Cheltenham Focus: 20/1 Grand Annual chance is a Diamond in the rough

Daryl Carter.
Daryl adds two selections to his ante-post column.

We are inside three weeks until the Cheltenham Festival, and Daryl Carter's attention has now turned to the handicaps and offers two selections, including a 20/1 Grand Annual chance...

  • There are just 16 days until the start of the Cheltenham Festival!

  • Daryl has a 20/1 NRMB Grand Annual selection

  • Daryl adds a 7/1 NRMB Pertemps Final selection

Not long left to go now, and with that, there is little action to digest and analyse throughout the previous week. That work is all but done, and followers of this column should now have a good handle on the form book.

I have two selections to get on our ante-post list, which has shaped up quite nicely. We have handicap ratings released this week, and the final scratchings are the following week.

Ballyburn will follow in the footsteps of James's Gate

Ballyburn was a good winner of the Punchestown Bumper last Sunday, a race which Willie Mullins won with subsequent Champion Bumper third James's Gate last year. He took quite a hold and had his head bowed low in the early part of the race but travelled strongly. It took what seemed like an age to get on top of his two rivals in straight, but he won with plenty in hand.

His pedigree is layered with stamina, and he looks like a nice future-staying chase prospect. He is worthy of his 7/1 price tag for the Champion Bumper and will surely relish a testing gallop - he will be hard to keep out of the frame.

Don't give up on Brandy

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On Wednesday, we saw Brandy Love reappear at Punchestown, but she saw defeat for the third time in her career, going down in third to Queens Brook in the Grade 2 Quevega Mares Hurdle.

Reports suggested she was carrying plenty of condition on this first run for 311 days. Still, she shaped well outside of the final result and quickened smartly between the second last and last before her tank emptied, and she was given an easy time at the finish. This was no doubt a prep run, and she will be on nine-pound better terms with the winner at Cheltenham.

She didn't jump as violently left today, but she was unfavoured by the sharp inside track at Punchestown and hung left off the bend into the home straight.

Interestingly, she was also beaten in February 2021 before improving significantly on her next start in April. These mares need to be caught at the right time, and her massive drift in the betting from the morning odds of 8/11 to a 6/4 SP having touched 2/1 suggested that she would indeed need this outing.

A sterner stamina test at Cheltenham would suit, and returning to a left-handed track will see her in a better light.

This performance has plenty of positives, but she will need to improve to win the Mares Hurdle, for which she is now 7/1.

At Thurles on Thursday, any remaining hopes for Tellmesomethinggirl to win the Mares Chase went up in smoke as she was well-held by Brides Hill despite being well-supported in the market. She may have paid for going too hard up front with main market rival Instit, but it's clear now that she has not improved in going over the larger obstacles. She was pushed out to 33/1, and the winner is not entered at the festival.

Progressive Pipe Pertemps horse should not be underestimated.

On Saturday, Thanksforthehelp won the final Pertemps Qualifier for David Pipe at Chepstow in a common canter and shot towards the head of the final betting at 7/1. He is no back number here and will be towards the bottom of the weights.

He failed to land a big gamble at Punchestown back in April when heading across the water, only managing third. However, that race has worked out well, and he is improving with each outing and is only six. All should consider him for the Pertemps Final.

Zenta is of huge interest should she go for the Boodles Handicap

Another Willie Mullins Juvenile, Zenta, threw her hat into the Cheltenham mix with a hard-fought but comfortable win at Fairyhouse on Saturday, landing a Grade 3 contest on her first start in Ireland. The roll of honour for the winners in that contest suggests the Boodles could be the plan despite trainer Willie Mullins suggesting the Triumph Hurdle is a possible target.

Zenta won a Listed event in France on her only other start, and it will be interesting to see how the handicapper reacts. She travelled strongly and jumped well until the taps were turned on, where she blundered the second last and final hurdles. It's tough to weigh up the form, but visually, she looked full of potential, and the time was good.

She is currently 20/1 for the Triumph Hurdle and not in the betting for the Boodles, but watch this space.

