Handicapper's headache: De Plotting Shed could have tools hidden away
Leading Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase fancy De Plotting Shed has been nominated by the BHA handicapping team as their highest-profile 'headache horse'.
Gordon Elliott's eight-year-old, who is also entered for the Ultima, the Brown Advisory and two of the Grade 1 novices, is a top-priced 8-1 chance for the race that is anticipated to be his festival target and, after consultation with the Irish handicapper Andrew Shaw, he has been left on his last published Irish mark.
He will race therefore off 143, which is 2lb lower than the Close Brothers' new ceiling mark, yet he has a much higher rating over hurdles and the handicappers admit he could have got in lightly.
The BHA's Mark Olley said: "De Plotting Shed was definitely a hard one. He was a 150-rated hurdler, fourth in Punchestown's Stayers' Hurdle on decent ground, and all four of his chases have been on soft or heavy ground, the last two of them at around two miles.
"I just think that back up to two and a half miles and on better ground we will see a different horse to the one we've seen trailing around over two miles in the mud."
Another potentially tricky one for the team was the Willie Mullins-trained Patricks Park, a good recent winner at Leopardstown on just his second start for the stable. His mark of 135 is 2lb higher than that most recently published in Ireland and would look very attractive if Mullins found even half the improvement he has found this season in other new arrivals like Total Recall.
However, it does not guarantee him a run, with his best chances lying in the Brown Advisory and the Grand Annual.
Soon-to-retire senior handicapper Phil Smith said: "I should think Willie Mullins would be happier if he was on 137, rather than 135, because he's going to be on the cusp. It's difficult to know how much improvement there might be in a horse like that, but we can only handicap what we see – we can't factor in improvement."
Looking at the bigger picture, Smith pointed out that the testing ground upon which so many handicap marks are based this season is unlikely to prevail in a fortnight's time and punters need to be prepared for shocks.
He said: "The ground has been awful for the last two or three months and countless horses are going to be considerably better on the ground we usually get at the festival. Also, because of the bad ground we've seen so much of, horses haven't raced as much as usual, and so we've had less evidence to go on."
Members can read the latest exclusive interviews, news analysis and comment available from 6pm daily on racingpost.com