Cheltenham Festival 2012 

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By Dylan Jenear ValueChecker

Astracad Could Shine Brightest in the Grand Annual

The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup is invariably one of the trickiest races from a punting perspective, and favourites haven’t fared especially well in recent renewals: the last seven market-leaders for this handicap at the Cheltenham Festival have come up short.

Kid Cassidy
© Racehorse Photos

Kid Cassidy

Lambourn handler Nicky Henderson won this race, which is named in memory of his late father, with Greenhope in 2006, and has gone close on a few occasions since, sending out three horses to be placed in this Grade 3 event subsequently, twice fielding the runner-up. Henderson will probably have two or three contenders this time around, with Kid Cassidy the most prominent in the ante-post market at the time of writing.

There’s no doubt that Kid Cassidy is a progressive novice and first-season chasers have a good record in the Grand Annual – five of the last 11 winners of the race have been novices – but, as the Wikis point out, there are quite a few negative points surrounding Kid Cassidy in the context of his prospects at the Festival on March 16.

Astracad (nearside)
© Racehorse Photos

Conversely, fellow novice Astracad has plenty going for him, not least a recent victory over the Grand Annual C&D where he demonstrated that he is ready to take on more experienced, seasoned handicappers; he displayed real battling qualities in seeing off Rileyev in the race in question, and the latter was in receipt of 11lb from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge.

Astracad has been upped 7lb for that, but has been allotted a handy racing weight of 10st 9lb for his Cheltenham target (actual weight depends on whether the likes of French Opera and Woolcombe Folly stand their ground) and the Grand Annual is a contest in which you need to look for a horse carrying less than 11st. Indeed, Since Edredon Bleu bagged the prize in 1998, no horse has carried more than 10st 13lb to victory in the 2m ½f event.

The selection will, however, have a battle on his hands, as the Wikis suggest that De Boitron will be a live danger. Ferdy Murphy is adept at priming a horse for the Cheltenham Festival and the gelding’s campaign appears to have been tailored with a view to another crack at this race, in which he was a creditable fourth off a 2lb higher mark last season. He is clearly at his best during the spring, is likely to get his conditions on March 16 and, like Astracad, possesses winning form over the Grand Annual C&D.

Of the remainder, Paul Nicholls’ Toubab is bound to have his supporters. The champion trainer has won the Grand Annual twice during the past decade, but the grey may lack the battling qualities that the likes of Astracad possess.

Astracad @ 10-1 (William Hill, Boylesports, Stan James )


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