The contrarian perspective on Day 1 at the Festival....

Last Updated: 11.03.2019

Monday, 11th March 2019

The contrarian perspective on Day 1 at the Festival….

Handicaps are the beat we walk at Against the Crowd – and that will be the case this week at the Cheltenham Festival....

And on Day 1 it is the G3 Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50) over the 3m1f trip and 20 fences on the Old course that takes centre stage for me....

A field of 24-runners heads to post and the first thing to note is that punters who are slaves to the trends might come a cropper in this one....

It’s hard to win Festival handicaps off marks of 150+. And not many have done it recent times off marks in excess of 148....

But tomorrow’s edition of the Ultima is set-up to provide just such a winner....

Only 15lbs separate the official marks of the top-weight and the bottom-weight in this season’s Ultima renewal. That’s the smallest spread in the last few years....

Most years you can expect a spread of up to 20lbs and beyond. But not this time. And that will make life easier for the better-rated and more heavily-weighted horse at the top end of the handicap....

  • Two-against-the-field

UP FOR REVIEW is a fresh horse for Willie Mullins having had just the one run this term....

That run came at Gowran Park in January in the Thyestes and the10yo ran a promising race off the back of a 256-day lay-off....

He was beaten 12-lengths in 3rd having done best of those that raced off the pace. I’m not sure he was expected to win that day. Al the money was for stable mate Invitation Only with Ruby Walsh onboard and that pair obliged in good style....

Up For Review – off his break and under tomorrow’s jockey Paul Townend – shaped like a horse where the pan as for another day. And that day could well be tomorrow....

He contested the Thyestes off his Irish mark of 145. Tomorrow he races off 146 and he can prove better than that....

Despite his age, he is still very lightly-raced having had just 6 runs over fences to date and he surely has the scope to progress further. He’s yet to win a nice pot over the bigger obstacles and he’s till 2lb shy of what he achieved over hurdles....

I think the general 8s and 10s is a fair enough price about him. And I think he could shorten prior to the off....

The other one I want to be with for this is Gordon Elliott’s NOBLE ENDEAVOR. I think he’s potentially very generously priced at 16s generally....

The 10yo has clearly had problems. He’d been off the track for 600-days before re-appearing at Aintree in the Becher Chase in December – where he got soundly beaten 40-lengths – and he hasn’t been seen since....

But he wasn’t knocked about that day at Liverpool under Keith Donoghue and I am mindful of the fact that Gordon Elliott has got this horse right to run a big race off a break several times previous....

Not least when he was 3rd in the 2017 renewal of this race off a mark of 154 under Davy Russell – a   man who should never be underestimated in the Festival handicaps....

Noble Endeavor gets to go off 151 tomorrow. And Russell is onboard. The pair can run a much bigger race than the prices suggest....

I’m taking a little on trust. But I am happy to do so with a horse, trainer and jockey with that all-important Festival pedigree. At the price, it smells like a move that has a greater chance of paying dividends than the market has priced-in....

The Contrarian Bet Box….

To recap on where my contrarian money will be going tomorrow afternoon….

In the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50 @ Cheltenham).

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – UP FOR REVIEW (8s & 10s generally) & NOBLE ENDEAVOR (16s generally)

That is my take on where the value lies – but you will no doubt have your own ideas and that’s exactly as it should be.

  • The last word….

That’s all from me for now.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my contrarian take on Day 2 at the Festival....

Win, lose or draw – enjoy the racing tomorrow....

Until next time. Stay tuned.

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd