Food In The Spotlight With Royal Ascot, the Derby meeting and various other high profile racing fixtures to the fore in the spring and early…
Grand Annual Chase
Andrew Blair White
|Place BetPlace Bet|
Grand Annual Chase
Andrew Blair White
|Place BetPlace Bet|
Date of Tips: 02/03/2022
Disclaimer The odds for these selections were correct at the time of publishing (10:57 02/03/2022) but may have changed since. Please check the latest price before placing your bet.
The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase at 4.50 on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival could be a very classy renewal, with at this stage, 9 horses rated 150 or above and a further 14 rated 140 or above.
But looking through the profile of the entries, there are plenty that have been in very good form throughout the course of the winter, and of course will be battle hardened as a result, but equally may not have much left in the locker when it comes to improvement.
It is very true that you don’t have to be an improver to win the Grand Annual, and just having a suitability to the nature of the race can count for plenty. But in the last 10 years, novices have won it three times, and of those Alderwood won it in 2013 with only 4 chase starts and Chosen Mate won it in 2020 with just 3 chase starts.
So, it can be done, and what you need is a horse that looks ready for such a cavalry charge, has the requisite pace to hold a position, and then have enough left for a finishing kick.
Step forward Emma Lavelle’s Red Rookie, who at 20/1 each-way with Paddy Power or Betfair Sportsbook, for 5 places and also with NRNB, while possessing all of those things, also represents a horse with a huge amount more to come over fences.
I don’t know if this is the plan, as he holds an Arkle entry, and could also be one that connections opt for another low-key run before targeting Aintree. But if he is Grand Annual-bound, there isn’t a horse in the race that possesses the untapped potential of Red Rookie.
The strapping 7-year-old chestnut hasn’t been seen since winning a fiercely run Hereford novice chase with consummate ease, despite the sharp track, ground and course configuration (better left-handed) all playing against him.
Tom Bellamy was brilliant on him that day, as the pair had hit the deck in a good handicap at Ascot the time before. It was a fall that could perhaps be attributed to the attentions of a loose horse, and for all that it’s far from ideal, many horses learn plenty from a fall, and on the evidence of Hereford Red Rookie certainly has.
I’ve no doubt Red Rookie would have been involved in the finish at Ascot, in a race contested by leading Grand Annual fancies Brave Seasca and Amarillo Sky, and has crept nicely under the radar for this prestigious prize.
At 20/1 each-way with Paddy Power or Betfair Sportsbook for those 5 places and with NRNB, should he line up at 4.50 on Wednesday, he would surely be much shorter.
Last year’s winner Sky Pirate is back for more, and has as good a chance as any. While the likes of Buddy Rich, Ciel De Niege and most notably Coeur Sublime would have live chances also. Coeur Sublime is the one that would interest me most if he came here as opposed to taking up his Arkle entry.
With Ferny Hollow out, connections of Coeur Sublime could be tempted into thinking they’d have a better chance of winning the novice race on day one, compared to running from a high enough mark here – a mark 14lbs higher than Red Rookie, who I wouldn’t mind betting has significantly closed that ratings gap by the end of this season.
The Grand Annual is always a compelling spectacle, as some of the best 2m handicap chasers go hell for leather. The race could potentially be even more speedily-defined this year, as it has moved to day two from its usual sit on the final day. Hence it will now be on the Old Course, which does favour slightly more pacey types compared to the stamina test of the New Course.
As opposed to the winner coming from the clouds, we might well see a few more fighting out the finish from a prominent early and mid-race position.
This could well suit our selection, the Joseph O’Brien-trained Embittered, who is advised at 15/2 each-way with 888 Sport, on the basis that they top price, 5 places for each-way terms, and also ‘Non-Runner, No Bet’. This last concession is important as Embittered does hold an entry in the Arkle, but surely the fact he has a chance of winning the Grand Annual, as opposed to being fifth or sixth in the Arkle, will sway connections.
Embittered has run in no fewer than five Grade 1’s in his career to date, and has a record in them that reads: 4th, 5th, 3rd, 4th, 4th. On the back of two of these Grade 1’s last season over hurdles, he went into the County Hurdle at the Festival off a mark of 146. He ran a huge race in that to finish a close up third, doing much the best of those horses that raced prominently. Every other horse in the first eight home came from behind Embittered in the run, and yet he was able to keep maintaining his gallop in the closing stages.
Embittered’s size and scope against smaller, more nimble types in the County Hurdle that day suggested that he would improve over fences. Strictly, he hasn’t done so as yet, but this is his fifth start of the season, runs off the identical mark of 146 that he did in last year’s County Hurdle, and he has very much caught the eye in his four chase starts.
Runner-up spots behind the classy Easywork and Andy Dufresne were followed by fourth spots in Grade 1’s the last twice. His run at the Dublin Racing Festival behind Energumene was much better than it looked in the end, as he was cruising in behind the leaders when hampered by the fall of Captain Guinness two out.
Joseph O’Brien has another chance in the race with Entoucas, but despite a few eye-catching runs from him of late, I am coming round to the fact that he isn’t the hardiest battler and hasn’t got the experience of Cheltenham that Embittered has. Plus, he could well be ground dependant also, whereas Embittered looks to be pretty versatile in that respect.
Elsewhere, Venetia Williams could hold chances with Ibleo, Fanion D’Estruval or Funambule Sivola. While you wouldn’t rule out Umbrigado in his current form, but I wonder if he is best on a flat track.
All in all, I think Embittered is a very good each-way bet at 15/2 with 888 Sport, to be very well suited to the unique Grand Annual test, and if confirmed for the race he could shorten significantly.