The Fred Winter is normally run at a frenetic gallop in what can often be an untidy looking race. Paul Nicholls and Gordon Elliot have dominated proceedings in recent seasons and the latter holds a strong hand this year with the Paul Nicholls fancy, Friend Or Foe, missing out at the weights.
In recent runnings, low weights and big price winners have been commonplace and with so many unexposed horses that’s generally a good mentality to have in this.
However, the current jolly BAND OF OUTLAWS looked like he could be a really promising animal as he claimed success over two miles at Naas back in early February with plenty in hand and he is a worthy favourite on that evidence. That may not be the strongest form and he may have been suited by the relatively slow place in that six runner affair as it turned into a sprint and Band Of Outlaws has got plenty of speed.
He also has plenty of form on softer going and he could ultimately be a graded horse running in a handicap here.
The Fred Winter will surely be run differently with a stronger emphasis on stamina and he will have to defy a mark of 139, which is higher than the norm for this event, but he could still be hugely unexposed and there’s a fair chance that he’s still ahead of the handicapper.
Lethal Steps is fancied in this, but is plenty short enough based on what he has produced to date and although he has got potential based on his flat performances, I’d be minded to take a chance on STAR MAX. The selection was just a length down on Lethal Steps when finishing behind Konitho in a maiden hurdle over at Naas two starts ago.
That was just Star Max’s second start over hurdles and he absolutely clobbered a couple of hurdles on his way round (including the last) making it an even more remarkable effort to finish as close as he did and at nearly twice the odds of Lethal Steps at 16/1, he looks overpriced in this.
A mark of 131 is the perfect rating for a winner of the Fred Winter and there was plenty to like about how well he got up to beat Future Proof (previously behind Band Of Outlaws by half a length) in a hurdle race on soft ground at Gowran Park.
He gets 8lbs from the favourite here and this smart flat performer could be really suited by the nature of a race such as the Fred Winter and is taken to outrun his odds at 16/1.
1pt each-way Band Of Outlaws @7/1, 16:50 Cheltenham, Wednesday (1,2,3,4,5 places, 1/5 odds with various bookmakers)
1pt each-way Star Max @16/1, 16:50 Cheltenham, Wednesday (1,2,3,4,5 places, 1/5 odds with various bookmakers)