The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase is Listed race around 2m4½f, and concludes day one of the Cheltenham Festival. It is open to Novice Chasers with a rating between 0-145. Last year the race was only a 0-140, where Tully East got the better of Gold Present.
17:30 – Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m4½f
With the handicap ceiling being increased for this renewal, the caliber of horse entered has significantly improved and it will be an intriguing race. A trend of this handicap is that no horse has won from a rating lower than 137 (which obviously used to be 3lbs off top weight) in the last six years, so it’s wise to look towards the highest rated horses.
Baring this in mind, JP McManus has a very interesting entry that will hopefully scrape in. Much like Tully East last year, Any Second Now has been running in behind some of the best Novices’ we’ve seen this season in Ireland. Proclaiming the famous green and gold silks, Ted Walsh’s stable star finished second behind Monalee on his chase debut in November, who has since gone on to win the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase and is a leading RSA contender. This was a great start to life over the larger obstacles, which made the six-year-old favourite to get off the mark over fences next time out at Navan. He bumped into Invitation Only that day, and despite jumping well he could only manage a 4½ length second, but this again looks very useful form.
After these exertions over 2m4f, Any Second Now was launched into Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over a shorter trip, being comprehensively beaten by Arkle favourite Footpad. Although 11 lengths second, he already had the smart Death Duty beaten before falling at the last which again is a credit to his ability. Ted Walsh then sent his charge for the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival, to re-oppose the Willie Mullins hot-pot in another Grade 1 over course and distance. This time Petit Mouchoir split the pair, who himself is fancied by many to win the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. The form produced so far this season clearly makes Any Second Now stand out from others entered in this handicap, as the only horse to place in a Grade 1 over fences.
Although he hasn’t won a race over the larger obstacles yet, the five year old won the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown last season, doing his best work after the last. If Any Second Now can turn for home on the bridle chasing the leaders then a late delivery could see him power up the hill at Prestbury Park over a trip that suits. Whilst he has never raced on good ground, nothing suggests he wouldn’t be able to handle it, and good to soft would be the optimum conditions for our selection. Cheltenham will mark his fifth start over fences, so experience can give him the edge over some lightly raced rivals who have been protecting their ratings. Mark Walsh has ridden Any Second Now on six occasions, and it would be interesting to see if he retains the ride if taking up this engagement.
Despite all the positives, we will need a favour from the handicapper Phil Smith. Any Second Now is currently rated 145 in Ireland, so as it stands he will get in, but any rise when the weights are revealed on Wednesday 28th February would mean he will miss out. Now seems an ideal time to back Ted Walsh’s best chance of a festival winner, as the current price will surely go if the handicapper honors his Irish rating. This is definitely a bet where the Non-Runner No Bet concession is worthwhile using.
Any Second Now to Win the Close Brothers Noivces’ Handicap Chase @ 12/1 NRNB
Update: Any Second Now has made it into the Close Brothers and it is now full steam ahead to Cheltenham!