Later on the Fairyhouse card odds-on chance, Down Memory Lane never looked like being beaten in the bumper, and this was a promising racecourse debut for Gordon Elliott. He was introduced in the Champion Bumper betting at 16/1.

Nusret confirms Irish dominance over Juvenile division

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It was a race with a small amount of drama. Still, there was little doubt about the winner Nusret who claimed yet another Juvenile graded contest for trainer Joseph O'Brien who has placed his horses excellently this season in Britain.

Nusret, who couldn't lay a glove on Lossiemouth, Gala Marceau or Blood Destiny on his latest outings, saw this contest out well over Perseus Way despite being hampered in the mid-section of the race. This now gives us a stronger line between the British and Irish Juvenile form and suggests the Brits have a huge gap to bridge in the Juvenile division.

Scriptwriter perhaps didn't give his running when only managing a 35-length sixth, but he was well-positioned for much of the contest and failed to come up to scratch. Either way, as I have said all season, he is not good enough and is correctly out to 25/1 for the Triumph Hurdle!

It may be bad news for Boodles Handicap backers of Nusret, who will go up in the ratings for this win, but more so because he ran here. The Adonis Hurdle was worth the same as the Boodles Handicap (£45,000), and connections will probably now eye a run at Aintree as opposed to Cheltenham in three weeks time with him.

Datsalrightgino caught the eye when finishing second in the Grade 2 Pendil Novices Chase, and he is a live player for the Plate Handicap at Cheltenham 16/1. The return to a left-handed track will see him in a better light, and he is relishing this new distance of 2m4f.

A diamond in the rough for the Grand Annual

Allmankind is a NR, so I want to return to this market and offer a big-priced selection. I have a keen eye on Dads Lad for Willie Mullins, but I want to see what the ground does before offering advice on backing him.

Ground won't be an issue to Sam Thomas' Grey Diamond 20/1, who ran a scorcher behind Amarillo Sky and Fugitif over course and distance on his first outing of the season when narrowly beaten three lengths. Both the winner and runner-up enhanced the form on their next couple of outings, and Amarillo Sky is now 15 lbs higher, and Fugitif 18 lbs higher in the handicap.

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Grey Diamond, best known for his excellent course form at Sandown but fell at that venue next time when looking in full control and trading a 2.26/5 in the running. The eventual winner, Xcitations, is now seven pounds higher and rated 140. In second that day was Corrigeen Rock, who paid for setting a furious gallop next time out and is surely well-treated off 127.

The interesting note with Grey Diamond is that he has returned to action this season without the hood that he wore on six of his last seven outings last term.

The fact that his excellent target trainer gave him a sighter at this track on seasonal return suggests that he may have this race in mind for his nine-year-old, who is very lightly raced for his age after just 11 outings over fences and 22 runs in total under rules.

Thomas spotted the same race at the November meeting for Stolen Silver last term, who had the Plate as the target, but his Grey Diamond is certainly a two-miler and, a workable rating of 135, will see him toward the bottom of the weights and well-handicapped.

He tends to come good during the spring, and he could run at Sandown in a repeat bid for the race he won on March 12th last year in excellent style, but the Grand Annual must surely be tempting, and this is his sole entry.

Back Grey Diamond for the Grand Annual 1pt win


Get on Maxxum before Davy does

The Pertemps Final is notoriously difficult to find the winner of, and in recent years, just two winning favourites mean punters have been kept on their toes.

However, this is the first year where just four will emerge from each qualifier, so the bottom weight will likely be lower than last year's 134. Still, of the 44 entries, there are probably only around 18 with realistic chances of landing the race.

One of those is Maxxum 7/1, who I have been keen on for some time, and before anyone hits me with the " last time out beaten favourite" stat, every runner can be knocked with a stat or two, and this year is a different race thanks to that new qualifying criteria.

Maxxum has improved leaps and bounds since joining Gordon Elliott, who has a tremendous recent record in this race - all ten runners since 2017 finished in the first five, winning with three.

