Handicappers' blog

The head handicappers at the BHA review the pick of the recent action from Cheltenham's November meeting, starting with Happy Diva's BetVictor Gold Cup victory.

  • Thursday 21 November
  • Blog
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The Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase is the highlight of Cheltenham’s November meeting and as usual it looked a very competitive race on paper, writes Michael Harris.

Happy Diva (up 6lb to 149) has proven to be one of the most consistent horses in training over the last couple of years and arrived here off a career high rating of 143, having been raised a pound for finishing second to the re-opposing Guitar Pete at Wetherby on her first run of the season.

Unfortunate when brought down four out in a dramatic renewal of this race 12 months previously, she again travelled strongly through the race and was able to fend off the determined challenge of Brelan d’As (up 5lb to 143) up the hill.

The key moment of the race came two fences from home with the fall of Slate House, at a time when there was little to choose between the front four horses. He had made a few errors earlier in the race but was travelling up smoothly to challenge at the time.

Having watched the replays over and over, I found it difficult to split him and the winner. My assessment of the race is that Slate House would have beaten Brelan D'as and possibly Happy Diva, but not for certain in the case of the latter. As such, I have raised him by 6lb (to 153), the same rise as the winner has received, ensuring that the pair would meet on the same terms in a handicap next time.

Our aim is to give every horse a fair and equal chance on their next start. While it may seem punitive to not only fail to complete but to also receive a weight rise, it would go against any handicapping principle to simply ignore the likely outcome.

Happy Diva wins the 2019 BetVictor Gold Cup
Happy Diva (right) was the main beneficiary of Slate House’s fall

For more information on the aims of handicapping and how it works in British racing, please visit our guide to handicapping.

Warthog (third, remains on 130) gave a bold showing from the front, whilst in contrast Belami Des Pictons (down 1lb to 145) was hampered by a faller in the early stages and was doing all his best work late on.

He hasn’t made it to the track very often in recent years but this was an encouraging return, especially with a step up in trip likely to suit.


Having been rescued from Friday’s abandoned fixture, the Ballymore Hyde Novices’ Hurdle kicked off Saturday’s bumper card with a smart effort from the unbeaten hurdler Thyme Hill. Andrew Mealor assesses his performance here.

Third in the Champion Bumper last term, Thyme Hill has immediately been thrown in at the deep end over hurdles and hasn’t let his connections down with two Grade 2 wins in little over a month.

The form of his Persian War success had already been given a boost by fourth-placed Diomede Des Mottes, who went close off a mark of 131 (now rated 137) in a Pertemps Qualifier at Aintree last week, and Thyme Hill himself probably improved a good chunk on that form in defying a 5lb penalty in the Hyde.

Third at Chepstow – beaten just over four lengths at level weights – was Some Day Soon. He reopposed on 5lb better terms in the Hyde but was beaten five and three quarter lengths in fourth this time, finishing well clear of the remaining four runners.

A line through him suggests a figure of 147 for Thyme Hill at Cheltenham, and that sort of level is also supported by the wide-margin debut success of the third, Happygolucky (137).

The slight nag is the runner-up Champagne Well. He had a more exposed look than most in the field having run five times last season, which he ended rated 134. However, his win in a well-contested novice over the same course and distance at the Showcase meeting had already suggested that he’s an improved horse this term and I’m happy in the short term to credit him with some further progress (+4 to 141), especially as he had to overcome a slight stumble 2 out.

As things stand the level of the Hyde sits just above where historical standards suggest, and Thyme Hill’s 147 is the best winning figure in the race since Coneygree in 2012.

The Hyde has proven something of a mixed bag in recent times – last year’s winner Coolanly hasn’t won again since - but twice in the past five years the race has thrown up the winner of Newbury’s Challow Hurdle, notably in 2014 when Parlour Games landed both races.

That Christmas Grade 1 looks the obvious next target for Thyme Hill and he’s already bang on standard (the average winning rating for the Challow over the past five years is 146).

Hot on Thyme Hill’s heels, in ratings terms at least, is the Hobbs yard’s other winner on Saturday, fellow novice hurdler Jatiluwih, who produced a smart effort to readily defy a mark of 137 in a handicap over the same twenty-one furlong trip later on the card.

He has an unusual background for a novice hurdler having raced ten times over fences in France for his former yard. Unbeaten in five runs in Great Britain (all over hurdles), Jatiluwih is now rated 146 following a 9lb rise. 

Handicappers' blog
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