The races at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day look set to be highly competitive, none more so than the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase that comes up at 2.00. Won last year by the reappearing Village Vic who showed a game attitude to fend off another reappearing rival Tenor Nivernais to complete a four timer. That was off a mark of 144 and now races off a mark of 158 but has progressed again since that win. Has run two good races at Cheltenham so far this season off marks of 155 and 158 respectively and looks sure to go close again.
Currently heading the betting is the Nicky Henderson trained Vaniteux who has some very smart form to his name. He’s finished third on both his starts in handicaps this season off a mark of 154 and now steps up in trip. Henderson has stated in his Stan James blog that he feels it’s only a matter of time until he wins a big one. However, I’m not convinced that 2m4f around Cheltenham is going to be ideal for him and he looks high enough in the handicap based on those two runs this season.
Paul Nicholls is represented by the 7 year old As de Mee who disappointed in a similar handicap over course and distance in November but got back on track with a win in the Grand Sefton Chase over the National fences at Aintree last time out. Similar to Vaniteux, As de Mee showed some smart novice form and has won two of his three starts over fences this season. An 8lb rise in the handicap for his last win will make life harder but he’s clearly progressing and the trip and ground will be ideal for him.
Quite by chance was deemed unlucky by some when finishing a staying on fourth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup over course and distance last time having been hampered down the back straight by a faller. He eventually stayed on to be beaten only two lengths at the line off a mark of 147. He has a progressive profile and looks sure to be competitive again off the same mark for man of the moment Colin Tizzard.
Visored for the first time is Henri Parry Morgan whose second at Aintree last season behind Native River is the stand out piece of form in this race. On that form he would be the one to beat but hasn’t got off to the best of starts this season having disappointed in the Hennessy and unseating his rider last time out. Trainer Peter Bowen isn’t in great form at the moment either and he looks a horse who is best caught in the spring.
Sent off joint favourite last time for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup was Thomas Brown who was ultimately disappointing in the end and failed to build on a successful seasonal debut at Aintree where he put in his best round of jumping to date. The form of that win hasn’t worked out great and he looks on a high enough mark now.
Another horse who ran in this race last year was Top Gamble who finished third off a mark of 153. He then went on to win a Grade 2 at Newbury and at Fairyhouse. It’s likely he would have needed the run when finishing fifth behind Fox Norton here in November. Kerry Lee has booked Davy Russell for the ride and although he will be running off a 6lb higher mark than last year, there should be plenty more to come from him this season and I can see him running a big race.
As mentioned, Tenor Nivernais was second in this race last year behind Village Vic. He was a good third in a competitive race on his seasonal debut at Ascot last time out off a mark of 150. Has been put up a couple of pounds by the handicapper for that run though so that puts him on a career high mark again and has shown his best form on soft/heavy ground.
Shantou Flyer was last seen running a creditable ninth in the Galway plate. Has since moved to Rebecca Curtis and although returns from a five month break, this is likely to have been the target for some time. A mark of 149 means more is required having never won off a mark this high before but he’s still only seven and was a course winner in October last year.
2014 Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor has been relatively disappointing since finishing fifth in the 2015 Grand National. That race is likely to be the target again for him this season and this looks to be another stepping stone. The handicapper has given him a chance though but hasn’t looked in love with the game this season.
Cheltenham regular Thomas Crapper has recorded just one win from seventeen chase starts but has been given some impossible tasks. Was sixth in the Bet Victor Gold Cup on his latest run where he wore a tongue tie for the first time. Needs to find more though to be competitive today and looks held by Village Vic on that form.
Last but not least is Solar Impulse who is bidding to give Sam Twiston-Davies his second win in this race. Won the Grand Annual at the Festival last season but has been disappointing in two runs so far this season for new stable. Hard to recommend in current form despite the fact he is only 3lb higher than his win in the Grand Annual.
Fiercely competitive as you would expect for a race of this nature. Village Vic is sure to be there at the finish but the selection is Quite by Chance who went close here last month despite being hampered, should still have more progress left in him and can continue Colin Tizzard’s run of good form. Top Gamble looks to have an each way chance too despite having to carry top weight.
1) Quite by Chance 2) Village Vic 3) Top Gamble