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A change of course: how the festival rejig will impact the Grand Annual

Chosen Mate: landed the Grand Annual on the New course last year
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4.15 Cheltenham
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) | 2m | 5yo+ | ITV/RTV

Moving the Grand Annual to Wednesday from Friday has one major repercussion. The race will now be on the Old course, rather than the New.

What effect this might have is hard to sum up neatly. The primary difference between the two courses comes from near the top of the hill, where the Old ducks left while the New carries on for another 100 yards or so.

This makes the later turns on the Old course sharper in their nature and means that the second-last fence comes up extremely quickly after the final bend. However, as noted in Monday's study of Cheltenham pace biases, this does not significantly diminish the advantage prominent racers often hold over fences here. Both courses are roughly equal in that regard.

The nearest approximations to the Grand Annual now are the 2m handicap chases at the Showcase and November meetings. These occasionally provide fields well into the teens and are often run on good ground. The observed evidence from those races, for what it is worth, is that it takes less than 30 seconds to get from the final bend to the line and that those up front at the turn in rarely come back to the field.

The Grand Annual is arguably the kindest festival handicap for supposedly exposed horses. Seven of the last ten winners had nine or more runs over fences behind them and two of the exceptions, Chosen Mate and Alderwood, stood out to such an extent they were sent off 7-2 and 3-1 favourites. The unexposed are generally well found in the market, that group amounting to just a third of runners in recent years but accounting for well over half of the expected winners.

It is possible to have lots of experience and be laid out for a big Cheltenham handicap. That is most likely what has happened with On The Slopes, who has only run in the aforementioned autumn races and a jumpers' bumper this season. He was a progressive novice this time last year and could have been missed in the betting.
Keith Melrose, betting editor

What they say

Paul Nicholls, trainer of Duc Des Genievres & Ashutor
Duc Des Genievres is down in grade a little as he's been running in Grade 1s. It would be a massive plus to him if it was dry. Back in a handicap he must have a chance. I've had this race in mind for Ashutor for a while, albeit he's been a summer horse up to now. He's got a good profile but needs to improve.

Denise Foster, trainer of Chosen Mate & Or Jaune De Somoza
Chosen Mate did it all very nicely in this race last year. He’s struggled since, but he’s going nicely at home and Jordan’s [Gainford] claim is a big help. We haven’t seen the best of Or Jaune De Somoza yet. He appreciates genuinely good ground so I would love to see it dry out a bit for him.

Venetia Williams, trainer of Ibleo
It’s a competitive race, as you’d expect, and he’s got a competitive chance. I’d like to think he will put in a good run and any extra rain would be appreciated for him.

Sky Pirate (near) and Ibleo: reoppose in the Grand Annual

Jonjo O’Neill, trainer of Sky Pirate
He’s been a grand horse this season and we’ve been very pleased with him going into this race. He deserves to go for a race like this and be where he is in the market for it too. He does seem in good form with himself.

Tom George, trainer of Bun Doran
He was placed in the Champion Chase last season, but he’s not quite up to that level so we’re dropping into a handicap this time. He likes the track, he’s got Cheltenham form and he’s had a nice preparation so we’re looking forward to it. 

Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Us And Then, Embittered & Entoucas
Entoucas ran well at the Dublin Racing Festival and the better ground here will suit him well. I could see him running a nice race. Embittered is dropping in class and the better the ground the better his chance. Us And Them has been disappointing this season, but if he came back to some of his previous festival form he would have to have a chance.

Nick Williams, trainer of Moonlighter
I think he can improve and going left handed is a positive for him. His overall profile is not brilliant in terms of the number of times he has unseated or fallen. But when he gets it right, he takes some catching.

Dan Skelton: runs Amoola Gold and Not That Fuisse in the Grand Annual

Dan Skelton, trainer of Amoola Gold & Not That Fuisse
I think for both of them it's a bit of a shame it's moved on to this track. They both want a really strongly run race. Amoola Gold has  loads of experience and can turn up late. I think he compares equally to a lot in this race. Not That Fuisse is a very strong-travelling horse. He won a jumpers' bumper very easily and this has always been the intention. He wasn't beaten that far in the Haldon Gold Cup and has had his wind done since, which gives me reason for optimism.

Philip Hobbs, trainer of Zanza
He was going very well when he fell at Cheltenham back in the autumn. He's normally been a good jumper so hopefully he'd have a decent each-way chance — especially if it dries up a bit.

Charlie Longsdon, trainer of Western Miller
He finished second at the October meeting and he stays on at this trip. We've kept him nice and fresh for this. As long as he's not run off his feet then he'll be staying on up the hill.

Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Capuccimix
He’s been in terrific form since he’s got here and I couldn’t be happier with him. It’s as competitive as ever, but hopefully he will run well.
Reporting by Peter Scargill

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He’s been in terrific form since he’s got here and I couldn’t be happier with him
E.W. Terms