Weights & Measures: Festival fever

Ben Linfoot highlights horses for the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival as he goes through the ratings in 'Weights & Measures'.

Champers On Ice : Could be one for a Festival handicap after dropping 3lb this week

Modus shines in Lanzarote

Modus >>>> Up 10lb to 155
Templeross >>>> Up 4lb to 130

Modus has been a frustrating horse for Paul Nicholls and JP McManus, but with the Ditcheat handler away on his holidays he finally put it all together in the 32Red Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.

Stepped up in trip to 2m5f, the furthest he has gone in his career, Modus enjoyed the new distance, travelling well under Barry Geraghty with the hood back on, running out a comfortable near three-length winner from Templeross.

A big hike was inevitable following such an authoritative win in a big Saturday handicap and a big hike he’s got, to the tune of 10lb which takes him up to a mark of 155.

The way Cheltenham Festival handicaps are going you couldn’t say with conviction that he’d be top weight in the Coral Cup, but he’ll certainly be towards the head of the list should he go down that route.

It looks the obvious race for him and he has a good Cheltenham record, having finished second in a Champion Bumper and this season’s Greatwood Hurdle.

Jamie Bargary felt he’d ‘just bumped into one’ on Templeross with the horse getting right back on track following his disappointing performance at Cheltenham last time.

His form over three miles in soft ground at Ffos Las earlier in the season was boosted by the runner-up, Walt, at Fontwell last week and a return to that sort of trip and ground might help him defy a 4lb rise in the weights.

American Express for Fry

American >>>> Up 5lb to 148
Overtown Express >>>> Up 11lb to 143

Harry Fry’s gone off like an express train this year with 10 winners from 25 runners and his two victories at Warwick on Saturday were deeply impressive.

Overtown Express won on his second handicap start by seven lengths, coping well with the drop back in trip to register his first win over fences. He jumped well down the back straight and goes well in testing ground, but he might be vulnerable off his new mark if his sights are raised in the spring.

Fry’s other winner, American, also enjoys soft ground and he jumped and galloped his Hampton Novices’ Chase rivals into submission with a powerful display on the front end.

He could run in either the RSA Chase or the four-miler at the Festival and his rating of 148 would likely make him one of the better horses were he to line up in the latter race; only three horses rated higher turned up in the contest last season.

He’d be interesting in a soft-ground RSA Chase, too, and his new mark makes him one of the highest-rated British-trained horses in the ante-post betting, with only Might Bite (152) rated higher and likely to head there. The problem could be the plethora of Irish-trained horses that dominate the market.

Ultima clues on show at Kempton and Warwick

Our Kaempfer >>>> Up 10lb to 148
Champers on Ice >>>> Down 3lb to 143

We might not be seeing too much more racing from Kempton if the Jockey Club have their way and one quirk of the course that will be missed is the drama the final fence seems to produce every now and again.

Kicking King almost came down at the last in his King George at Kempton, nobody present will forget Kauto Star’s famous blunders at the same fence in the 2006 and 2008 renewals, while Might Bite took a crashing fall when clear at the final obstacle in the novice race now named after the five-time King George winner just last month.

I doubt those incidents were going through Sam Twiston-Davies’ mind when he loomed up to the final fence aboard Our Kaempfer on Saturday, but backers will have had a heart-in-the-mouth moment as he pecked on landing following a minor mistake.

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Even with that momentarily halting his rhythm, Our Kaempfer ran out an easy seven-length winner from Kruzhlinin – a horse that had won the same race 12 months previously.

A 10lb rise in the weights sees him up to a mark of 148 and he’s currently the 12/1 favourite with some firms for the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. That race looks the likely target and he was a good fifth in last year’s Pertemps Final.

Meanwhile, Champers On Ice, second to the aforementioned American at Warwick, is down 3lb to 143 which will likely please trainer David Pipe with handicaps in mind. He finished his race well after losing ground on the winner when his jumping was severely tested down the back straight.

