The ones the book­ies like to tempt you with...

Irish Examiner - Racing - - CHELTENHAM PREVIEW 2017 - Colm Greaves Trends:

If you thought that Brexit un­cer­tainty was the main source of ten­sion be­tween Ire­land and Bri­tain at the mo­ment, think again. It is an ab­so­lute love­fest com­pared to the tetchy skir­mishes that have bro­ken out be­tween our na­tions in re­cent weeks over the hand­i­cap­ping of Na­tional Hunt races.

Our main guns are be­ing manned by Michael O’Leary and his an­noy­ance with his per­ceived bias against Ir­ish horses by the Bri­tish hand­i­cap­per, Phil Smith. He vented his frus­tra­tion last week by with­draw­ing eight of his Gig­gin­stown Stud en­tries from the Ain­tree Na­tional - a protest now known as ‘Gig­gxit.’ Smith’s in­tent is to rem­edy what he be­lieves to be a dis­pro­por­tion­ate suc­cess rate for Ir­ish sta­bles. Ten years ago, 18% of Ir­ish-trained run­ners in Bri­tish Hand­i­caps were suc­cess­ful, com­pared to a home rate of just over half that fig­ure.

Ever since that time he has been fram­ing al­ter­nate as­sess­ments of Ir­ish horses, adding sub­jec­tiv­ity to our ob­jec­tive sci­ence. On his terms the tac­tic has worked and the share of vic­to­ries has been in­creased.

What Mr. Smith hasn’t fac­tored into his equa­tion is that it is risky, ex­pen­sive and in­con­ve­nient to trans­port an Ir­ish horse to race over­seas. The ones that do tend to be care­fully pre­pared, in good form and will ob­vi­ously be dis­pro­por­tion­ately suc­cess­ful. Oth­er­wise, it would be a stupid de­ci­sion to travel and say what you like about Ir­ish train­ers, very few are stupid.

Not­with­stand­ing this un­pleas­ant­ness, it is, as they say, what it is and since the weights were framed for the fes­ti­val hand­i­caps a cou­ple of weeks ago, an­tic­i­pa­tion has grad­u­ally mi­grated from of Grade One ex­cel­lence to the com­plex in­trigue of large field hand­i­caps.

Ten of the 28 races this week fall into this cat­e­gory and will gen­er­ate mon­strous bet­ting rev­enues, which is why big book­mak­ing firms spend so much of their mar­ket­ing bud­gets ad­ver­tis­ing them.

This is money wisely spent - hand­i­cap races as an ag­gre­gate are a tur­key shoot for the book­ies.

No favourite has won one at the fes­ti­val since Fin­gal Bay took the Coral Cup in 2014. Re­peat: three years, 32 races, one win­ning favourite.

De­spite this, there are some hid­den value op­por­tu­ni­ties in all of this. The book­mak­ers’ frenzy for your bet­ting eu­ros mean they of­ten of­fer at­trac­tive each way con­di­tions to tempt them into their hun­gry satchels.

In most of the big hand­i­caps, they are of­fer­ing a quar­ter the odds the first five and some­times even pay all the way down to sixth. So de­spite what the statis­tics say it could be pru­dent to carve out a hope­ful each-way hand­i­cap Yan­kee in the week ahead.

Here goes.

Ultima Hand­i­cap Chase, 3m 1f, Tues­day 2.50.

Trends: Aged be­tween seven and ten who has run at the fes­ti­val pre­vi­ously, an of­fi­cial rat­ing 140-148, runs no more than five times so far this sea­son and been at least placed on their last start. Max­i­mum weight of 11-3, has won at 3 miles or fur­ther, un­likely to be trained in Ire­land, novice chasers do­ing well re­cently.

Even by Cheltenham stan­dards, this race is par­tic­u­larly un­re­ward­ing for favourite back­ers with only two win­ning in the last forty years. How­ever, 12 of the last 18 win­ners have started at 10/1 or less so it’s okay to stay with the fan­cied horses.

