4f handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse. On the day the race looked very strong with plenty of winners involved. The hardest part of Mark Walsh’s job was to make it look hard-work and not win by too much. The 6th home that day, Total Recall has just won at Naas. Strong form. With top conditional Jack Kennedy booked this fella correctly heads the mark. The 8/1 available in places is probably still 3pts bigger than what his SP on the day will be.

Blue Hell – I wrote a bit about Blue Hell’s chances in the County Hurdle a few weeks back. His price is probably about right now having got a few extra pounds off the handicapper despite sitting in his box. But saying that I think he’ll still be involved in the County Hurdle shakeup.