The handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival are extremely difficult to unravel every year. In order to have a successful festival from the punting perspective I think careful selection is the key. It is not a good tactic to get involved in all the races. My advice would be to choose perhaps no more than eight horses you feel have a realistic chance, with the majority of them coming in non-handicaps. Value can be found everywhere, not just in handicaps. Most important though is to trust your own judgement and not to be swayed too much by comments made by the so called experts. Do not be afraid to go against the crowd. For instance, I was lucky enough to back Road To Respect when he won the Brown Advisory at 16/1 by 6l. The fact that he was not hotly fancied did not worry me at all. This year I have found three horses in handicaps that I feel are worth a shot.
CARTWRIGHT – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys H’cap Hurdle 2m 4f Friday 5:30
My most confident handicap selection comes in the last race of the festival. Cartwright, trained by Gordon Elliott, is extremely interesting. He was quite a good horse on the flat for Sir Mark Prescott and was rated 93. Gordon picked him up for just £7500 at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale in November 2017. Cartwright won his maiden hurdle impressively by 16l at Naas on heavy ground. He was then only beaten 3.5l by Hardline, a leading fancy for this year’s Arkle, in a Grade 2 at Naas. On his next start he won a listed 2m hurdle at Navan. He beat Articulum half a length that day. This now looks like very good form. Articulum has progressed to become a high quality chaser with an outside chance in the Arkle. Cartwright was allowed to take his chance in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle over 2m at Punchestown. Despite being soundly by 15l he did manage to finish ahead of Getabird, Sharjah and Hardline. The handicapper gave him a mark of 136 for his novice exploits and this looks a bit lenient. A line can be drawn through his Galway Hurdle and Downpatrick run in August. He reappeared in a Grade B handicap hurdle at Navan over 2m 4f. I felt he ran a respectable race with Katie O’Farrell on board to come home sixth and he wasn’t given a hard time. At the Dublin Racing Festival he dropped back to 2m in another Grade B handicap hurdle. Bryan Cooper settled him towards the rear. Cartwright made good headway in the last 2 furlongs and could have finished a lot closer with a more forceful ride. I was happy in a way though as it protected his mark. He was actually dropped a pound for this run to 135, but the British handicapper has him on 137. Cartwright is 46 on the list for the Martin Pipe had will hopefully just sneak in. Gordon is likely to run four or five others in the race and I pray that Cartwright is the right one to be with. I believe that Gordon put him up as his charity bet at one Cheltenham preview night. In the last few days he has come in for good market support has been cut to 12s from 16s with a lot of bookmakers. My advice would be to back him soon as he could go off much shorter on the day.
CUBOMANIA – Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m 4f Tuesday 4:50
I am delighted that connections have chosen this race for Cubomania. Cubomania had an amazing ten entries. The improvement this horse has shown is incredible. Cubomania is now rated 145 but began over fences by winning off 117 at Perth. Cubomania is a Godolphin cast off and only cost around £4000. Cubomania will be running off top weight but that does not worry me. Only 5 pounds separates the top and bottom weight in this race. He has a lot of positives for the race. Cubomania has course form, will handle the ground and is likely to have Davy Russell on board too. In my opinion 20/1 looks massive. He’s such a consistent and genuine horse, so it would be no surprise to see him being placed at least. Anybody who follows me will know that I adore this horse. If he wins there is going to be wild celebrations.
ANY SECOND NOW – Kim Muir 3m 2f Thursday 5:30
I think it’s fair to say that Any Second Now has been a frustrating horse. Whenever he runs he always seems to be well supported, but only has won 2 of 13 starts. He has been a beaten favourite on six occasions, including for last year’s Close Brothers and for the Paddy Power H’cap Chase at Christmas. However, I would not say he is quirky as he runs well without winning. This 3m 2f trip is exactly what he wants. Any Second Now’s run last time represents strong form. He was only beaten 4l by Chris’s Dream and Champagne Classic. They are quality animals. If he reproduces that form he’ll win. Ted Walsh has confirmed Derek O’Connor will ride and that is a huge boost to his chances. 8/1 is the general price and that’s about right. Any Second Now may have his day in the sun on Thursday.