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As many as six of the 28 races contested at the Cheltenham Festival are handicaps, and the weights have been revealed for the 2024 edition.

For the uninitiated, a handicap is a lead weight applied to the horse’s saddle, with the higher-rated animals in the field carrying a heavier mark than those considered to be of a lower rank.

The idea is to create a level playing field, and while that isn’t always how handicap races play out, these renewals tend to be some of the most intriguing on the jumps and steeplechasing calendar.

A Weighty Issue

The release of the weights can have a significant impact on the racing betting too, with bettors seeking those horses that have been fairly treated by the handicapper.

One of the biggest Cheltenham Festival 2024 bets is a horse that has been dropped 10lb in the weights. Milan Tino races off a mark of 136 in his native France, but has been dropped to 126 by the British handicapper – his odds for the Boodles Handicap Hurdle have been cut to +800 as the public have moved to back J.P. McManus’ horse.

Although there’s been exceptions to the rule, as many as nine of the last 12 winners of the Boodles have carried a handicap between 10st 6lb and 11st 5lb – a bracket which Milan Tino comfortably finds himself within at 10st 13lb, despite a handy third to Sir Gino in a non-Festival race in January.

The ante-post favorite, Lark In The Mornin’, finds himself in that range too at 10st 9lb, although the second favorite will – just – have to do things the hard way: Batman Girac has been handed a 11st 6lb mark by the handicapper.

Another race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, the Ultima Handicap Chase, will be impacted by the weights carried by its declared field. However, a wide change in handicap hasn’t affected Corach Rambler – the 2023 Grand National winner has triumphed in the Ultima the last two years, carrying 10st 2lb and 11st 5lb respectively!

Tearing Up the History Books

An interesting scenario could unfold in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase, with the two early sportsbook favorites both carrying a heavier weight than their connections might have otherwise liked.

My Mate Mozzie and Saint Roi are considered the most likely horses to win the two-mile chase over fences, however they will carry 11st 8lb and 11st 10lb respectively – for context, nine of the last eleven winners in this particular race have carried between 10st 11lb and 11st 6lb.

The idea behind handicap racing is that the very best horses can overcome a tough handicap and outpace the field anyway – only time will tell if My Mate Mozzie and Saint Roi will fit the bill.

The fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival sees the prestigious County Handicap Hurdle contested, with the handicapper likely yet again to be a determining factor in their outcome.

With a relatively short distance of two miles and a furlong, this is a race in which speed over the hurdles really is of premium importance – hence why only one of the last six winners of the County Handicap Hurdle has carried over 11st 1lb. Will the favorite, Iberico Lord, be able to assert dominance while carrying 11st 1lb exactly?

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