Attempting to fathom a Cheltenham Festival handicap at this stage is akin to having a crack at a Rubik's Cube whilst blindfolded. I first looked at the JLT Handicap Chase prior to the weights being released, which is a bit like lopping your hands off prior to donning your blindfold and bashing away at the cube of many colours, and swiftly decided that the sensible thing to do was to wait for Phil Smith to pontificate at the official Cheltenham weights unveiling lunch, where I expect much champagne was quaffed and many canapés were devoured, prior to suggesting a bet in this contest as you are never entirely sure quite what fettling he will have done to the BHA ratings.
Clearly at this juncture it is impossible to be dogmatic about who may line up in this race, and were the David Pipe-trained Ballynagour to take his chance he would almost certainly be the selection, but market vibes suggest he is more likely to head to the Byrne Group Plate so, for now at least, we will discount him from our calculations.
It is often said that jumping is the name of the game, and if you can't get from A to B in a relatively tidy manner then you're essentially stuffed, but Synchronised put paid to that idea somewhat by winning the Welsh National, the Lexus Chase and the Gold Cup and it is far from beyond the realms of possibility that Our Mick can belie a less-than-desirable fencing technique to score in this event. The seven-year-old was often let down by his jumping over hurdles and that trait has continued in his chasing career, not clearing his obstacles with any panache when finishing third in this race last year on his first crack at three miles; but for that he could well have gone close to spoiling Alfie Sherrin's party, as he was beaten only five lengths at the finish.
Our Mick's reappearance, at Cheltenham in January, was a highly encouraging one and he actually jumped fairly well for much of the way. Coming to the third last he had every chance upsides eventual winner Katenko but his old tendencies surfaced once more as he jumped badly left, bumping into that rival and jettisoning jockey Jason Maguire from the saddle. Despite obvious concerns surrounding his jumping he is of definite interest here, allowed to compete from a mark just 1 lb higher than 12 months ago, and the suspicion remains that he may prove to be a better horse at this trip.
Our Mick's main rival in the market at present is Cantlow, whose season looks to have been geared around a crack at the Festival with this race seemingly his target. The eight-year-old is yet to go any further than two miles and three furlongs over fences but he was a useful stayer over hurdles, finishing third in last year's Pertemps Final over three miles, and any improvement that he may have to offer in this sphere is likely to be brought about by more emphasis being placed on his stamina. The factor that is off-putting with regards to his chances is that he is yet to have his mettle tested over fences, with connections keeping him to races with relatively few rivals, and he may just get found out in a big-field scenario, particularly coming up against opponents that boast greater chasing experience.
With far too many others to discuss the best option may be to take a quick spin through several, so here it goes. Loch Ba is pretty consistent and has been in excellent form this season but probably needs to improve again to defy a mark 12 lb higher than for his Newbury win, White Star Line has a definite chance of this sort of mark but seems more likely to contest the Pulteney, Gullinbursti hasn't convinced with his jumping in four starts over fences and Fruity O'Rooney is likely to give it a good go from the front, and will be suited by a return to three miles, but probably doesn't have much wiggle room in terms of his handicap mark.
Alfie Sherrin, last season's winner of this race, is worth a brief mention in his quest to defend his crown but it is difficult to get excited by his two starts this term, for all that he is likely to prove a different proposition come March 12.
Despite worries over his jumping the selection for the 2013 JLT Handicap Chase is Our Mick, as he looks fairly well treated judged upon his effort in this race last year and he could prove to be a superior horse at three miles. Were his jumping to be slicker than usual his chances would clearly be enhanced, but his obvious ability could easily make up for any deficiencies and he seems sure to go close.
Back Our Mick @ 9.417/2 in the JLT Handicap Chase
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