In the latest of GG’s Cheltenham Festival previews, Ryan Summerfield (@RyanOTHx) analyses the main contenders in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase and gives us his Cheltenham tips
The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual is like no other race at the Festival. With most Cheltenham handicaps, you’re looking for that horse with tonnes in hand over the handicapper or one with a progressive profile.
However this race bucks that idea and to win a Grand Annual you need real experience of a hustle-and-bustle race and you ideally need good course form too.
Pprogressive younger horses are often well fancied for this but either their jumping doesn’t hold up or they’re not experienced enough in this type of race.
11/12 winners had previous course experience
11/12 winners had at least five chase runs
9/12 winners had previously finished in the top four in a race at Cheltenham
10/12 winners had between 2-5 runs that season
1/12 winners won on their last start before the Grand Annual
Those coming here off a last time out win and with little experience such as Greaneteen, On The Slopes and First Flow would be fancied for other handicaps, just not the extreme test of this one.
Trainer Paul Nicholls has won two of the last four renewals and usually runs a few in the race, while his horses are often well backed in this and he’s had the last two favourites in this race.
However, it’s not always his first string who comes out on top and it’s worth looking at his entries to see who has been saved for the race.
Magic Saint was well backed last season and Cheltenham might not be his preferred track, but one horse who will be suited by the race is Brelan d’As. He’s owned by JP McManus and since finishing third in this race last season, his target has probably been this race.
In the last 9 years, McManus has owned the winner of this race three times with a further three seconds and a third.
Brelan D’As was probably too inexperienced when running in this last year and he did well to finish third given how keen he was in the early stages. He’s now a year older and has been given more experience and education by the Nicholls team.
He’s ran three times at Cheltenham, all in big fields and tough competitive handicaps, with his best performance coming when going down by a neck to Happy Diva in the BetVictor Gold Cup. He travelled extremely well that day but he just didn’t stay as strongly as the winner and a drop back to two miles here should suit.
Nicky Henderson would love to win the race named in his father’s honour and he’s got a chance with Whatswrongwithyou. He was an 8/1 chance when seventh in last year’s race as a novice but, like Brelan D’As, the race might have come a year too soon.
Croco Boy caused a massive upset when winning last season and broke all the trends. The 12-year-old won the race on his first run of the season but he did have bundles of course form and he ran them ragged from the front.
Gino Trail is a similar type who finished second in the 2018 Grand Annual off 152 and is now 5lb lower. He was disappointing last season but has now joined Fergal O’Brien and it’s interesting to see him entered here despite not running since October.
You really need a hardy experienced type who would almost know their way around Cheltenham blindfolded to win the Grand Annual. It also helps if they have experience of this particular race, with four of the last five winners previously running in the race.
Croco Bay had finished fifth and third in previous years, while Le Prezien had been sent off favourite the year and finished 8th the year before he was successful. 2017 winner Rock The World had also gone off favourite when third the year before and 2015 winner Next Sensation had finished fourth in the race in 2014.
With that in mind, the horse who stands out is Brelan D’As. He’s got bundles of experience around Cheltenham and has probably been aimed at this race all season. He’s been campaigned mainly over middle distances but dropping back to two miles should be in his favour and he should be a lot more streetwise this time around.
Ryan Summerfield’s Best Bet
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