The Inside Track on the Festival Handicap Chase
The Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase is seen by many as the premier handicap chase of the meeting. It takes place over a trip of 3m 110yards on the Old Course and with a maximum field almost certain to go to post, jumping must be at a premium.
Current favourite, Hadrian’s Approach, is one who has usually failed in this department, but following some intensive sessions with Yogi Breisner, he looked much more assured at Newbury last time.
Back in the cauldron of the festival, questions will be asked and if he is to be successful he will have to post an error-free round.
In recent years handicaps at the festival have seen an increase in the number of winning novices, and this race is no different. In the last decade, Fork Lightning, Dun Doire and Wichita Lineman have all tasted success in their first season over fences, and Bensalem would have more than likely made that a fourth but for coming down at the penultimate fence in 2010.
After Hadrian’s Approach, the next wave of the market is full of these unexposed types. Cause Of Causes, Annacotty, Indian Castle and HOLYWELL all have an ideal profile for the race.
Preference would be for Holywell, trained by a Jonjo O’Neill, who took this with a similar sort in Wichita Lineman five years ago.
Another angle worth exploring in any Cheltenham handicap is previous festival form. Due to the unique nature of any large-field festival race, those who excel once often come to the fore again 12 months later.
The most obvious examples of this are Cantlow, Ackertac and Alfie Sherrin, who have all posted top-three finishes at the meeting before.
On the other hand horses to avoid in recent years have been those towards the top of the weights (last winner to be officially rated over 150 was Scot Lane in 1983) and those aged older than 10 (Tullamore Dew last year became the first horse to place, let alone win, aged older than 10 since 1997).