Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post: Kim Muir Handicap Chase

Madness ensued on Twitter yesterday after the BHA revealed Handicap marks of 12 Gordon Elliott Horses who had been entered at Musselburgh on the weekend, as one Horse in particular looked to be a complete Handicap blot for the Kim Muir. That rating has since been cleared up by the BHA Handicappers and will be revised slightly before Cheltenham, but the revision isn’t enough to stop Gordon Elliott from having an extremely good Horse line up in the Kim Muir. For those of you who don’t follow me on Telegram you unfortunately have missed the juicy price of 16/1 available on Tuesday (02/02/21) morning, but I also have a massive priced second selection for the race who boasts similar form lines – and he can still be backed at 33/1. Whatever the outcome of the race itself however, recent events have proven one thing; Cheltenham Festival Handicaps are way more fun when they have a ratings ceiling (e.g 0-145). I long for the day they bring back the Novices’ Handicap Chase!

DISCLAIMER: School Boy Hours was not entered for the Kim Muir.

School Boy Hours has certainly taken his time to get to grips with the National Hunt game, but this half-brother to one of my favourites in Finian’s Oscar (156) is another with a lovely profile for the Kim Muir.

This Noel Meade charge took 5 attempts to get off the mark over Hurdles, but he was very convincing in beating La Tektor (128) by 7 lengths once he did. Despite still being a Maiden over fences however he’s got some cracking form to his name, and during that time he has built up plenty of experience to win a Cheltenham Handicap like this. School Boy Hours made his chase debut over 2m4f at Gowran Park in November 2019, where he finished 3rd behind Laurina (154 Hurdler) and Minella Indo (165) – and he notably stayed on strongly that day. His next start saw him fall at the first fence, but it was his landing that was the problem rather than his jumping – as he just couldn’t find a leg on the landing side and had to let gravity take its course. No such issues followed at Fairyhouse on School Boy Hours’ next start in January last year however, where once more he ran a pretty eye-catching race; finishing 3rd behind recent Paddy Power winner Castlebawn West (160) and the useful yardstick Forza Milan (136) – who was receiving 7lbs on the day. On that occasion School Boy Hours even had 2020 Kim Muir winner Milan Native (147) 12 lengths behind him in 4th place, so once more it is a race working out well form wise.

That was the final time we saw School Boy Hours last season, but he made his reappearance at Punchestown in October 2020. As he didn’t win over fences last season he retains his Novice Status for this campaign, and he has made full use of that to run in three Beginners Chases so far this year. His first start saw him step up to 2m6½f for the first time over fences, where he ran a belter to finish 2 lengths behind Latest Exhibition (151 Hurdler) in 2nd place. The form of that race is looking brilliant considering the winner has since placed in Grade 1 company, but School Boy Hours also beat Opposites Attract (136), Run Wild Fred (140), Longhouse Poet (141) and Espanito Bello (146) that day in what was a really hot Maiden Chase. His second effort this season came back at Punchestown in November, but this time he dropped in trip to 2m3½f. That shorter distance certainly wasn’t going to play to his strengths considering the way he stayed on last time, and he was well beaten by Asterion Forlonge (154 Hurdler) in the end – but he did show signs he was really getting the hang of jumping fences, and once more closed the gap after the final flight to be beaten 16.75 lengths in 4th place – in a race which had Conflated (144) 2nd, recent Gowran winner Rebel Gold (140) 3rd, and the useful Braeside (133) 5th.

One of School Boy Hours most promising starts to date however came at Punchestown in December, when finally stepped up to the Kim Muir distance of 3m1½f. Looking like he might finally break his duck over fences, School Boy Hours jumped the second last upsides the eventual winner – who just found that bit more for pressure after the last. School Boy Hours ran a great race in defeat however, finishing just 3.5 lengths 2nd behind Eklat De Rire – who’s since boosted that form massively when beating Escaria Ten (145) by 1.75 lengths in that aforementioned Grade 3 Novice Chase at Naas on Sunday (31st Jan). If you take those two runs literally then on collateral form School Boy Hours doesn’t actually have that much to find with Escaria Ten, and considering he is currently only rated 135 in Ireland, you’d hope that he will be receiving some weight to help bridge that gap further.