He’s 5lb lower than the mark Un Temps Pour Tout, representing the same connections, won the Ultima off at the Cheltenham Festival last year and it would be no surprise if this horse went down the same route.

He’ll have lots of options at the Festival, including the four-miler, but going for a repeat win in the Ultima could be a tempting factor and the 3m1f test looks ideal for him.

Even at this stage the 25/1 with bet365 looks a big price, though there’s obviously no non-runner no bet in place on this market if you’re worried about him running in something else.

Perhaps the cheekpieces will be re-employed at some stage as well. He ran in the headgear when a good third to Unowhatimeanharry in the Albert Bartlett last year, Festival form that will back up any case for him if he goes down the handicap route this March.

National tempter for Classic King Arthur

One For Arthur >>>> Up 10lb to 147

“If he goes up enough he might be a National horse this year,” said Lucinda Russell, trainer of One For Arthur, at Warwick on Saturday.

Well he has gone up enough, you would think, a 10lb hike for that impressive Classic Chase success almost certainly guaranteeing him a run in this year’s Aintree spectacular, even accounting for the year-on-year improvement in quality of the race.

With participation looking likely, he was cut by Sky Bet and Bet Victor on Tuesday to 25s and 20s respectively. There is still a bit of 33/1 about.

You can see why the bookies would take evasive action, too. He jumps well, stays well, has experience of the national fences thanks to his recent Becher Chase fifth and better ground holds no fears.

Mixed day for Rooney team

Willoughby Court >>>> Up 17lb to 144
Barney Dwan >>>> Up 5lb to 143

Owners Paul and Clare Rooney had a mixed day at Warwick on Saturday, with Viva Steve disappointing when 10th in the Classic Chase, Barney Dwan falling at the last when in contention in the Pertemps qualifier and Willoughby Court winning convincingly in the Grade Two Neptune.

Barney Dwan was making his challenge down the outside when he fell at the last and he would probably have given Tobefair, up 8lb himself after his sixth successive win, a real race.

Brought down on his previous start over fences at Wincanton, Barney Dwan is luckless at present and both his chase and hurdles marks have gone up 5lb after this, while he would’ve been certain to qualify for the Pertemps by virtue of finishing in the top six.

At least the same owners won the very next race with Willoughby Court who made all to land the Neptune trial in style.

Up 17lb to 144, he’s entitled to take his chance in the same sponsors’ main event at Cheltenham and he is now rated just 5lb off the standard set by Finian’s Oscar, who heads the market.

It remains to be seen if he is ground dependent, and he is a best-price 20/1 for the Neptune with Sky Bet.

Blueyes screams ‘back me for the Fred Winter’

Master Blueyes >>>> Up 12lb to 132

Alan King’s Master Blueyes is getting to grips with the hurdling game with each start and his third effort at Huntingdon last week was his best yet.

Keen in the early stages, he wasn’t fluent over the last and was just run out of things by Nicky Henderson’s Divin Bere.

King said on At The RacesOn The Line programme on Monday night he expects him to be a different horse on better ground in the spring and he should improve for being buried in a big field off a decent gallop too.

His new rating ensures he’s good enough to get in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, a race for which he’s a 20/1 chance generally, and it seems likely he’ll be put away until then now.

Alary set mighty Marsh task

Alary >>>> New entry at 162

And finally… Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup talking horse Alary is set to run in the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock this weekend and the handicapper has allotted him a mark of 162.

There was plenty of his good French form to go on, including places in a couple of Grade Ones, but I wonder if Colin Tizzard may have inadvertently ensured a few extra pounds thanks to his overly bullish appraisals of his homework in recent weeks?

Either way, Alary has a tough introduction to racing in this country off that mark.

The good thing is Tizzard is unlikely to shirk the challenge judging by the way he campaigns his horses, and we should find out once and for all whether the Gold Cup is a realistic target for the Potts’ latest acquisition.

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