The Snout previews the Big Race from Cheltenham
Big field handicap chases are the name of the game in the Winter months, as regular names keep coming back for more at the home of jump racing. New Years Day sees some fantastic competitive racing and none are more competitive than the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase whose runners will take 2m4f about the New course in attempt to bag a £34k winners prize.
Village Vic won this race last year, which signified the end of his winning streak in which he took two big handicap chases at Cheltenham. Although many people will tell you he is badly handicapped running off 158, 14lb higher than when winning this race last year, he keeps running his heart out from the front and has finished in the money in both the BetVictor Gold Cup and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over C&D in the past 2 months. The good ground may well be a hindrance to him but it still takes a good horse to get by him and his style of running does eke out errors from those that try and keep up with the pace.
The 2nd and 3rd from last years renewal also come back for more. Tenor Nivernais was a very good 2nd in this last year off 145, but similarly to Village Vic, comes here much higher in the handicap than previously. He seems to also relish deeper ground so may not appreciate conditions come New Years Day. Top Gamble was a double Grade 2 winning horse last year for Kerry Lee, but in the same vein as Tenor Nivernais has his work cut out off a higher mark and on better ground. Although last years race was clearly of a high standard, it may well pay to look elsewhere for a better handicapped type.
What about Tizzard?
You would be foolish to ignore anything Colin Tizzard enters into these types of races’ at the moment and his entry Quite By Chance looks to be improving. This season he has had three starts, including when bolting up at Ascot and then finishing a very good 2nd to Sire De Grugy again at Ascot. He stepped up in trip for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, and hit the frame finishing just behind Village Vic. That run may need upgrading due to the fact he hit a bit of trouble in running and I would expect him to improve a further few pounds from that run. He also showed that he had no issue with the trip or the track and therefore he would be high on my shortlist.
Similarly to the above, you can never rule out a Paul Nicholls handicap chaser and his sole entrant, As De Mee, has claims. He was very well fancied for the BetVictor Gold Cup but just didn’t seem to enjoy the hustle and bustle nature of that race, and really enjoyed the change to front running tactics at Aintree where he slammed his rivals in the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences. He is up 8lb for that, though, and I am not convinced his “well handicapped” label still remains. He also won’t be able to get his own way up front with Village Vic in the line up.
Simon Munir & Isaac Souede have two very interesting entrants at the time of writing. L’Ami Serge is one that has always been highly rated by many in the racing world and was sent off 2nd favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in the year Douvan jogged home. He seemingly made a very nice start to chasing and his 3rd in the JLT doesn’t exactly make for bad reading, neither his 2nd to Arzal at Aintree, but I have a real problem with his jumping and no matter how good you are, if you cannot jump efficiently then these big fields will eat you alive. That is a real concern for L’Ami Serge.
Bristol De Mai, the other horse running for the super-owners at the time of writing, looks to be a very solid selection at this stage. He has never been out of the first 2 in 10 chase starts, including when finishing ahead of L’Ami Serge at Cheltenham in the JLT (behind Black Hercules). He was disappointing behind Seeyouatmidnight on his seasonal reappearance but I thought he ran a cracking race at Newcastle behind Ortago Trail, beaten just 3L. That race has a ‘solid form’ feel to it, as Definitely Red (3rd) has since hacked up, with Wakanda, running a big race in 2nd behind Definitely Red subsequently, finishing 20 lengths behind Bristol De Mai that day. He can run off the same mark as then, and he won’t mind the better conditions.
What do we think then?
Although we are working here without prices – and price is everything – at this stage BRISTOL DE MAI looks a very solid selection and should be hitting the frame at a minimum. However, catching improvers at the right time in these types of races can pay in a big way and QUITE BY CHANCE looks to fit the right profile.
Selection: QUITE BY CHANCE.