Whilst the headlines will be made in the Grade 1 contests throughout the week at Cheltenham, the success or otherwise of punters is more likely to be made by the various handicaps dotted across the programme. With six day entries now all in, here are four horses fancied to make their mark.
FLOUEUR (Ultima Chase, Tuesday) – 10/1 general
Third at a huge price in the Martin Pipe at last year’s Festival when trained by Joseph O’Brien, Floueur will be a far more fancied contender on the opening day in the Ultima. This is a race that has largely passed the Irish challengers by over the years, but a stronger challenge looks assured this time around.
Floueur made a pleasing handicap debut when third in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last month. Previously he had chased home the likes of Galopin des Champs and Lieutenant Command in beginners chases. I think he will prefer the quicker ground at Cheltenham to the testing conditions he faced at Punchestown and he the necessary chasing experience now to cope with this type of contest.
THE TIDE TURNS (Boodles Hurdle, Tuesday) – 11/2 Bet365
Twice a winner on the flat for Mark Prescott, The Tide Turns has developed into a promising juvenile hurdler this season. For most trainers his talents would merit a challenge for the Triumph on Friday, but with Fil Dor and Pied Piper in the line up it makes sense for Gordon Elliott to aim him here.
Elliott has managed to get the requisite three runs in before the deadline. A first time out win at Punchestown was followed by a respectable fourth in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown. He then took on his elders when fourth to Teahupoo in the Red Mills at Gowran. Whilst he will have plenty of weight to carry, there should not be a huge weight differential from top to bottom weight, and his class could see him through.
UNEXPECTED PARTY (Coral Cup, Wednesday) – 9/1 Bet365
I had to put at least one English challenger in and UNEXPECTED PARTY could be one of the few British winners on the week. This very strong travellers looks made for a Cheltenham handicap and this 2m5f contest fits the bill perfectly.
He has been improving dramatically with every run, hacking up from his opening mark of 109 at Wetherby in the autumn. His jumping rather let him down when beaten by Gowel Road at the November meeting here and softening ground probably beat him at Wetherby next time, though he was beaten by a progressive horse in The Brimming Water.
However he fulfilled his potential when dotting up in a competitive Ascot heat last time and a 12lb rise is totally justified. He will undoubtedly travel smoothly into this race and I think he can get up the hill, particularly on drying ground.
WINTER FOG (Pertemps Hurdle, Thursday) – 6/1 Bet365
He also holds an entry in the concluding Martin Pipe, but I think the Pertemps is where Winter Fog will be aimed by his shrewd handler Emmet Mullins.
His only run to date this season was in the Leopardstown qualifier at Christmas where jockey Danny Mullins probably made his effort too quickly and too wide after the second last. Panda Boy eventually collared him close home, but a more patient ride here can pay dividends. That was his first start for Emmet Mullins, but he does post a win over Captain Kangaroo at Limerick for his previous handler Daniel Murphy.