In the latest of GG’s Cheltenham Festival previews, Rory Delargy (@helynsar) analyses the main contenders in the Ultima Chase and gives us his latest Cheltenham tips
Cracking Cheltenham Festival Handicaps with just a long list of entries and no official weights is a pretty thankless task, and leaves one reliant on previous runnings to garner clues with which to form some kind of shortlist.
The Ultima Handicap Chase, or the Festival Trophy to give it its current formal title, is a race in which lightly-raced chasers have tended to do well, and a couple of winners have come from the slightly unusual route of the Cleeve Hurdle. That won’t be repeated this year, but trainers will be keen to protect a lenient mark, and horses who have been campaigned sparingly, including with recent runs over hurdles, are of particular interest.
It’s often remarked as a significant factor that, given this is essentially a run-of-the-mill three-mile handicap chase, the vast majority of winners had already run (although hadn’t necessarily won) at a previous Cheltenham Festival. Unfortunately, the majority of runners fit that bill, and it’s not an easy one to take advantage of.
One factor which does tend to produce a profit is backing last-time-out winners, and this is largely due to the difficulty of qualifying for Festival handicaps, with trainers of unexposed horses finessing their marks with wins in lesser races when once upon a time they might have been looking to bring horses back to form on the big day.
In terms of trainers, there have been a wide array of winners, but some target this more assiduously than others, and while Jonjo O’Neill has a good record, Paul Nicholls has fared poorly, including with the much touted Give Me A Copper last year.
Irish stables often have a fair number of entries, but with the best amateur jockeys on call, the plotted-up stayers tend to end up in the Kim Muir instead, and the only Irish-trained winner of this in living memory, Dun Doire, was the subject of a scarcely believable ride by Ruby Walsh.
With some of the above in mind, I’ve cast my eye over the unweighted runners, and the horse who makes most appeal on balance is recent Sandown winner DEISE ABA, who has had just the four starts over fences and showed improved form to beat Cloudy Glen and Le Rocher in the Betway Masters Handicap Chase last time, coping well with Sandown’s demanding fences, and coming home strongly.
The gelding, the winner of a 5-y-o point for Kieran Purcell before joining Philip Hobbs, is also entered in the Kim Muir, but it will be a surprise if he doesn’t make the numbers for this supposedly stronger event, and his current mark of 142 looks both justified, and one he is surely capable of building upon.
Another to consider for a yard (given a little poetic licence) which has won this recently is ERICK LE ROUGE. The son of Gentlewave, who is trained by Jane Williams has a fair bit in common with 2018 winner Coo Star Sivola – trained by Jane’s husband Nick and ridden by daughter Lizzie, and while he’s unproven at beyond 2m5f, this is his only entry at the Festival, and that suggests it’s been a long-term plan.
The difficulty in backing him now is that he is due to run in the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase on Saturday, and it seems prudent to wait until he runs there before getting involved, as the handicapper would be entitled to revise his mark. Should he, or anything else win after Sunday, then a mandatory 5lb penalty would be the result.
Rory Delargy’s Best Bet
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