Whilst the thoughts of many may be turning to finalising those Cheltenham Festival punting plans by the time we reach late February, we perhaps shouldn’t be focusing solely on the March showpiece just yet.
There’s still a whole host of high-quality action between now and then, including an excellent card at Kempton Park. Won by the likes of Grand National hero Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, and the great Desert Orchid, it is this valuable staying handicap chase contest which takes centre stage.
Next Race: Saturday, 27th February 2021
The next race is scheduled to run on 27th February 2021. The race info, trends and tips shown below will be updated for the next renewal once the final declarations have been made.
Last Run: 22nd February 2020
- Winner: Mister Malarky
- SP: 9/1
- Trainer: Colin Tizzard
- Jockey: Jonjo O'Neill Jnr
A rather testing distance of three miles faces the runners for this Grade 3 Handicap Chase contest at Kempton, which offers £100,000 in guaranteed prize money. The ground at the track is currently described as soft, with enough rain in the forecast to suggest this will remain the case come race day.
|Going||Distance||Grade||Prize Money||Runners||EW Terms|
|Soft||3m||Grade 3||£100,000||14 Runners||1/4 1-3|
Close Brothers Handicap Chase Betting Tips
Note: The following tips are from 2020. Tips for the next renewal will be added once the final declarations have been made.
Amongst current handlers it is Philip Hobbs who boasts the best record in this race with four wins in total. That offers little help for trends fans though as Hobbs, a little surprisingly, doesn’t have an entry for the race in 2020. Of the trainers who are on show, it is multiple champion Paul Nicholls who boasts the best record. Previously successful with Gungadu (2008) and Rocky Creek (2015), Nicholls looks set to send a four-pronged attack into battle this time around, headed by current market leader Adrien Du Pont.
Open to all chasers aged five years and older the race has been landed by runners as old as 12 in the past. Recent evidence would suggest it is the middle band of contenders who are the ones to focus on though, with nine of the past 10 renewals falling to a runner between seven and nine years of age.
Not a great race for favourite backers in recent times this one. Pretty terrible in fact, with not one winning market leader in the past 10 years. Those towards the head of the weights have also tended to struggle, with just two of the past 10 to come home in front having been saddled with more than 11st5lb on the day.
ADRIEN DU PONT (5/1)
Heading the betting this year is the aforementioned Adrien Du Pont from the Paul Nicholls operation. The claims of this one pretty much speak for themselves if judged on his third place finish in this event 12 months ago. Doing all his best work late to go down by five lengths that day, the soft ground ahead of this year’s renewal may well bring him closer, as will the fact that he gets in off a six pound lower mark this time around.
On the downside, he hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees in his first two starts this season – his first runs since a wind op – but he has taken a couple of outings to come to hand in the past and looks a major threat to all for his top yard.
BLACK CORTON (8/1)
Also going for Nicholls is this year’s top weight: Black Corton. The general consensus is that this one is a little bit off the real top-notchers, but already a dual Grade 2 and Grade 1 Novice winner, he isn’t too far off, and certainly can’t be ruled out in handicap company running off a mark of 159.
Career form figures of 1212 at this track also make for encouraging reading – with one of those wins representing his Grade 1 triumph in the 2017 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. Best of the rest in a Grade 2 turned into a procession by Native River at Aintree two starts back, he again ran a solid race when fourth place in a similar contest to this at Ascot last time out, and is two pounds lower in the handicap here.
MISTER MALARKY (16/1)
One of the most eye-catching contenders in this year’s line-up is the Colin Tizzard-trained Mister Malarky. A winner of three of his six starts over fences last season, this one made it to the very top table to finish fourth in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. True he was beaten by 18½ lengths that day, but when we consider the three to finish in front of him were Delta Work, Santini and Topofthegame, that run doesn’t look too bad at all. Winning a handicap off a mark of 147 certainly appears to be a more realistic assignment than seeing off that trio of Gold Cup contenders off level weights.
This season’s form will however need improving upon. Beaten out of sight on his comeback at Ascot, he then posted a most encouraging effort to finish sixth in the hugely competitive Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury, only to then be pulled up back at Ascot last time out. Clearly we need to forgive him that latest effort, but it did come back in December, and now arriving here on the back of a break he looks well worth chancing at an each way price.
Another not to be dismissed is the Henry Daly trained eight year old, Whatmore. Four times a winner over the smaller obstacles, when reaching a mark of 142, he gets in off 138 here but has shown enough in four starts over fences to suggest he may well be able to improve upon that rating.
