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Cheltenham Festival handicaps: Our winners and losers

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The weights for the nine Cheltenham Festival handicaps were announced on Wednesday as the countdown to the “greatest show on turf” continues to gather pace.

Presented with the difficult job of evaluating contenders from the UK and Ireland, assessors on both sides of the Irish Sea have worked together, and leading UK handicapper Martin Greenwood said: “The pressure is on at Cheltenham and Aintree, and we’re hoping for another 5-4 at Cheltenham.

“There was a 7-2 to Ireland three years ago. As a handicapping team, both us and the Irish guys, if we can get a 5-4 either way we’re probably going to breathe easier.”

Here, we look at some of the runners whose connections will feel they have either been treated well or less favourably.

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Winners

Milan Tino (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle)

Weight: 10st 13lb Mark: 126

Among the big news stories in the handicaps is Milan Tino, the four-year-old trained in France by Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm, being given a mark of 126 – 10lb lower than his French rating – ahead of a possible tilt at the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

His owner, JP McManus, will be bidding for a third win in four years in the contest for  four-year-olds. Milan Tino was 11 lengths behind Triumph Hurdle favourite Sir Gino at Cheltenham on Trials Day last month and connections aren’t keen on a rematch with that apparent bullet.

He was also third behind another smart, inexperienced hurdler in Burdett Road at Cheltenham in November, so his experience of the track could be very useful. Connections will surely fancy his chances off this rating.

Odds: 8/1 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle with BetMGM

The Goffer (Ultima Handicap Chase)

Weight: 11st 2lb Mark: 144

It’s fair to say Davy Russell wasn’t his usual brilliant self at Cheltenham last March. He appeared a little off and left an unhappy man – but mercifully got the send-off his career merited at Aintree.

He was on The Goffer as they finished fourth in the Ultima, with Grand National winner Corach Rambler and dual Grade 1-winning Fastorslow among those who finished ahead of him.

“He hit the front a mile too soon and I thought he was a bit unlucky,” was trainer Gordon Elliott’s assessment of that effort as he considered a 5lb lower rating for a second assault on the contest.

He is still just seven years old and, as he did last year, won his final prep race in Ireland (albeit in a charity contest this time) and could have another big run in the first of the Festival handicaps.

Odds: 10/1 Ultima Handicap Chase with BetMGM

Cuthbert Dibble (Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle)

Weight: 11st 1lb Mark: 139

Cuthbert Dibble is 2-2 this season and could be a leading contender to get locally based trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies on the Cheltenham scoresheet.

His form has come with cut in the ground and he has looked an improving sort in wins this spring at Chepstow (2m 3½f) and Haydock (3m ½f). He holds entries in the Coral Cup, the Pertemps Final and the Martin Pipe.

The 2m 5f Coral Cup could be perfect and would allow Sam Twiston-Davies to come into contention for the ride. After the horse’s comeback win at Chepstow, he said: “I’d have said I’d be incredibly disappointed if he was beaten, because we’d rate him far better than a mark of 125 in the yard.”

Odds: 20/1 Coral Cup with BetMGM

Loser

Maskada (Grand Annual Handicap Chase)

Weight: 11st 8Ib Mark: 150

Last year’s winner, Maskada, will have to defy an 8lb higher mark if she is going to repeat her Grand Annual success. She is 0-3 in Ireland this season, having run in graded/Listed races that include a third-place finish behind Champion Chase favourite El Fabiolo at Cork in November.

Her display in beating Dinoblue here last March was a good effort, franked afterwards by the second, who is clear favourite for the Mares’ Chase this year.

Maskada’s trainer Henry de Bromhead has a terrific record in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and, given this rating of 150, it could well be that he aims her there to try and pick up some pieces instead. She might be interesting given a three-figure price is widely available.

Odds: 20/1 Grand Annual with BetMGM; 100/1 Champion Chase with BetMGM

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