The race this year is a com­plete mine­field as usual but one who sits amid most of the trends is Sin­gle­farm­pay­ment.

Aged 7, rated 142 he has won both his com­pleted starts at the track, one of them over to­day’s 3M 1F dis­tance so he clearly likes the place.

Still tech­ni­cally a novice chaser, he’s had four prep races this sea­son and was un­luck­ily brought down when trav­el­ling strongly in a high­class race here in Jan­uary.

Trained by Tom Ge­orge he should be fresh and could still be sev­eral pounds ahead of the hand­i­cap­per.

Coral Cup Hand­i­cap Hur­dle, 2m 5f, Wed­nes­day 2.50.

Aged be­tween five and seven, with an of­fi­cial rat­ing of 135 or higher, who has run no more than five times so far this sea­son. Max­i­mum weight of 11-2 and has won at least once over hur­dles at 2M 2F or fur­ther, likely to be Bri­tish trained, but Ir­ish horses are usu­ally com­pet­i­tive.

Au­to­mated fits most of the trends and Gor­don El­liot’s sixyear old comes here fol­low­ing a nice rest since Christ­mas and he’s very bat­tle hard­ened, win­ning his most re­cent race at Na­van over two and half miles.

He now races off a mark 10lbs higher, but that is a mixed bless­ing as he wouldn’t have a hope of get­ting into the race off a lower weight.

Trainer Gor­don El­liot, who will sad­dle about 30 run­ners this week, won this race last year with Di­a­mond King. Au­to­mated has been well backed for this in the an­tepost mar­kets which is an in­di­ca­tor of sta­ble con­fi­dence in his chances.

Pertemps Fi­nal Hand­i­cap Hur­dle, 3m, Thurs­day 2.10.

Trends: Aged be­tween six and eight, run at the fes­ti­val pre­vi­ously, of­fi­cial rat­ing 135148, no more than five runs this sea­son and at least ten times in ca­reer. Max­i­mum weight of 11-3, won at least once over two and a half miles or fur­ther. Likely to be trained in Bri­tain.

Im­pul­sive Star be­gan his ca­reer un­der rules with a win in de­cent Cork bumper a cou­ple of years ago.

Now trained by Neil Mul­hol­land and run­ning in the fa­mil­iar Long Run colours of the Wha­ley Co­hen fam­ily he has only been beaten once in five starts, im­prov­ing with each run in races that have thrown up de­cent an­i­mals.

Aged seven, rated 140 he is guar­an­teed con­di­tions that play to his strengths - a strong pace and a grind­ing up­hill fin­ish look made for his strong stam­ina re­serves.

Likely to be rid­den by the owner’s son Sam who although a lit­tle un­gainly has proved he is more than able to get the job done at fes­ti­val.

County Hand­i­cap Hur­dle, 2m 1f, Fri­day 2.10.

Trends: Aged five or six, not run at the fes­ti­val pre­vi­ously, of­fi­cial rat­ing 132-143, run no more than five times so far this sea­son, but no more than 12 times in ca­reer to date. Max­i­mum weight of 11-4 and not nec­es­sar­ily placed last time out. Trained in Ire­land.

Mick Jazz is a six-year old geld­ing trained again by Gor­don El­liot, rated 143, who has run four times this sea­son and who won last time out at Punchestown in early Fe­bru­ary. This one was orig­i­nally with Harry Fry but Gor­don El­liot has im­proved him since he moved over. Mick Jazz is de­vel­op­ing into a solid and ro­bust hand­i­cap­per win­ning or be­ing placed in seven of his nine races to date.

Although he only won his lat­est start by a neck, he beat Ci­laos Emery a highly-re­garded in­mate of Wil­lie Mullins yard with grade one en­tries this week.

That win was on soft ground, but he looks equally at home on the slightly bet­ter ground he is likely to en­counter in Fri­day’s re­newal of a very tough race to win.

Hand­i­caps can of­ten prove fruit­ful for book­mak­ers and this week may not be any dif­fer­ent.

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