Checking back with the trends then; School Boy Hours is an eight-year-old trained in Ireland, and recent winning Jockey Derek O’Connor could ride. School Boy Hours currently has an Irish rating of 135 (which the British Handicapper surely won’t be too harsh about), he is a second season Maiden over fences, and of course he is owned by JP McManus. School Boy Hours is another Horse who could easily run with first-time headgear on at the Cheltenham Festival.

DISCLAIMER: Since publishing this article, Escaria Ten has been raised to an Irish and BHA Handicap mark of 147, so he won’t be able to run in the Kim Muir anymore as it is a 0-145 Handicap.

Last season Escaria Ten proved himself to be a nice Horse as a Novice Hurdler, having won his P2P at Borris House before placing in a Bumper at Tipperary. It was his Hurdles debut that really highlighted him as a Horse with top class potential however, as he ran a huge race in a 2m4f Fairyhouse Maiden Hurdle; finishing 9.75 lengths 3rd behind Diol Ker (Now rated 151 over Hurdles), and only 2.75 lengths behind the 2nd placed Monkfish (152 Hurdler) – who of course has since gone on to win the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, and recently landed a Grade 1 over fences to boot. What made that Maiden Hurdle performance even more impressive however was the fact that the first 3 finished 72 lengths clear of the remainder, so clearly we are dealing with a very good animal in Escaria Ten.

Max McNeill went to £100,000 to secure Escaria Ten for Gordon Elliott following that run (as his previous owners dissolved their syndicate), and he made his debut in the McNeill Family colours 53 days later at Cork – winning a 3m Maiden Hurdle in very gritty fashion back to the now 136 rated Chaser Atlantic Shore. Escaria Ten then made a trip across the Irish to Ayr for his next start over timber, this time having to shoulder a 6lbs winners penalty in a 3m½f Novice Hurdle on Heavy ground. Once again showing just how well he stays, Escaria Ten was pressed at the last by Portstorm (128) – but once asked for his effort he fairly easily went on to open up a 2.5 length advantage come the line in a stamina ridden performance.

All these solid staying efforts would lead you to believe that Escaria Ten was worth changing in the Albert Bartlett come the Cheltenham Festival in March, but as he received an official rating of just 136 from the British Handicapper connections opted to head down the Handicap route instead, and sent him to the 2m4½f Martin Pipe. Predictably however things just happened all too quickly for him that day, as he was up with the leading pack right until they quickened at the foot of the hill – where he was fairly left behind in 15th place. Although well beaten in the end, I’d say you can easily put a line through the run considering it came over a distance far too short – but the experience of running at Cheltenham certainly won’t be lost on him.

This season Escaria Ten has really taken to fences, which is no surprise considering his P2P background. Making his debut in a 2m5f Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse in November, Escaria Ten once more was racing over the wrong trip but on this occasion faired a lot better when finishing in 5th place behind Monkfish. He was no match for the winner that day when beaten 15 lengths, but Escaria Ten moved right up into a share of second place before just getting caught for toe once more and dropping back to his finishing position of 5th approaching the final flight. That performance was no disaster on his first start of the season however as the front 5 pulled 40 lengths clear of the remainder, and the form of the race looks strong; Monkfish went on to win the 3m Grade 1 Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, Sams Profile (153) has since won the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle, and Diol Ker (151) finished 2nd in that same race. Stepped back up in trip to 3m1f at Thurles on the 20th December however, Escaria Ten showed just how good he is over fences – bolting up by 20 lengths from what is a fairly useful rival in Ministerforsport (135).

That impressive performance at Thurles meant connections stepped Escaria Ten up into Grade 3 company for his next start at Naas, where he ran in a competitive 3m1f Novice Chase. I was quite keen on Pencilfulloflead that day despite him having to carry an 8lbs penalty, but Eklat De Rire would be the winner when putting in a brilliant front running performance. Jumping well and pushing that rival all the way to the line however was Escaria Ten, who travelled into the race strongly but just couldn’t close the gap quick enough after the last – staying on strongly to only be beaten 1.75 lengths. That was a serious performance from Escaria Ten to get within 2 lengths of a likely RSA runner however, and stablemate Pencilfulloflead was well left behind in 3rd place. Although you do have to consider that Escaria Ten was receiving 8lbs from Pencilfulloflead, that rival had previously beaten Latest Exhibition in a Grade 2 before placing in a Grade 1 at Limerick, so in Handicapping terms many would’ve assumed that Escaria Ten had ran far too well to get into the Kim Muir anymore…

