Cheltenham Festival: Grand Annual Chase Betting Tips

The Grand Annual is the oldest race at the Cheltenham Festival and it is often the most frantic of action.

A big field of two-mile chasers can often turn into an effective elimination race, with one mistake often enough to put a horse too far back to challenge.

It is a race for bookies and enterprising punters. Only one favourite has obliged in the last decade, but more tellingly in the same period there have been winners returned at 66-1, 28-1, 22-1 and 16-1 twice.

You want to consider every runner in the Grand Annual Chase. Our expert has done just that and picked out three to consider in Wednesday’s contest which is set to go off at 4.50pm.

Selection: Libberty Hunter @ 6/1

This is a young, unexposed field for the Grand Annual and Libberty Hunter is the poster boy for that. In Premier handicaps over fences, a horse must run three times in chases to be eligible and Libberty Hunter has managed that many runs and no more.

He would be unbeaten had he not fallen three out on his debut over fences at Chepstow in November. He was travelling all over Mr Grey Sky at the time. He won on the bridle at Wincanton next time and beat Matata handily on the new course at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.

Libberty Hunter has been saved since and it is notable that there was only about five weeks between his chasing debut and beating a horse bound for the Arkle.

At that point, the only question was whether Libberty Hunter would go for this race or the Red Rum, which is the Aintree equivalent. His connections won the Red Rum with The Last Day.

However, they have chosen to exercise this horse's course form and come to Cheltenham.

Booking Harry Cobden, who will very likely become champion jockey next month if he avoids injury, is an obvious boon and Libberty Hunter deserves to be favourite.

Next Best: Unexpected Party @ 12/1

Dan Skelton has made his name as a big-race trainer by plotting horses expertly at the County Hurdle, the major two-mile handicap hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

It seems inevitable that he would crack the chasing version in due course and, with three of the 17 runners in this year's Grand Annual, he has given himself every chance.

Calico is talented and will enter calculations if the ground dries up a little. Frere D'Armes has slightly stronger claims, he has been shaping like a big performance waiting to happen back at two miles.

Well clear among Skelton's trio is the talented Unexpected Party, who looks made for a big handicap over a stiff two miles.

He started the season by winning a Listed novice at Chepstow from Knappers Hill, who landed a Grade 2 a few weeks later. Unexpected Party ran in the Paddy Power Gold Cup (fifth, when second favourite), had a couple of quick-fire runs back in graded novices and made a subdued return here on trials day.

Those familiar with how Skelton plots his way to Cheltenham will know to treat everything since the Paddy Power with caution.

What is more, Unexpected Party has always been more of a two-miler. He has dropped to an attractive mark, 8lb lower than the Paddy Power, and warrants respect on what is expected to be his big day.

Outsider to note: Solness @ 14/1

Trainer Joseph O'Brien is owed a bit of luck in the Grand Annual, having had the third in 2020 and the short-head second Entoucas the following year. In Solness he has a solid contender who can outrun fairly big odds.

This horse is only six but has amassed a fair amount of chasing experience. He has really picked it up since the start of the winter, winning a Listed handicap at Fairyhouse's big December meeting before placing at the Dublin Racing Festival.

In the most recent race, which came after a couple of months off, Solness charted a wide course but was able to lay up with Madara and Path D'Oroux, even coming back at them after the last. A stiffer finish at Cheltenham could well suit.

Solness is also easy to make the case for from a handicapping perspective.

He is 8b better off with Madara for finishing six and a half lengths behind (as a rule of thumb, one pound equals one length), and 4lb better off with Path D'Oroux for less than four lengths.

If this six-year-old takes another step forward then he is no outsider.

Take Time to Think | | 18+

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