Cheltenham 2016 – Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase Preview

Ceebee previews the Cheltenham 2016 Day 1 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase with bets advised on Willow's Saviour and Bridgets Pet.

Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase – 2m4f – Tuesday 5.30pm

With only 20 runners gong to post, some of those towards the head of the market here may yet miss out. I make it that Sambremont (Kim Muir if Patrick can do 11-6 or else 4miler), Out Sam (Ultima) and Thomas Brown (Ultima or Kim Muir) will come out. After that I’m not sure many others will defect so Killer Crow, Ballykan, Thomas Crapper and Full Shift will all have connections sweating as the declarations come in next Monday.

As is always the case with this race it is wide open and full of interesting unexposed sorts. It is a valuable novice handicap after all. 9/1 the field tells its own story. However I expect the market will change plenty before the tape goes up at 5.30pm on Tuesday.

In 2013 we had a 9/2f and three more horses in single figures. Four horses were sub 10/1 in 2014 – including the first and third home. Again last year four horses started the race in single figures. At the moment all horses can be backed at 9/1 or greater so there’s a little bit of value to be had if you can find the right ones. Another argument for betting now is that you may not be missing out on any raceway special offers. All the money back and extra place specials tend to focus on the early races to attract the customers. The last race on the card, not on channel 4, plenty will just go the standard ¼ odds 4 places.

With the weights so compressed (4 or 5lbs top to bottom) we may as well look at this as just a crap JLT Novice Chase. Ignore the handicap element and just find the best horse. The one most likely to make up into a 150 odd Grade 2 chaser.

Willow’s Saviour fits the bill. He was rated 138 when his hurdling career was cut short by injury. Last seen beating Ptit Zig in the Ladbroke off 130 isn’t bad. He then returned after almost 2yrs off with a novice chase victory at Warwick. That day he defeated Aso, who is now rated 145. That’s already two pieces of form that suggest he could be much more than a 138 horse. Next time he raced was the Henry VIII at Sandown. On his second start back after a long absence it wasn’t a great surprise he was below par but to be honest; Ar Mad, Bristol de Mai and As De Mee are all far too good for this race so it wasn’t too bad an effort chasing them home over a trip short of his optimum. At Sandown he actually jumped fractionally to his left which wouldn’t have been ideal. If you’re going to jump left, do it at Cheltenham.

Willow’s Saviour then won a 2 horse race as he should have had at Fakenham. That ensured his mark stayed below the 140 threshold for this race. However I think it is only circumstance that has ensured that. There’s loads to suggest Dan Skelton has a graded chaser on his hands.

Bridgets Pet is the second one I like. Alan Fleming was the hottest trainer in Ireland in November. He sent out a phenomenal 8 winners from 16 runners. They’ve cooled a bit since, 5 from 21 in 2016, and I think it’s with a view to peaking again at the spring festivals. He sends 4 horses to Cheltenham: Bridgets Pet, Blue Hell, Velvet Maker and Tully East. All 4 have likeable profiles!

Bridgets Pet came to Alan from Tony Mullins’ yard. Tony is arguably better at preview nights than training horses. Bridgets Pet was a little in and out since joining Alan and had won just once, in effortless fashion at Downpatrick, before being put away for a winter break in September. He returned at the end of January with a career best display. Ridden patiently he beat Morning Assembly by a head. There was so much to like about it though. The winner travelled like a real good horse, he was still tanking coming to the last against 140+ rivals. He was tough in a tight finish, the front two were miles clear. The fact he is ridden patiently and stays 2m4f really well should be of benefit in a big field festival handicap. That Fairyhouse win is strong form also. Morning Assembly ran well behind Smashing next time (and he may have won the Ultima Handicap by the time this race starts!). Lord Scoundrel was a fair bit behind in 3rd and has since won at Thurles. The well beaten 5th wasn’t far behind Killer Crow the time before.

There’s loads to like about Bridgets Pet, not least the 25/1 odds available. If you need the all-important ‘festival form’ he ran very well in the 2013 Martin Pipe.

Racing Pulse is the ‘honourable mention’ here. The Curtis yard won this race last year and it’s been the plan for Racing Pulse for a long time. He was a fairly decent novice hurdler last season. Over fences his penultimate start when winning at Chepstow has worked out really well. The stable form (all season) must be a worry as is his last effort (possibly just down to stable form) when pulling up at Warwick. But at 33/1 I wouldn’t put you off.

The two towards the head of the market that I don’t particularly like are the Gigginstown duo, McKinley and Killer Crow. The latter was kept busy as a novice hurdler and didn’t amount to much (rated 125 after 6 starts). Since winning his novice chase at Navan in December he competed in two decent Irish handicap chases. He finished second both times, off marks of 127 and 130 respectively. He races off 136 here now. This is a much stiffer ask than either of those races and realistically he will need to be a 146+ horse to win this. I’ve seen nothing in his 16 career starts to suggest he’s capable of that. There’s an argument he’s priced up so short due to his respected connections.

And if that isn’t the case for Killer Crow, it certainly is for McKinley. Don’t be fooled by his G3 and G1 novice hurdle wins. They were shocking affairs where he beat serial losers Fort Smith and Tell Us More. He was stuffed out of sight in the Martin Pipe off 136 last year and didn’t make any impact at Aintree or Punchestown either. When he won his novice chase it was against a 111 rated mare.


1 point each way Willow’s Saviour at 12/1 with Bet365, Betfair Sports and Ladbrokes

1 point each way Bridgets Pet at 25/1 with Bet365, Stan James, Coral and Ladbrokes