By Tom Bull
The weights for the Cheltenham Festival handicaps have been released, and now is the time for a perusal of the form book!
I have done just that over the past few days and below are three hopefuls who could be ahead of their marks.
Although the Cheltenham Festival won’t quite be the same this year, the competitiveness of the famous cavalry charges in the handicaps looks set to be high. Best of luck with all your bets across the four days, and don't forget to watch every race live on Racing TV.
The promise of Lieutenant Rocco is surely not long from being fulfilled, as this big, scopey individual has only had a handful of starts over fences plus was only stepped up to three miles on his last start.
He won with ease in a novices’ chase at Ffos Las when last seeen, a performance that was in keeping with expectations of an improved performance over the trip, and now is his chance to prove what he is capable of.
Provided he can handle the hustle and bustle of the biggest field he has faced, the Ultima looks the perfect test for him.
He’s near the bottom of the weights, we know he likes Cheltenham having given Fusil Raffles a scare at the track in December, and novices have a good record in this contest.
US AND THEM
He is not one of the more fashionable stars from the Joseph O’Brien yard, but Us And Them has copious amounts of ability in the right conditions.
Two appearances at the Cheltenham Festival have resulted in a second, and a third, with the first of those efforts achieved in the Arkle, and the latter coming in last year’s Grand Annual.
His performance 12 months ago was remarkable given he completely lost his place coming down the hill, and then rallied heroically up the run-in.
If he proves less recalcitrant this time, then he must go close off a 5lb lower mark, and although his performances this season haven’t been much to write home about, this is the time of year when he thrives, and the ground will be more to his liking too.
Henry Daly’s eight-year-old has had 20 starts in his career but has only run over three miles twice.
Both of those attempts came this season, and his first effort over the trip he recorded a scintillating victory at Cheltenham where he bolted up in a qualifier for the Pertemps Final.
He is now 9lb higher but, given the visual impression of that victory in October, you would be hard pressed to say he doesn’t still have a bit of room to further enrage the assessor.
His only run over hurdles since then came behind Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury where he understandably found things a shade too hot, and he’s had a nice pipe-opener in a jumpers’ bumper to get him spot on for this.
Given how unexposed he is in handicap company over three miles, he has got to have a big chance back at the scene of his most impressive victory.
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