David Pipe: won Byrne Group Plate in 2012 with Salut FloPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Ballynagour well backed for Byrne Group Plate
THE gamble on Ballynagour gathered momentum on Wednesday as the weights were revealed for the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival.
David Pipe has the seven-year-old in six of the festival handicaps but punters have made up their minds where Ballynagour is going by backing him into 4-1 (from 5) with Bet365 for the Byrne Group Plate on March 14.
Ballynagour was available at 10-1 after last Friday's runaway Warwick win for a race Pipe won last year with hot favourite Salut Flo, who shares the same owner.
But standing in his way is Hunt Ball, last year's Pulteney Land Investments winner who is a general 7-1 chance for the Byrne Group Plate's 2m5f test.
Despite being raised 21lb to a mark of 143, Ballynagour remains attractively treated on 10st 7lb in the Byrne Group Plate, although if top-weight Wishfull Thinking takes up one of his other engagements the weights will go up at least 5lb. That would leave Hunt Ball to head the weights from a mark of 157, 15lb higher than last year.
Marc Olley, who handicaps the 2m4f chase division, said: "In my three or four years of handicapping jumpers I don't think I've ever put a horse up by as much as 21lb before. Only time will tell if 21lb was enough."
While Ballynagour would make the cut in any of his six possible targets, the festival handicaps all threaten to be oversubscribed and a fancied stablemate who will currently miss out is Katkeau, the shortest-priced among a huge entry Pipe has made in the conditional riders' handicap named after his father Martin.
Katkeau is as short as 10-1 for the race, which Pipe has yet to win, but despite being raised 3lb for his unlucky second at Kempton on Saturday handicapper Martin Greenwood is adamant he has "no chance of making the cut without a penalty."
The handicapping team were keen to point out that punters can expect some surprises if the ground continues to dry out, for a host of horses who excelled on goodish going at last year's meeting have now been reassessed, or assessed afresh if they are hurdlers who have been switched to chasing, on soft and heavy ground this winter.
Among them is Son Of Flicka, who landed a massive gamble in last year's Coral Cup and has the same race as his likeliest target once again. Greenwood pointed out that Donald McCain's nine-year-old is "now only 2lb higher than last year (having dropped back to 137 from 142) and better ground would show him in a better light."
Son Of Flicka was nibbled at in the markets on Wednesday and is now 16-1 almost across the board, any remaining 20-1 having been snapped up.