I’d be lying if I said the Cheltenham Festival went well from a punting perspective. I spent the week siding with favourites that lost and opposing those that romped home. But like a phoenix rising from a Prestbury Park Pyre, I intend to get back on track, with the aid of a change of code.
The curtain lifts on a new turf flat season, with the Lincoln Handicap Saturday’s highlight at Doncaster. Run over a straight mile, the race has a habit of producing upsets. Four of the last six renewals have gone to those at odds of 20/1 or greater. There’s only been two successful favourites in the last dozen years. Richard Fahey has a strong recent record with a couple of wins in the last six. He often arrives mob-handed with his most prominent pair last year finishing fourth and fifth.
The Malton handler sends three into battle this time round, with last year’s fourth Gabrial having another crack. A former winner of the race, he’s now a nine-year-old and arrives on a 4lb lower mark than 12 months ago. He was a cracking fifth in the valuable Balmoral Handicap on Champions Day back in October. That performance came on this type of ground and a repeat would see him terrific value at 33/1. It’s four, five and six-year-olds that tend to win the Lincoln, though this fella looks sure to go close again.
Stamp Hill appears to be Fahey’s other major hope. The five-year-old needs to improve off a career high mark but will love the ground, and his trainer sounded more than hopeful in his Sporting Life column yesterday. A course winner, he needs to see out the trip and is another 33/1 shot with a fair chance.
Michael Bell’s Fire Brigade has been all the rage at the head of the market. He put in a string of solid performances as a three-year-old when only out of the frame twice in 10 starts. Up just 4lbs from last season’s concluding mark, you’d be hopeful that he’s strengthened physically since October and with ground in his favour he looks a major player.
On last year’s form he’s closely matched with the William Haggas-trained Addeybb. This four-year-old by Pivotal will also appreciate ground conditions and finished just ahead of Fire Brigade when winning over a furlong further at Newmarket back in September. The pair are closely matched in the betting and look sure to finish close on the track. It’s pretty much guesswork as to who will have improved the most for a winter’s break. They’re hard to split on known form.
Lord Glitters was an emphatic winner of the Balmoral on this type of ground and followed that performance with a close second in a listed event at Newmarket, when probably not favoured by a small field. Winning top-weights are rare, with Babodana in 2004 the last. Yet David O’Meara’s five-year-old still looks unexposed to me and the ground looks key to his chances. I’d be surprised if he didn’t go very close.
Dark Red is capable of a big run having gone close in the Balmoral behind Lord Glitters. The ground isn’t an issue and he’s better off at the weights with his Ascot nemesis. I’d be surprised if he won but he’s another 33/1 shot with a fair chance at placing.
The James Tate-trained Via Via also looks over-priced on his performance behind Lord Glitters at Newmarket. This six-year-old, by Lope De Vega, is lightly raced and should enjoy both track and ground. His handicap mark of 101 is 6lb lower than Lord Glitters and I fancy he’ll go very close.
Taking on favourites has not gone well for me in recent weeks but I’ll be doing so again tomorrow. Lord Glitters will be tucked away in this big field and delivered as late as possible. I take him to defy top-weight and add to that impressive Balmoral success. I fancy Via Via is far to big at 33s and he’ll be my each-way punt.
Best of luck to all those having a crack at this prestigious and valuable handicap.