Jumps Season - At The Races

Ultima Handicap Chase

    Cheltenham, Tuesday 14th March 2017.
  • Stats Guides

Last Year's Winner: Un Temps Pour Tout

Jockey:
T Scudamore
Trainer:
D Pipe
Age:
8
Weight:
11st 7lb
Starting Price:
11/1
Season Form Figures:
224
Previous Best:
1st - Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil (Grade 1), Auteuil (June 2013)

It had been threatening to happen for a while but the 143-barrier was finally breached three years ago. I am referring to the official BHA ratings of winners as prior to Holywell being successful off a handicap mark of 145 in 2014, the previous 14 winners were officially rated no higher than 143 entering the race.

This was not a massive surprise given that all four winners between 2009 and 2012 were rated 142 and 143 heading into the race and the last two winners also broke that barrier winning off 146 (The Druid’s Nephew) and 148 (Un Temps Pour Tout) so we can now consign that once-strong trend to the bin. I still have to draw the line at an official rating of 150 though as no winner has won off such a high mark since Scot Lane in 1983.

If you prefer the weights-carried angle in your effort to narrow the field down further, 12 of the last 16 winners carried less than 11st from approximately one-third of the total runners and two of the last five winners were successful off bottom weight.

What was once a mighty difficult race for novices who went 37 years without a winner up until Fork Lightning won in 2004, has been turned on its head having registered five successes in the last 13 runnings. Un Temps Pour Tout becoming the latest last season. If pressed, I would side with a novice having their first run in a handicap chase as was the case with the three most recent British-trained novices.

Jonjo O’Neill has trained three of the last eight winners of which Wichita Lineman and Alfie Sherrin won in the colours of J P McManus, whose silks were also carried to victory in the 2003 running with the Irish-trained Youlneverwalkalone. O’Neill also went close on three more occasions with second-place finishes for Keen Leader, Carbury Cross and Holywell since 2002 so this is clearly a handicap that he likes to target.

David Pipe loves the Festival handicaps and in addition to Un Temps Pour Tout he won with An Accordion as well The Package placing on three occasions. Nicky Henderson may not have saddled the winner since Marlborough in 2000 but a winner and six places from 18 runners in the last 15 runnings is consistent going.

What was once a mighty difficult race for novices who went 37 years without a winner up until Fork Lightning won in 2004, has been turned on its head having registered five successes in the last 13 runnings.

Alan King is another trainer who likes to target this race. His record of two winners and a close-up third since 2003 catches the eye and Bensalem also looked the probable winner six years ago but for his late fall. Take special note if King runs a novice. Paul Nicholls, however is 0-18.

As for the Irish, they supplied the second and third two years ago in a race they haven’t really gone after in a big way down the years. When they have sent over fancied runners, however, it has paid to take note as we saw in 2014. When Youlneverwalkalone was ending their 38-year drought in 2003 he was sent off 7/1 third-favourite and Dun Doire won at the same odds three years later having been sent off second-favourite.

A quality piece of previous Cheltenham Festival form is a notable positive and three years ago Holywell became the third horse in relatively recent years to add a handicap chase victory at this meeting to a handicap hurdle win following Idole First (Coral Cup and Plate) and Alderwood (County Hurdle and Grand Annual) having won the previous season’s Pertemps Network Final.

Eight of the last 19 winners had finished in the first four at this meeting before, three of them 12 months earlier and two of which in this very race. The 2013 winner, Holywell, returned to finish second last year. Remarkably, the 2014 winner, The Druid’s Nephew, became the third winner since 2010 to prep in the Cleeve Hurdle.

Just six of the 23 runners three years ago arrived here directly off the back of a victory including the 1-2 at 10/1 and 33/1 which was a welcome return to the days when last-time-out winners had a strong profile winning six times between 2003 and 2010.

A paucity of last-time-out winners during the previous three years and last year has made it difficult for horses with such a profile to emulate the superb record of winners that had also been successful on their previous start compared to around 20% of the field over the previous ten years.

As for horses aged over ten, give them a wide berth as just two have placed from 48 to try since 1997. Only two favourites have won since 1977 but as many as nine second-favourites have won since 1984 and 11 winners since the turn of the century could be found in the first four in the betting.

At a glance summary

Positives
Likely to start in the first four in the betting
Novices
Officially rated between 142 and 148
Won or placed at the Cheltenham Festival in another year
Won last time out
Trained by Jonjo O’Neill, Alan King, Nicky Henderson or David Pipe
Owned by J P McManus
Contested the Cleeve Hurdle
Negatives
Officially rated higher than 150
Aged 11+
Trained by Paul Nicholls

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