Festival weights: five buzz horses for the handicaps

Diamond King: fancied to strike again at the festival

PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos) Festival weights: five buzz horses for the week By Jack Haynes 6:00PM 1 MAR 2017

After the festival weights were announced on Wednesday, we take a look at the story behind five horses close to the top of the market for their handicap targets.

Holywell
10st 12lb
Ultima Handicap Chase, Tuesday – general 16-1
Holywell has been beaten 247 lengths in three races he has completed this season and pulled up in the other, so why on earth is he vying for favouritism?

Simply put, it all comes down to his festival form, which speaks for itself.

Victories in the Pertemps Final in 2013 and this race the following year have been backed up in more recent years with a fourth in the Gold Cup behind Coneygree and second, again in this contest, last year.

Supported into 8-1 for the Ultima 12 months ago, Holywell appeared to be travelling like the winner when breezing to the lead three out before being collared heading to the last by Un Temps Pour Tout.

He arrived at last year's festival having failed to complete in the Sky Bet Chase and has followed a similar route this time around but will run off a 5lb lower mark this year, with 10st 12lb on his back.

Paul Nicholls: hoping for a hat-trick in the Fred Winter with Dreamcatching

Paul Nicholls: hoping for a hat-trick in the Fred Winter with Dreamcatching

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

Dreamcatching
10st 4lb
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, Wednesday – general 8-1

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is seeking a hat-trick in this juvenile contest and the vibes from Ditcheat last week were positive for ante-post favourite Dreamcatching.

The four-year-old disappointed on his British debut when a well beaten sixth behind Charli Parcs at Kempton in December but bounced back in no uncertain terms last month, slamming a 17-runner novice hurdle field by upwards of seven lengths at Wincanton.

Although that was not the strongest contest, it was a visually impressive performance and he appears well treated off a mark of 131 with further improvement likely.

Nicholls said last week: "Dreamcatching won't be far away in the Fred Winter. He bolted in at Wincanton on Saturday and has a mark of 131. He looks really progressive.

"It's a race we've done really well in, with the first and second the last two years. Qualando, who won it in 2015, was off 131, and Diego Du Charmil won it last year off 133. So he's around about the right mark."

Tobefair (left): has been a revelation this season and heads Pertemps market

Tobefair (left): has been a revelation this season for Debra Hamer

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

Tobefair
11st 7lb
Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle, Thursday – general 6-1

You would have been rolling around the floor in laughter in June if someone had told you the 81-rated Tobefair would be contesting any race at the Cheltenham Festival this season. To be fair, trainer Debra Hamer probably would have done the same too.

This seven-year-old, owned by Down The Quay Club, has proved the revelation of the season, recording seven straight wins with his official rating rising by 52lb.

Described as "big, laidback and very tough" by the trainer's husband Paul, Tobefair has shown determination and a will to win throughout the winter, winning by less than a length and three quarters on his last five starts.

There is no telling when this fairytale will end and it would take a brave man to back against Tobefair producing more heroics at Cheltenham.

Diamond King
11st
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, Thursday – 9-1 with Ladbrokes

Gordon Elliott enjoyed three festival winners last year, including two handicap successes along with Don Cossack's triumph in the Gold Cup, and his Coral Cup victor Diamond King is strongly fancied to score again, this time over fences.

Having embarked on a chasing career this campaign, Diamond King won on debut at Galway in October before finding Graded company too hot the last twice.

He won the Coral Cup off a mark of 149 and is rated 3lb lower over fences after three runs this season, with the Diana Whateley-owned nine-year-old afforded a weight of 11st for his target – the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.

With a nice racing weight and drying ground to suit, his claims are obvious, while Cheltenham Festival-winning form is a big plus.

Elliott is hopeful of a bold showing, saying this week: "A bit of good ground and you'll see a different horse. He just couldn't get out of the testing ground last time – I'm looking forward to him."

North Hill Harvey (left): won the Greatwood Hurdle when last seen in November

North Hill Harvey (left): won the Greatwood Hurdle when last seen

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

North Hill Harvey
11st 3lb
Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle, Fri – general 8-1

The County Hurdle is always one of the greatest puzzles of the week but the support for favourite North Hill Harvey has been unwavering.

North Hill Harvey, trained by Dan Skelton, has been backed into a best price 8-1 (from 12) in the last week alone and has followed a similar campaign to stablemate Superb Story, who won this race last year.

The son of Kayf Tara has not raced since winning the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle at the track in November but that has been by design, with Skelton having eyes only for the festival.

Skelton said last week: "It's probably no coincidence we've plotted the same kind of route with him as Superb Story last year. He's very tough and genuine and I didn't want to give him a hard time of it in the winter on bad ground."

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