Cheltenham Festival News

Chris Dixon's Notes And Angles: Two Cheltenham Festival handicap fancies

By Chris Dixon@cdixon82
Wed 24 Feb 2021

Click here to view previous editions of Chris Dixon's Notes And Angles column and more horses to follow.

With less than three weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, eyes are already beginning to turn towards Prestbury Park and there were some notable performances over the past week.

Chief among them was Goshen in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday, and it was great to see him back to form after what has been a tough road for him of late. He’s certainly a serious contender for the Champion Hurdle again now and I am sure plenty will be in his corner, either from a betting perspective or an emotional one based on what happened in the Triumph Hurdle last year.

Nicky Henderson would have surely been pleased with Champ's return in the Game Spirit which should’ve put him spot on for the Gold Cup, while in this week’s notebook horses I’ve added a couple of Henderson runners who will be of interest in handicaps ahead - possibly at Cheltenham.

TAMAR BRIDGE

Trainer: Olly Murphy

The opening novice at Wetherby on Wednesday featured a few interesting horses and, in pulling clear with a couple of useful-looking types, Tamar Bridge made a very encouraging start to his hurdles career.

He travelled well through the first two-thirds of the race and got on to the tails of the leading pair prior to the home straight. He was tapped for a bit of tactical pace at that point before running on well to hit the line with plenty in the tank.

He essentially looked like he wants further, while he also looked a stayer when making a winning debut in a bumper at Haydock. He’s one to note when getting an increased stamina test.

Tamar Bridge shaped very nicely in third at Wetherby last week and doing his best work at the finish

PIPESMOKER

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

He comes with the caveat that he hasn’t stood much racing so far, but he looked to retain all of his ability when back from a year off at Sandown on Thursday.

Sent off a strong favourite, he travelled well in gruelling conditions and still had every chance approaching the last when he appeared to take a false step before making a mistake. That error did for his chance, but this was an encouraging return.

With his previous form reading well and the handicapper dropping him to a mark of 135 (from 137) for this run, he appeals as well-handicapped and can go into good handicaps as an unexposed horse open to improvement.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham was his short-term target and, though that will feature plenty of others with a bit in hand, he’d be one to consider.

SOLAR PARK

Trainer: Michael Attwater

Solar Park has been knocking on the door without winning for a while now, but he’s been better than the bare result on his last two starts now and is one to look out for in a low-grade sprint handicap.

A wide draw was always likely to be a bit of a hinderance at Chelmsford on Thursday, but he showed good pace to get into a handy position which ultimately proved a disadvantage in a race were the tempo was too strong.

In faring best of those that raced up with the pace, he confirmed himself in good form and a subsequent 1lb drop by the handicapper leaves him on a good mark. He is sure to get into a lower class 0-55 handicap next time should connections opt for one.

DOYEN QUEEN

Trainer: Paul Henderson

Doyen Queen was probably the most obvious eye-catcher of the week at Wincanton on Saturday and is of serious interest moving into handicaps.

Held up towards the rear early on, she made comfortable progress through the middle part of the race to get in touch with the leaders at the top of the straight but was subjected to minimal pressure thereafter and stayed on late with more to give.

Her pedigree is mainly about stamina and she’ll likely improve for a longer trip, but off an opening mark of 100 she’ll be of interest in any low-grade handicap.

CHAMPAGNE PLATINUM

Trainer: Nicky Henderson

Champagne Platinum caught the eye with how he travelled through the race at Haydock on Saturday but just seemed to have his effort delayed a shade too long in the straight. A mistake at the second-last compounded the issue as the winner was away and gone, but he ran on nicely without being given an overly hard time.

He’s now hit the frame in both starts this term and looks on a fair mark. He’s probably being aimed at the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham (this run qualified him for the race). He’ll be one to note there, and for other good staying handicap hurdles.

Hot form

Low-grade handicap hurdles aren’t always that competitive but there have been one or two that have looked good for the grade of late, including the race won by Dan Skelton’s Embole at Wetherby last week.

Embole himself had dropped a long way in the weights and was clearly a well-treated horse, while the runner-up Billy Ray was heavily backed for a very shrewd outfit and showed improved form. With the third also on a winning mark and fourth making his handicap debut - and the next few home all of some interest too - this appeals as a race that could work out well.

The inside of the track appeared to be a disadvantage while the pace was also overly strong, so horses who raced in those positions could be worth marking up - including Bebraveforglory, who I suspect is on a good mark.

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