Handicappers' Blog

The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the action from Cheltenham's November meeting, starting with Baron Alco's win in the BetVictor Gold Cup.

  • Tuesday 20 November
  • Blog
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ALCO ON TOP IN BETVICTOR GOLD CUP

The Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase is the highlight of Cheltenham’s November Meeting. This year it provided a dramatic race but left us with lots of unanswered questions, as Michael Harris explains.

Baron Alco had been off the track for over eighteen months before his previous run at Chepstow, when he was narrowly defeated by Charbel having adopted his usual front-running tactics. He was raised 4lb for that run, taking him to the 146 he finished second off at the Cheltenham Festival back in 2017. He set his stall out again early on in the BetVictor, jumping well out in front, and that proved the place to be with lots of trouble behind the leaders.

Baron Alco kicked clear off the home turn and always looked like having enough to hold off Frodon, who had also been prominent from the outset. I felt the two-length winning margin was worth 3lb and Baron Alco is up 6lb to a career-high 152 as a result.

He will likely next be back for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap on December 15th, a race which may have a similar shape and should give us a better idea of the strength of this form. Only six of the 18 runners completed the race and most of the horses that failed to complete departed too early in the race to judge how they would have fared.

Frodon had come into the race after a win in the Grade 2 Old Roan Handicap Chase at Aintree and produced another good run in defeat. He was 164 after a 17-length success at Cheltenham in January and a 3lb rise for this takes him back to that level.

The other placed horses, Guitar Pete (remains 137) and Mister Whitaker (remains 152) both arrived in form but neither were best placed to mount a serious challenge given how the race unfolded.

Baron Alco wins the BetVictor Gold Cup
Baron Alco blitzed Saturday's BetVictor Gold Cup field

GRAND NATIONAL CLUES FROM KASBAH?

Two potential 2019 Randox Grand National entries were successful at Cheltenham on Saturday, writes Martin Greenwood.

Rock The Kasbah, like many from his stable this season, returned to his very best by scoring in the long-distance handicap, possibly dossing late but always holding his rivals, including the returning Coneygree who showed he is no back number at the age of 11 in finishing third off a mark of 160.

Rock The Kasbah had previously won three times over fences, all at Chepstow, and his new mark of 153 will definitely guarantee a run should connections choose to go down the National route.

Conversely, Ibis Du Rheu scored for the first time over the larger obstacles when beating the bold-jumping Theatre Territory and the slightly disappointing hotpot The Worlds End in the novice around half an hour earlier.

Ibis du Rheu was having his eighth race as a chaser, most of them in handicaps, and he was another returning to his best (147). Given the bottom weight in the 2018 National was 142, then Ibis du Rheu would be a likely runner if his rating stays roughly the same between now and February when the weights are compiled.

Theatre Territory will remain on a mark of 132 as I have to ignore her 139 performance in this race due to the restrictions placed on non-winners in novice chases, while The Worlds End is worth another chance to prove he will be a force to be reckoned with in the very best staying novice chases this season.

 TOP MARKS FOR COOLANLY AND FIRST ASSIGNMENT

There were a couple of noteworthy performances in the staying hurdle division on the first two days of the November Meeting, writes Andrew Mealor.

First up on Friday was Coolanly’s smooth success in the Grade 2 Ballymore Hyde Novices’ Hurdle over twenty-one furlongs. Fergal O’Brien’s charge was thrown in at the deep end last term after a debut second at Leicester, tackling Grade 1 company on his two subsequent runs and managing a highly creditable fifth in the Top Novices’ at Aintree.

Coolanly was seemingly well fancied when falling early on in the Persian War on his reappearance (sent off favourite) and this performance strongly suggests he’s an improved performer this season.

In recent times it’s usually taken a performance in the mid-140s to win the Hyde, though race standards (which take into account not only past performances in the race but also the margins between the principals in the latest renewal) suggest slightly lower. I have gone with the latter view for now in allotting Coolanly a new mark of 141, and that broadly ties in with what runner-up Pym (remains on 138) achieved when second in a good-quality novice at Ascot on his previous run.

The Irish-trained outsider Percy Veer (139) looked to have his work cut out under a penalty and ran a cracker in third. Bar a blip the time before, he’s been very progressive since late-summer and could have been in the high-130s on a line through the highly-promising Dinons, whom he wasn’t far behind when falling at the last at Killarney in August.

Persian War runner-up Double Treasure set the standard pre-race on a mark of 140 but he clearly wasn’t right and was pulled up before the sixth, connections later reporting a breathing problem.

Moving on 24 hours and it was Ian Williams who made the headlines, saddling both Speedo Boy and First Assignment to success in the two staying handicaps on Saturday’s card.

In truth, the Listed contest won by the latter didn’t look the strongest of races by Cheltenham standards but First Assignment still took the field apart with some ease on his first try at three miles, scooting home by nine lengths.

He’ll be 13lb higher (143) when his new mark kicks in but before then connections will surely be tempted by a crack at Saturday’s valuable staying handicap at Haydock. That race is an early-closing handicap, so First Assignment will race off his previous mark of 130 plus a 5-lb penalty, meaning he’ll be 8lb well in.

JUVENILES TAKING SHAPE

Despite the lack of recent rain, the Grade 2 JCB Prestbury Hurdle, the first recognised trial for the March juvenile crown, looked just about up to standard, writes David Dickinson.

With the best British form going into the race, the penalised pair Quel Destin and Cracker Factory were able to fight out the finish, though that may not have been the case had French import Never Adapt been more amenable to restraint.

She ruined her chance by pulling too hard but still did enough to suggest she has a pretty serious engine. Quel Destin’s new rating of 141 is only a pound below the ten-year average for winners of this race.

Where this race may differ from previous renewals is the bold showing of talented summer jumper Cracker Factory (139), who confirmed that he remains near the top of the pecking order of this season’s juveniles.

As well as being won by Defi Du Seuil a couple of years ago, the race has also seen the likes of Hargam, Guitar Pete and Grandouet compete in recent times. Quite whether any of these will be quite up to that class is open to debate.

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