2m4½f Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – Thursday 12th March 2020
The Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Stable Plate for short!) is run over two-and-a-half miles on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. The race takes place on the New Course, and is open to Horses aged five-years-old or over – providing that they have had at least three runs over Fences. Whilst the Stable Plate is a Handicap, there is no ceiling – which has allowed Horses with ratings as high as 158 to run over the past ten renewals. With the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase run over the same course and distance just over an hour prior, the race is aimed at Horses who are just below this level – and now also provides an opportunity for Horses who can’t get into the ever-competitive Northern Trust Novices’ Handicap Chase on Day 1 of the Festival. For many years this race had been considered a ‘British banker’ in terms of the Prestbury Cup, but the Irish have made a strong resurgence in recent times.
Before looking at trends, it is worth noting the Handicap marks which have been required to get a Horse into the race over the past ten renewals. I’ve also listed the top weight and winner’s rating for reference.
The average rating needed to get a run in the Stable Plate since 2010 is 133 (rounded), but this has been steadily increasing in recent years – with that Handicap mark only getting a run once in the last five renewals. The top weight has been consistently high over the past ten renewals, with an average rating of 155. Much like the bottom weight, the Winner’s rating averages at 139 over the past ten races, but hasn’t been lower than 140 since 2015 – showing a steady increase. I believe this trend of higher-rated Horses winning the Stable Plate could be set to continue, especially as Horses who miss the cut for the Novices’ Handicap Chase over 2m4f will be rated 146+, where as previously they were only rated 141+.
David Pipe is the most successful Stable Plate trainer since 2010, with three victories (Great Endeavour 2010, Salut Flo 2012 and Ballynagour 2014). British trainers held a monopoly on this race for an extremely long time between 1983-2015, but Irish trainers have started to turn the tide – winning three of the last four renewals.
Tom Scudamore has recorded two victories in the race for his boss David Pipe since 2010, with Bryan Cooper also winning twice (Empire Of Dirt 2016 and Road To Respect 2017).
Horses aged six or nine have the best Stable Plate record over the past ten runnings, with three victories apiece. Three Novice Chasers have won the race since 2010 (including two of the last three winners), and when you extend that to first or second season Chasers you find seven of the last ten gold medalists. Only the three Irish Horses hadn’t ran at Cheltenham prior to their Stable Plate success (of the past ten winners).
My first selection for the Stable Plate is Shattered Love, who could be set to run in just her second ever Handicap. This Mare is no stranger to Cheltenham, having won the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase over the same course and distance in 2018, beating Terrefort by seven-lengths whilst also putting Horses such as Kemboy and Finian’s Oscar in their place. This was actually Shattered Love’s second Grade 1 success over Fences, having beaten Jury Duty in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown on her previous start. Connections persisted with this Mare at the highest level during her Novice campaign when finishing a length second to subsequent Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo in the 2m4f Grade 1 Novice Chase at Fairyhouse just two weeks later, and she rounded off her season when finishing a tired fifth in a three-mile Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival – a race she probably only ran in because Gordon Elliot was Chasing the Trainers title.
Shattered Love made her return to the track at Down Royal last season when finishing a length-and-a-half behind Snow Falcon in the 2m3½f Grade 2 for second season Chasers, running well with Monalee five-lengths behind in third. Shattered Love then followed that effort up with her strongest run since winning at Cheltenham, finishing a close second to Min in the 2m4f Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown. With so much good form over two-and-a-half miles under her belt, it was a surprise to me that Gordon Elliot wanted to make this talented Mare into a Gold Cup contender – and she prepared for her tilt at the blue ribbon event by running in the three-mile Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December 2018, finishing a disappointing last of the 10 finishers. Gordon Elliot sent this Mare straight for a wind operation after the run, which would turn out to be her last before Cheltenham – where she could only manage a ninth-place finish in the 2019 Gold Cup.
Shattered Love made her first start in Handicap company at the back-end of last year, joining Gordon Elliot’s brigade of runners in the Irish National at Fairyhouse. Realistically she had no chance in staying the 3m5f trip that day considering she wasn’t really seeing out three-miles prior, and this turned out to be the case when Davy Russell pulled her up before the 19th fence – but encouragingly connections did decide to run despite a Handicap mark of 154. Back down in trip to two-and-a-half miles this season, Shattered Love has looked much more comfortable; finishing fifth in the Grade 2 PWC Champion Chase at Gowran in October on yielding ground (which is as lively as she would want it!). Back to a softer surface at Clonmel in November, Shattered Love looked back to her old-self – bolting up in a Listed Mares Chase by 34 lengths. Although slightly disappointing when seventh behind Min in the John Durkan Memorial, a race she had ran so well in twelve months prior, Shattered Love was travelling strongly in second before making a bad mistake at the third-last, which quickly ended any chance she had. Connections have given this Daughter of Yeats a nice low-key preparation for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, running in the Tramore Grade 3 Savills Chase behind Al Boum Photo and Acapella Bourgeois on New Year’s Day – form which looks rock solid considering the second has since scored impressively in the Bobby Jo Chase last weekend. Shattered Love returned to her beloved Heavy ground at Gowran earlier this month when running in the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase, where she shaped with huge promise – finishing just two-and-a-quarter lengths behind Chris’s Dream.
