TWO years ago Alan King pulled off an astonishing training performance by producing BENSALEM to win the Festival Handicap Chase. This was a horse who eight months earlier was at death’s door. He was struck down by a near-fatal illness after travelling to Ireland to spend the summer with owner John Duggan.
Few thought he would survive, never mind race again. And the thought of winning a competitive Cheltenham Festival handicap a few months later was laughable. But he did, and history could be about to repeat itself…
After being nursed back to health in 2010 and 2011, Bensalem eventually returned to the track in the Cleeve Hurdle, finishing a promising fifth, before running another solid race over hurdles at Haydock. His chasing mark had slipped to 143 and King opted for the Festival Handicap Chase where he edged out Carole’s Legacy in a thrilling finish. The previous year, when just a novice, Bensalem fell at the second last when cruising in the same race.
After winning at the Festival, Bensalem picked up a leg injury in his next race at Aintree in April 2011. He has since been given plenty of time to recover but this tough and extremely talented horse is on the way back again.
I thought that looking at the ante-post market for this year’s Festival Handicap Chase would be futile: the entries are not even out yet. But one horse stood out: Bensalem at 20/1.
I’ve got a feeling that history could be about to repeat itself this year. Bensalem is entered in this weekend’s Cleeve and being a big horse will inevitably need the run. But his absence has meant his chasing mark has dropped to 145, just 2lb higher than when he won at the Festival, and 8lb lower than his career-high mark. Wayne Hutchinson was recently bullish about his home work, so there is a strong chance that Bensalem will follow the route of two years ago: two runs over hurdles (to get him fit and protect his chasing mark) and then the Festival Handicap Chase.
Dabbling ante-post has its inevitable pitfalls and Bensalem may be targeted elsewhere (he is also in the World Hurdle), but I’ve taken the best price 20/1 with StanJames.com
For the latest Festival Handicap Chase market please click here