Those initial fears were quickly turned into cheers on Tuesday (02/02/21) morning however, as Escaria Ten was entered in the 0-150 Edinburgh National at Musselburgh, with Gordon Elliott wanting to see what official ratings the BHA would give a host of his Horses. After refreshing F5 for most of the morning, the news came through just after 11:30am that Escaria Ten had been given a BHA rating of 140 for his efforts to date – and I honestly couldn’t believe it. Twitter was blowing up and I put the selection up as quicky as I could, but then it dawned upon me that this published mark might not include his run at Naas on Sunday. After a quick exchange of emails with one of the BHA Handicappers however it became apparent that although the 140 figure didn’t include his Naas run, the Handicapper has since re-assessed to give him an official BHA rating of 145 – which DOES include that all important Naas run. Clearly he now doesn’t look like quite such a ‘good thing’ anymore, but his official BHA mark of 145 should not be beyond him – especially as I think Pencilfulloflead would be rated at least 155, and Eklat De Rire is another 150s Horse himself.

With a mark to get into the race in combination with a highly progressive Chaser, the 3m2f Kim Muir trip should be right up Escaria Ten’s street – and of course Gordon Elliott knows exactly what he is doing with these chasers having won the race last year with Milan Native, who was given a BHA rating of 141 prior to his victory. Gordon Elliott opted to put a 7lbs claimer on that Horse last season, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if connections simply turn to Jamie Codd this time around – as winning this Handicap off top weight should not be beyond his capabilities as a Chaser.

Below you will find some of the key trends for the Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase, starting off with the traditional previous winners table:

YearWinnerAgeWeightTrainerJockey
2020Milan Native (IRE)711-1Gordon ElliottMr R James (7)
2019Any Second Now (IRE)711-11T M WalshMr Derek O’Connor
2018Missed Approach (IRE)811-5Warren GreatrexMr N McParlan
2017Domesday Brook (USA)711-4Stuart EdmundsMiss Gina Andrews
2016Cause Of Causes (USA)811-9Gordon ElliottMr  J J Codd
2015The Package (GB)1211-4David PipeMr  J J Codd
2014Spring Heeled (IRE)711-8J H CullotyRobbie McNamara
2013Same Difference (IRE)711-0Nigel Twiston-DaviesRyan Hatch (7)
2012Sunnyhillboy (IRE)911-11Jonjo O’NeillMr A J Berry
2011Junior (GB)811-6David PipeMr  J J Codd
  • The mean average age of a Kim Muir winner since 2011 is 8. The most common age is 7 (5 times).
  • Ireland have taken home 4 of the last 7 renewals, but over the wider 10 year period British trained winners have the upper hand, with 6 victories.
  • Gordon Elliott is the only dual winner of the race in recent times.
  • Jamie Codd is the most successful Jockey over the last 10 renewals of the Kim Muir, with 3 victories to his name. Irish Amateurs rule supreme, with 7 wins over the same period.
  • 3 of the last 10 winners have been owned by JP McManus, and he’s also had 4 places in that time.
  • 5 of the last 10 winners were 2nd season Chasers, with two 1st season Novices winning the race and two 3rd season chasers winning the race.
  • 8 of the last 10 winners had raced at Cheltenham before going on to land the Kim Muir.
  • No Maiden Chaser had won the Kim Muir in the period studied until Any Second Now in 2019, with Milan Native then joining that club in 2020.
  • 9 of the last 10 winners wore some form of headgear.

Next I’ve got a table showing official Handicap ratings of the recent winners, as well as the bottom and top weight for reference:

YearWinnerOfficial Rating of WinnerOfficial Rating of Bottom WeightOfficial Rating of Top Weight
2020Milan Native (IRE)141135145
2019Any Second Now (IRE)143133144
2018Missed Approach (IRE)138119145
2017Domesday Brook (USA)137133145
2016Cause Of Causes (USA)142134145
2015The Package (GB)137130145
2014Spring Heeled (IRE)140131144
2013Same Difference (IRE)137129142
2012Sunnyhillboy (IRE)142126143
2011Junior (GB)134129140
Average*139.1129.9143.8

.

