Cheltenham Prospects 2018 | Handicappers Blog

13 Feb 18


Saturday saw key trials for the championship 2m chase races at the upcoming Cheltenham festival with the Betfair Exchange Game Spirit Chase at Newbury and the Betway Kingmaker Novices Chase at Warwick.  Although each race only had a small field, writes Chris Nash, each produced a winner likely to play a significant role in their races next month.

The Game Spirit saw the seasonal return of Altior, winner of the 2017 Arkle Trophy.  We rated him 170 at the end of last season which made him the joint leading novice chaser of the year together with Thistlecrack.  Altior resumed where he left off and maintained his unbeaten record over obstacles with an authoritative display.

With only three runners lining up at Newbury it is difficult to know exactly what the form is worth. In handing a comfortable four-length beating to Politologue it is safe to assume that Altior returned with his ability intact.  I decided to rate his effort at 164+ and, with him value for plenty more than his bare margin of victory, his official rating of 170 will remain in place.  I dropped Politologue from a mark of 165 to 163 after this effort mainly because the Tingle Creek form at Sandown has not worked out too well and it was from this race that he took his mark of 165.


Altior is the current favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.  Chief amongst his rivals will be Min, who has a rating of 167, and also Politologue.  I imagine that last year’s winner, Special Tiara, will also line up – he ran to a figure of 167 last year but has not matched that so far this season.  It will also be interesting to see for which race last year’s runner-up, Fox Norton, goes.  He has a mark of 168 but also has an entry in the Ryanair chase.  The possible participation of Douvan also adds to the interest. He finished last season rated 174 but has not been seen since getting beaten at Cheltenham last year.

The Kingmaker produced a decisive winner in Saint Calvados.  He was having only his third run over fences and registered his third win.  He had been successful in novice handicap chases at Newbury off marks of 143 and 147 and lined up at Warwick rated 154.  He is a bold-jumping front-runner. Not only did he make all but he barely touched a twig on his way round.  The form of the race is not the easiest to level with only four horses and wide margins between them; but I think it is safe to say that Saint Calvados progressed again and recorded another career-best figure.

I have decided to rate him 160 after this race which puts him amongst the leading 2m novice chasers of this season.  The Irish trained Footpad has a mark of 162 and leads the rankings currently but Sceau Royal on 159, Petit Mouchoir on 157 and Brain Power on 156 are also valid contenders.  The Arkle on day one of Cheltenham is shaping up to be quite some race.


The Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase had just three runners for the second successive year and it was won by Native River for the second successive year. This confirmed that Native River is fit and well after nearly a year off, says Mark Olley. But with conditions in his favour and against a probable non-stayer in Cloudy Dream we did not learn much else.

Native River and Richard Johnson winning The Betfair Denman Chase

Native River came into the race with an official rating of 166 which was achieved when he was an excellent third to Sizing John is last season’s Gold Cup. The Newbury race was not an easy one to assess due to the above couple of points. However the time was 7.4 seconds faster than Indy Five (new rating of 136) winning the novice handicap chase just over two hours later and Native River was carrying 17lbs more; so that was decent. Historical standards for the race suggest a figure in the low 160’s.

Factoring in that information I have his performance figure for this race in the 161 to 166 range. Figures on the BHA website will show 166, but it is largely academic at this stage as I am not planning to change his rating. We will hopefully get a better guide to where he currently stands when he contests next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Cloudy Dream travelled strongly through the race and was probably going best as they approached two out, but he didn’t get home anywhere near as well as Native River. He ran a similar race behind Definitly Red at Aintree the time before and a return to 2m4f looks in order. His rating drops 1lb to 157, but that is due to the level of the Old Roan Handicap Chase at Aintree in October being altered at the Anglo-Irish meeting held last week.


On an informative day of Festival clues it was fitting that the day’s big betting race, the Betfair Hurdle, provided a serious Cheltenham pointer, writes David Dickinson.

The open nature of the betting suggested a tight contest but, after the rain throughout the day got into the ground, the frenetic nature of the gallop ensured that was not the case. To say they finished slowly is something of an understatement. The winner Kalashnikov’s time from the third last to the line is around 25 lengths slower than the eased down Whatswrongwithyou achieved in the opening novice hurdle.

Kalashnikov and Jack Quinlan

So why did the pace end up being so uneven? There were plenty of horses wanting to race prominently. The keen-racing Jenkins, Misterton and Remiluc set the tone and the likes of Knocknanuss and Coeur Blimey could not quite lay up with the leaders. At the first flight in the back straight Silver Streak and his jockey parted company. The loose horse was soon racing enthusiastically, eventually leading the field home. As he passed Jenkins and company jumping the last in the back straight, an over-zealous pace was further increased. At this point, still well over a minute from home, the majority of the field were flat out.

I took the view watching the race that it became a stamina test which the majority failed in extreme circumstances.

It was interesting hearing Kalashnikov’s connections immediately nominate the 2m Sky Bet Supreme as their Festival target. Given that his stamina was what won him this race they might also consider the 2m5f Ballymore Novice as playing more to that strength.

The fact that Kalashnikov and Bleu Et Rouge were able to put clear daylight between themselves and the big field has seen their marks go up by thirteen and eight pounds respectively. Kalashnikov’s sole defeat came in the Grade One Tolworth and it has been well reported that soft ground is not ideal for him. He is very clearly an exciting prospect, wherever he heads come March.

The previous Sunday saw a Taunton handicap win for the admirable Unison. Jeremy Scott’s horse had previous finished third of four to The New One and Ch’tibello in Haydock’s Champion Hurdle Trial. That day he finished eleven lengths behind the 21lb higher rated runner up and beat the higher rated Clyde into fourth place. So did I raise his mark for that? Answer, no. He came into that race with solid handicap form and Clyde put in a notably poor round of jumping. Trying to get the message across to connections that supporting small field conditions races can often be in their best interests is hard indeed; but wins for the likes of Unison won’t do any harm.