A 22-length winner on chase debut last term, when only really needing to get around to win in all honesty, he then ran an encouraging race when a staying on third at Huntingdon in his first start of the current campaign. His effort last time out at Warwick also caught the eye, for all that he was beaten by 13½ lengths, he did well to finish even that close having been hampered and having suffered serious interference on the turn for home. One of the least exposed runners in the line-up, he’s not without a shout.
Close Brothers Handicap Chase Winners
|2020||Mister Malarky||9/1||Colin Tizzard||Jonjo O'Neill Jnr|
|2019||Walt||14/1||Neil Mulholland||Sam Twiston-Davies|
|2018||Master Dee||8/1||Fergal O’Brien||Barry Geraghty|
|2017||Pilgrim’s Bay||25/1||Neil Mulholland||James Best|
|2016||Theatre Guide||6/1||Colin Tizzard||Paddy Brennan|
|2015||Rocky Creek||8/1||Paul Nicholls||Sam Twiston-Davies|
|2014||Bally Legend||28/1||Caroline Keevil||Ian Popham|
|2013||Opening Batsman||12/1||Harry Fry||Noel Fehily|
|2012||Nacarat||9/2||Tom George||Paddy Brennan|
|2011||Quinz||8/1||Philip Hobbs||Richard Johnson|
About the Close Brothers Handicap Chase: Springboard to Biggest Handicaps
The Close Brothers Handicap Chase has been an important part of the jumps racing calendar ever since its introduction to the schedule in 1949. Trainers use it to ready their horses for some even bigger handicaps to come but it carries a healthy prize fund in its own and is a tough race to win.
1988 the Turning Point
The history of the Close Brothers Handicap Chase can basically be thought of in two distinct halves. The first half regards the first 40 years of the event. This three mile chase always attracted some quality horses to Kempton Park but it wasn’t until 1988 that the contest really caught the attention of the wider racing public.
The 1988 renewal was the first time the race was run under its new name of the Racing Post Chase. The new sponsor brought a big boost to the prize fund of the contest which, in turn, attracted entries from the more powerful yards.
It was known as the Racing Post Chase all the way through to 2011 when rival paper, Racing Plus, took over sponsorship duties. That partnership was short lived and the race was subsequently sponsored by BetBright, Betdaq, 888sport, Betway and, as of 2021, the banking firm Close Brothers.
Along the way, the growing stature of the race saw it promoted to the Grade 3 level. The main draw for the Close Brothers Handicap Chase is its place in the schedule, towards the end of February. That makes it the perfect race for trainers who want to get one more significant test in the legs of their horses before the Cheltenham Festival. It has also been used as a warm up for the Grand National with Rhyme ‘n’ Reason and Rough Quest winning both this race and the big one at Aintree in 1988 and 1996 respectively.
Close Brothers Handicap Chase Records
Philip Hobbs is one trainer who understands the importance of the Close Brothers Handicap Chase. He regularly sends quality competitors to Kempton and nobody has trained more than his tally of four winners (as of the 2020 renewal). Peter Cazalet was the first trainer to reach four winners though when Different Class won in 1968.
Richard Johnson broke the record for wins as a jockey in this contest with his fifth win in 2011. Johnson actually won the race three years in a row between 2000 and 2002, a feat which had previously been achieved by Richard Pitman between 1972 and 1974.
Close Brothers Handicap Chase Hat-Trick Winning Jockeys
|Richard Johnson||Richard Pitman|
|2002||Gunther McBride||Philip Hobbs||1974||Pendil||Fred Winter|
|2001||Young Spartacus||Henry Daly||1973||Pendil||Fred Winter|
|2000||Gloria Victis||Martin Pipe||1972||Crisp||Fred Winter|
The second and third of Pitman’s consecutive wins came on board Pendil, one of just three horses to have won the Close Brothers Handicap Chase twice alongside Docklands Express (1991 and 1992) and Nacarat (2009 and 2012).
Trends to Keep in Mind
Examining the history of the Close Brothers Handicap Chase throws up a number of trends to consider when trying to profile a winner of future editions. The first thing that stands out is that this is not a race for horses who come in cold. It is rare for a winner to have less than three previous wins in that season. It is also rare for this to be a horse’s first win over fences. Indeed, a certain amount of experience is vital so it is no surprise that 13 of the 14 winners between 2007 and 2020 were aged between seven and nine years.
Previous winning form at Kempton is important if not vital but it is essential to only support horses who have at least attempted three miles before. The ground at Kempton can often be quite tacky in February so a certain amount of stamina is required alongside solid jumping ability. As for the odds, winners can come from pretty much any part of the market even if winning favourites are something of a rarity.