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Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle preview

Late in the day, and after pictures disappear from ITV, it's one of my favourite races of the week, the 4yo handicap hurdle. For fans of racing without obstacles, think of a 2yo or early 3yo handicap - so much intrigue with so many lightly-raced horses and often, a stack of winning chances. And thus, without anyone else stepping up to take this race, I've had a crack at it.

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Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Grade 3, £80,000, about 2m1/2f
Cheltenham Wednesday 1650 local, 0350 AEDT


1. Divin Bere - unplaced in eight starts on the flat, but looks a completely different horse over hurdles. A win and two narrow seconds as a 3yo hurdler in France, he came to the Henderson yard via Paul Nicholls (there must be a story there?) and won on his British debut at Huntingdon. The also-rans haven't looked much so far but the runner-up Master Blueyes is one of the leading hopes in the Triumph on Friday, having won twice since, including the G2 Adonis by 11 lengths. Concedes weight to all of his rivals but it's very logical to say he's probably still getting light and has also had a recent wind operation. Henderson and Fehily have already had Festival winners, big chance.

2. Project Bluebook - started favourite in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial but could only finish third behind Forth Bridge. Dropped three pounds for that defeat. Previously successful in open handicap company, always a tough task for an early 4yo, and the manner of that victory saw JP McManus open the cheque book. Jockey Brian Hughes has had a stunning season up north, but does that translate to Cheltenham?

3. Fidux - another French-bred (fabulous record in this race) who finished five lengths adrift of Project Bluebook at Musselburgh and 15L behind Master Blueyes in the Adonis at level weights (link with Divin Bere) in February. That dropped his mark by eight pounds from its peak of 143 after winning his first two hurdle starts. Seems too close to the topweights to be in the finish.

4. Long Call - Tony Martin, handicap race. Alarm bells ring. Formerly a Godolphin flat horse trained by Charlie Appleby, this one only got as high as 75 before switching codes. Beaten a long way in his first three hurdling runs in Ireland, Martin took him to Hereford for a soft kill on a heavy track and then gave Master Blueyes 7lb at Ludlow, finishing 18L behind him in second after clattering the last. On available form, he still has plenty to do, but you always have to be wary of a Tony Martin handicap runner.

5. Dolos - this year's Nicholls French raider, after Sanctuaire, Qualando and Diego Du Charmil in recent seasons. Not disgraced last start as favourite in a novice hurdle at Taunton (beaten 7.5L), particularly when both horses who finished ahead of him have since won. Finished 18L behind the Triumph Hurdle favourite at Chepstow over Xmas; again, not bad form. Plenty of positive vibes about this horse, expect him to be backed.

6. Flying Tiger - a few further lengths behind Fidux in the Adonis, although was conceding three lbs to the aforementioned and the winner. The switch from Lizzie Kelly to Richard Johnson may not bring much - Johnson has ridden just three winners from his last 38 rides and it's even worse at Cheltenham in past 12 months, 2/37. He's cold. Can't have him regardless of who sits in the saddle.

7. Prospectus - has beaten Dakota Moirette twice in weaker races, but a long way behind in a G2 at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. Ruby Walsh gets on for a small Irish trainer, surely there's a lead there somewhere.

8. Poker Play - bought for serious money out of France after a close second to Charli Parcs and a follow-up win late last year. Disappointed at Kempton on his British debut, starting 2/5 but ran far too keenly, trailing 4.5L behind Fidux. David Pipe, already a winner this week, put him away for a couple of months and applies the tongue tie for the first time. Big field, stronger pace and the gear change provide the opportunity to reverse that form, and Paul Kealy has spotted that in the RP. Keep an eye on him.

9. Domperignon Du Lys - started 5/2 against Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Trial here in December, but blundered the second last flight when close up and trailed almost 17L behind. Then went to Market Rasen for a confidence boost starting 1/4. Concerned about his jumping under pressure, can't afford any errors here. Does have the Henderson stable touch though.

10. Rainbow Dreamer - an 88-rated Flat horse, he was 6L behind Nietzsche (but ahead of Master Blueyes) at Wetherby back in October, then cheekpieces applied for two easy wins at Fontwell. Swapped the cheekpieces for a visor against Defi Du Seuil here in January, beaten nine lengths. Honest but facing a tough task.

11. Diable De Sivola - gave weight to Defi Du Seuil back in November, finishing less than two lengths behind but the RP analysis calls it 'flattered by proximity'. Most recently beaten 15L by Soldier In Action at Doncaster. Can't see him being involved.

12. Linger - once upon a time ran on the Flat for Sheik Hamdan but didn't take long to work out he wasn't much chop, peaking at 65. Has picked up a few wins in off-season or low-grade juvenile races, won't be troubling these.

13. Dreamcatching - yet another French-bred with Paul Nicholls. As short as 7/2 when a postcode away from Charli Parcs and Master Blueyes at Kempton at Xmas time. Went to Wincanton for a novices hurdle last month and put them away comfortably. The talented Stan Sheppard claimed 5lbs that day and does so again here, getting quite a concession against the topweights. Right in this.

14. Dakota Moirette - beaten by Prospectus twice in past three starts. Stable on fire but a win would surprise.

15. Nietzsche - plenty of racecourse experience with 21 starts already before his proper fourth birthday. Has won in open handicap company at his past two starts, getting him very battle hardened. Beat Project Bluebook in December then made a mess of a late hurdle on New Year's Day, trailing the same horse by 15L. Would have to think the handicapper has a good handle on his mark but very honest. Could do worse than throw him in exotics and placepots.

16. Zig Zag - similar to Nietzsche in that he has faced the starter many times already and thus won't have any 'potential' factor left in his handicap mark. Got within four lengths of the highly-rated Landofhopeandglory in November, but in reality, this bloke was all out and the favourite just cruised on by. Big odds for a reason.

17. Icario - another Gordon Elliott runner and tipped up by Pricewise. Keeps getting beaten in maidens, that's well below this standard.

18. Fadas - beaten almost eight lengths by Dreamcatching at Wincanton in a novice hurdle, his British debut. Started a hot favourite that day so there must be decent stable confidence about this one. On that basis, being right down in the weights, don't be afraid to chuck him in exotics.

19. Dino Velvet - the best weighted of the Alan King trio according to the trainer. Ran second in an open handicap at Ludlow, good experience for a faster pace here. Doesn't scream out Cheltenham winner to me, but connections have had Festival winners in the past.

20. Dodgybingo - not seen since November but had finished ahead of Linger and Zig Zag. If there's any natural improvement in him after a four-month break, he could be competitive.

21. Percy Street - the best of these on the Flat, rated 98, and still has the tackle intact. Beaten a long way in the Adonis. Henderson will need to have worked a miracle to get him home in front.

22. Candy Burg - was in an absolute muck lather on his British debut here in December, finishing almost 20L last behind Defi Du Seuil. That was a big ask and started 50/1. Rated over 30lbs below that horse now, this is a little more like it. Tongue tie applied for the first time. The Venetia Williams stable is flying at the moment, albeit in lesser company. Likely to be the bolte rof the field but don't be shocked if there's a sharp improvement.

SUMMARY

Hard to see beyond the big stables in this one, at least for the major prize. But it's a handicap which means fourth or possibly even fifth place brings rewards so don't be afraid to stretch beyond the obvious.

Divin Bere (EW)
Poker Play (small EW)
Dolos
Dreamcatching
Candy Burg (a nibble EW)
Fadas
Nietzsche

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