Maxxum's latest effort under an inexperienced rider can easily be forgiven, having been locked away on the inside rail at Leopardstown and having no chance of a clear run. He was given an easy time once his chance had gone, and it left the impression that there was another day in mind. After all, the claiming rider was a strange move by connections in the first place.

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Back in January, we touched on what a good time figure he did compared to Home By The Lee and Deep Cove when demolishing a good field at Leopardstown over Xmas, and you can read that here.

Without going over too much old ground, we now have form lines that have worked out with the comparative races. Deep Cove got to within four lengths of Ballymore contender Good Land (141) at the DRF and is rated 135. Given Maxxum would have only lost out on that contest from three out to the finish when he was in no more than a canter, and they were in a three-way driving finish, it bodes well.

From Deep Cove's race, the second and third have both won since. From Home By The Lee's race, Meet and Greet (3rd) chased home Blazing Khal in the Boyne Hurdle.

We also guestimated that a handicap rating of 145 would look about right but lenient, given his potential - aged just six. Everything seems to have panned out correctly as expected, other than his unfortunate DRF experience, but I am happy to put a line through that.

I also like that he has always raced in midfield and is used to big field handicaps with the scrimmaging. This also bodes well on the time-figure front, as he hasn't ever been disadvantaged or advantaged by his racing position, and that's easier to draw a conclusion on what he has achieved.

There has only been one race in mind for connections, and Gordon's comments, "Ignore that run at the DRF, he's better than that", also gives confidence to him running a big race.

It might not be wise to put him up now as extra concessions on the day are likely to be favourable, and he probably won't shorten a great deal. However, he has been well-backed in three previous runs, and I'd be confident he would be the choice of Davy Russell. So before the Preview circuit starts, I want to add him in at a top industry price of 7/1.

Back Maxxum for the Pertemps Final 1pt win


Recommended bets

Darly running P/L

Three Stripe Life for the Brown Advisory -1pt

Bravemansgame for the Ryanair -1pt

Meet And Greet for the Stayers Hurdle -1pt

Champ Kiely for the Albert Bartlett -2pt

Allmankind for the Grand Annual -1pt

Daryl's ante-post selections

Back Facile Vega for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle @ 7/2 1pt win NOW 5/1

Back The Storyteller for the St James' Palace Hunters Chase @ 12/1 1pt win NOW 12/1

Back Stattler each way for the Cheltenham Gold Cup @ 16/1 0.5pt e/w NOW 8/1

Back Thyme Hill for the Brown Advisory Novices Chase @ 12/1 1pt e/w NOW 5/1

Back Banbridge for the Turners Novices' Chase @ 10/1 1pt win NOW 7/2

Back El Fabiolo for the Arkle Novices Chase @ 6/1 1pt win NOW 6/4

Back Grangeclare West for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle @ 8/1 1pt win NOW 33/1

Back Tellmesomethinggirl for the Mares Chase @ 14/1 1pt win NOW 33/1

Back Blood Destiny for the Triumph Hurdle @ 33/1 1pt win NOW 9/4

Back So Scottish for the Plate Handicap Chase @ 16/1 1pt win NOW 9/2

Back Mighty Potter for the Turners Novices Chase @ 7/2 2pt win NOW 11/8

Back Shishkin for the Ryanair Chase on the Betfair Exchange @ 8.07/1 1pt win NOW 2.26/5

Back It's For Me for the Champion Bumper at 4/1 1pt win NOW 7/2

Back Tekao for the Boodles Handicap at 6/1 1pt win NOW 4/1

Back Hiddenvalley Lake for the Albert Bartlett at 11/2 1pt win NOW 8/1

Back Sire Du Berlais for the Stayers Hurdle at 100/1 0.5pt e/w now 66/1

Back Brandy Love for the Mares Hurdle @ 4/1 1pt win NOW 7/1

Back Gaillard Du Mesnil for the Brown Advisory @ 10/1 1pt win NOW 5/1

Back Grey Diamond for the Grand Annual @ 20/1 1pt win NRMB

Back Maxxum for the Pertemps @ 7/1 1pt win NRMB


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