Considering Shattered Love was running in the Gold Cup twelve months ago, it would be extremely interesting if she were to take her chance in the Stable Plate Handicap – especially as she has put in some nice performances this season. Despite these good efforts, this Mare finds herself with a rating of 151 – which is 3lbs lower than this time last year. Gordon Elliot won this race in 2018 with a similarly talented Horse in The Storyteller, and her owners Gigginstown House Stud have twice picked up the trophy in the last four renewals. Shattered Love is a nine-year-old so fits the winning-most age trend, and unlike previous Irish raiders she has ran at Cheltenham (and won!) before. One disadvantage in terms of trends is that she is a third-season Chaser, however this wouldn’t exactly be a concern considering it would be her first Handicap start over a trip she enjoys. Considering Shattered Love will be one of only a handful to have won over course and distance, she looks a cracking bet with the British Handicapper allowing her to run from her Irish mark. The NRNB concession does look worth taking however, as she currently also holds entries in the Ryanair, Ultima and Gold Cup.
Shattered Love 1.5pts EW (5 Places) @ 16/1 NRNB
My second selection for the Stable Plate is Good Boy Bobby, who has enjoyed a good season over Fences so far, but finds himself in the aforementioned position of being rated above the ceiling for the Novices’ Handicap Chase, yet probably slightly below the standard required in the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase. This Nigel Twiston-Davies Horse started his career over the larger obstacles at Carlisle in October when running in a hot Beginners Chase, where he took a keen hold under Sam Twiston-Davies. This fresh Horse jumped well for the most part though, leading the field along at a good gallop. Jumping the last in front, Good Boy Bobby stayed on gamely to the line when pressed by late challenger Brewin’Upastorm (150), but the Olly Murphy charge just about got up in a photo-finish. Considering that rival is well fancied for the Arkle, it shows just how well Good Boy Bobby ran in defeat. The Horses in behind that day have also since boosted the form, with Midnight Shadow (155) fortunately winning the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase, and Global Citizen (156) winning the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase – albeit both Horses had excuses. Good Boy Bobby gained his Maiden success at Wetherby on his next start in November, with connections finding a weak Novices’ Chase. This Flemensfirth Gelding put in a nice Jumping performance that day to make all and score by a cosy two-lengths, despite the 1m7f trip hardly being the test he’d ideally want.
Connections stepped Good Boy Bobby up in trip for the first time over Fences at Cheltenham in December, when contesting a fairly strong looking Class 2 Novices’ Chase. Good Boy Bobby carried a 5lbs penalty that day due to his Wetherby victory, but he ran very encouragingly from the front – despite strangely jumping right at a few Fences. Away from these minor blemishes, Good Boy Bobby once more put in a bold effort from the front and was only headed on the run-in by Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher (153). This subsequent Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase winner at Doncaster was of course getting weight from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Horse that day, but is now well fancied for the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival – so it highlights just how well Good Boy Bobby ran. A further positive to this run at Cheltenham is that it was ran over the same course and distance as the Stable Plate, which is good experience for our selection to have under his belt.
Good Boy Bobby was last seen on the track when running in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown on the 1st February, in what on paper looked a very hot race. Whist Willie Mullins’ Irish raider Laurina flopped, there were still some top-class English opposition in attendance. Going from the front as usual, Sam Twiston-Davies had his mount in a share of the lead right up until the last flight in Sandown’s back straight, where a sticky jump allowed Grand Sancy to press on. To Good Boy Bobby’s credit he stuck to his task well to jump the second last with the leaders, but he seemed to tire on the long run in, and a mistake at the last confined him to a fifth place finish. Although on paper that doesn’t sound like a great result, impressive winner Itchy Feet (155) is another Horse who is well fancied in the Marsh Novices’ Chase. It’s also worth noting that with Champagne Platinum (138) plucking on for third place, it paid to be held up in the race – with leaders Grand Sancy (149) and Good Boy Bobby finishing close together in fourth and fifth, perhaps paying for the gallop they set. Additionally, that Paul Nicholls Horse is the latest to give the form a boost, winning easily at Fontwell.
Although Good Boy Bobby might not yet be up to Grade 1 level, the Handicapper has ensured that he cannot sneak into the Northern Trust Novices’ Handicap Chase by keeping his mark of 146 unchanged after Sandown. In terms of trends this seven-year-old fits into the second winning-most age category, and He is of course a Novice Chaser – a division which has landed two of the last three Stable Plates. Like seven of the last ten winners Good Boy Bobby has already had a run at Prestbury Park, and his current Handicap rating would look extremely attractive if Brewin’Upastorm and/or Mister Fisher run well in their Grade 1 assignments beforehand. Although he will need to bounce back from a fairly disappointing run at Sandown, Good Boy Bobby will have had 40 days to freshen up in his bid for Festival glory. As he is still entered in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, it’s a no brainer to take the NRNB price available should connections decide to pass up this good Handicap opportunity.
Good Boy Bobby 1pt EW (5 Places) @ 20/1 NRNB [NON-RUNNER]
Word of warning: Dan Skelton has hinted that Spiritofthegames could drop back in trip to contest the two-mile Grand Annual Handicap Chase, which would make sense considering the Skelton’s already have Oldgrangewood for this race. Imperial Aura and Deyrann De Carjac are set to run in the Novices’ Handicap Chase, which is also first preference for Champagne Platinum (if he gets in). Death Duty is set to skip Cheltenham this season.
Good luck! – Jake Price