The Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase (Tuesday 15th, 2.40) over 3m1/2f is the big handicap chase of the Festival and has been a graveyard for favourite backers, with just two obliging in the past 30 years.
2010 Result: Chief Dan George, trained by James Moffatt and ridden by Paddy Aspell, SP 33/1
Just two winning jollys but winners tend to be fairly prominent in the betting and, looking further back over the past 38 years, all bar 10 winners were returned between 4/1 and 12/1.
Previous Festival form is a big factor and so is course form that season - seven of the last 12 winners had previously placed at worst at this meeting in the past, while former winners since 1973 had finished 1451152U3213F6 over the course at earlier meetings.
The golden rule when betting on Festival handicaps is to ignore those horses carrying 11st or more, and none more so than in this race. Unguided Missile made all under 11st 10lb in 1998 but, since then, the biggest weight carried to victory has been 11st 7lb and all of the last 10 winners carried no more than 10st 12lb, which doesn't bode well for the current favourite Bensalem (11st 2lb).
This used to be a bad race for novices but there have been three such winners in the last seven years (all well-backed), and Bensalem might well have enhanced that record further but for capsizing at the second-last 12 months ago. One thing's clear, if you fancy an older horse, forget it, as they are 0-34 since 1997.
Bensalem (5/1 general) is bidding to make amends for last year's mishap and is able to race off the same handicap mark. His jumping is a concern, though.
Sunnyhillboy has that precious Festival form in the bag, having finished second in last season's Byrne Group Plate when given too much to do. He's already performed creditably in both the Paddy Power and Vote AP Gold Cups this season and is capable of winning a race like this off his current mark.
Great Endeavour, winner of the Plate 12 months ago, has run two decent races here this season on ground that would have been slower than ideal. He may well improve for stepping up to 3m and wouldn't mind if the ground dried out.
Outside the front three in the betting, you can get 12/1 'the field' if you shop around and a case of sorts can be made for plenty. Given that a weight below 11st is ideal, there's a lot to like about last year's third Ogee, who would have finished closer but for a costly error two from home and has been trained with this race in mind. Even further down the weights, Adams Island could go well, if given the go ahead. He's been running consistently well all season and caught the eye behind Captain Chris recently. The combination of 3m on goodish ground looks ideal.
Some of the runners are still to be confirmed so make sure you are getting 'non-runner, no bet', or else wait until the day. Whatever you bet on, though, it could pay to place your bets with as they will refund your losing stake (win single bets and the win portion of each-way bets) if your horse finishes second.
There are some strong trends to emerge from this race and while they won't make horses fitting the bill run any faster, it's hard to ignore that this race tends to go to a well-fancied, lightly-weighted runner. Bensalem falls down on the weight score and, besides, it would be some training performance by Alan King to turn him into a Festival winner having not jumped a fence in public in the past year. At around 11/2, he's running for the bookmakers and looks a good lay to me. As for the winner, I'm not looking beyond SUNNYHILLBOY, who ticks all the boxes and it's never a bad thing having the trainer / jockey combo of Jonjo O'Neil and Tony McCoy on your side. He's 7/1 with Boylesports, who will refund losing stakes if he finishes second, so what are you waiting for?!