• Hands Heels

Grand Annual

One of my favourite handicaps at the festival, it's a race where both the unexposed horses and the real classy top weights both tend to have a good record. At the more unexposed end of the scale, Buddy Rich has been well found in the betting. He wouldn't necessarily be for me, but he wouldn't be the first Gordon Elliott horse to find major improvement at the festival.

Last years' winner, Sky Pirate, is my first selection for the race at 14/1. He’ll be carrying top weight if running here, but he's maintained a strong level of form over this season in strong company without winning. He comes here solid and reliable, never running a bad race, and I don't think carrying top weight should bother him too much. His first two starts this season he was beaten by Before Midnight, giving him lumps of weight each time. He now has a 12lb swing at the weights with that horse, having easily finished ahead him on their next start. That next start is probably the best form any horse in this race has managed, it was a good third in the Desert Orchid Chase. There was only 4 runners that day, but it was strong field. The 10 length winner, Shishkin, is favourite for the Champion Chase, and he was just three lengths behind the second placed, Greaneteen who had won the Grade One Tingle Creek on his previous start. Greaneteen was only beaten two lengths in last seasons Champion Chase, and was giving Sky Pirate just 2lbs in that race, when in a handicap it would have been 10. He was then 2nd behind unexposed horse, Brave Seasca who he now has a 10lb swing with here. His most recent start was a little flat, finishing 11 lengths last of 4 in the Grade Two Game Spirit, the horses ahead of him are all proven graded performers though, so perhaps it's a little unfair to call it a bad run. There may be one or two in the betting that are unexposed and well in, but Sky Pirate should run his race as usual and has an excellent chance at 14/1.

Finally, I will be backing one right down the bottom of the weights currently, Il Ridoto, for the most successful trainer of this race, Paul Nicholls. Nicholls has won the race four times in the last 20 years which is very impressive considering how competitive it is. He also has Thyme White entered, but I think Il Ridoto could have a little more in hand. Having run just four times for the master trainer, he has run two very good races this year out of four appearances, and been beaten by some good horses. On his debut he was 3rd of 4, beaten by War Lord who has gone on to win twice more beating a subsequent grade two winner, the one start he didn't win he was second to Edwardstone in the Grade One Henry VII, finishing ahead of Third Time Lucki who is a decent horse himself. Il Ridoto also ran in that race having been pulled up and not running any sort of race. I am happy to forgive him that as he had run just a week earlier, bolting up in a decent handicap. That win was off a much lower mark but he gets in here off a feather weight and could still be improving as a 5 year old having just his 5th start over fences. His most recent start was again positive, closing the gap with War Lord to just 4 lengths, despite being 7lbs worse off at the weights. He was just caught for second place close home by Faviour that day, who has form over further and the heavy ground that day would have played into his stamina. Faviour himself has been grade two placed this season, having chased home the very good Pic D'orhy. At 20/1 he is a lovely price and could still be ahead of his mark.

I did actually advise one for this race Ante Post, but they unfortunately haven't been entered.

Magic Saint - Grand Annual - 33/1 1pt each way 5 places (17/01/2022)

That leaves my selections for this race as:

Sky Pirate 14/1 0.5pts each way 5 places (NRNB)

Il Ridoto 20/1 0.5pts each way 5 places (NRNB)

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