  • The average rating required to get into the race over the past 10 years is 130, with the average top weight being rated 144 (145 being the ceiling of the ratings band for this race).
  • The average rating of the winner is 139 over the same time period, but the past two years has seen winners rated 143 and 141 – mainly due to the Handicapper pushing up the Irish ratings more than in the past.

Looking at the checklist whilst reading through the trends; Escaria Ten is a seven-year-old trained by Gordon Elliott in Ireland, and the most successful recent Jockey in this race Jamie Codd could feasibly take the ride. Escaria Ten has an official BHA handicap rating of 145, is a first season Novice over fences, and of course he went to Cheltenham last year when running in the Martin Pipe. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that first-time headgear is used on him at the Cheltenham Festival either, but to be honest I don’t think he would even need it as he looks very straight forward.

With the entries not being out yet it is hard to pinpoint the exact rivals who will be turning up in the Kim Muir, but recent events have given us plenty of clues. Gordon Elliott’s Coko Beach was my main fancy for the race prior to his Thyestes Chase romp, but since then he’s been put up to an Irish mark of 150, and he’s had that assessment confirmed by the BHA when entered in the 0-150 Edinburgh National. Run Wild Fred and Roaring Bull were also given entries in that Musselburgh contest, and have both been given marks of 140 – so either can run in the Kim Muir (although I’m not sure Gordon Elliott will send more than 2 Horses for the race), but I just think Escaria Ten is a much classier Horse.

Looking at the remaining Horses who are prominent in the betting, I’d have Longhouse Poet (141) odds-against to be given a BHA rating of 145 or below – as he was rated 146 when running in the Ballymore last season, and his latest victory over fences saw him beat Run Wild Fred (140) by 1.5 lengths at Punchestown. Dickie Diver (142) is another one prominent in the market but Nicky Henderson has said they are aiming him at the National Hunt Chase, however Jerrysback (142) has seen some support recently. The Philip Hobbs charge is an interesting potential runner, but he’s been beaten 50 lengths on both starts at Cheltenham during his career, and despite putting in an eye-catching run on his return at Ascot in January you would want to see him run well again before the Festival. Former Triumph Hurdle winner Farclas simply won’t get into the race as he is already rated 143 in Ireland and his last BHA rating was 151 over Hurdles, and whilst Forza Milan (136) shouldn’t have such concerns, he is yet to truly convince over the 3m trip and was beaten 20 lengths by Escaria Ten at Naas.

Next in are two Henry de Bromhead charges; Plan Of Attack finished 4th in this race last season, and then there is Minella Times who plots a similar path to this race as his stablemate did 12 months ago. Plan Of Attack has been very disappointing subsequent to that decent effort at Prestbury Park last season, pulling up twice before finishing a well beaten 8th in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown. Minella Times however put in a much better effort in that same race – staying on strongly to finish 4.5 lengths back in 2nd place. That run might just prove to be too good for the Kim Muir however, as the winner Castlebawn West is now rated 160 in Ireland, with Minella Times already rated 140 across the Irish sea. If he runs well at the Dublin Racing Festival then there will be no chance of him getting in to this 0-145.

Escaria Ten might not be the complete Handicap blot that it first appeared on Tuesday (2nd Feb) morning, but even with his new official BHA rating of 145 he should have a great chance of winning the Kim Muir considering the class edge I believe he holds. This seven-year-old has bags of potential to improve further than 145, and there is every chance that (should they be allowed to ride at the Festival) top Amateur Jamie Codd takes the ride considering he won a P2P at Borris House on him, before then finishing 2nd in a Tipperary Bumper. Connections have all but confirmed that the Kim Muir is Escaria Ten’s target for Cheltenham, and Gordon Elliott is deadly at getting these Handicappers to peak on the day. It is obviously worth noting that we wouldn’t want any collateral form to cause his rating to rise however, so there is a bit of a nervous wait in that regard.  

If you’ve missed the price or want to have two stabs at the race however, than I think School Boy Hours is a good bet at a wild price, as his form links into Escaria Ten’s on a line through Eklat De Rire. The chance you are taking with this lad however is that there is no confirmation he will be aimed at the race, however I’m sure it will be on connections radar considering his general profile, his lenient Irish mark of 135, and the fact that JP McManus loves to have a live chance in the Kim Muir. I have heard that the Horse is in good form at home however, so there aren’t any current worries in regard to wellbeing.

Put up on Telegram 12:23 02/02/21

Good luck! – Jake Price

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