Day one of the Cheltenham Festival offers up not only top class Grade One action but also a couple of mouth-watering handicaps for us to get stuck into. Here we look at the best of the contenders for the Ultima Handicap Chase and the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50 Cheltenham) – 3m1f
Ramses De Teillee
The David Pipe yard has won this race three times in the last 10 years and they have an outstanding chance once again with this one. Only a 6-year-old, there is plenty more to come from Tom Scudamore’s mount but already he’s stayed on really well in races on heavy ground this season and won’t shirk the challenge.
Second in the race last year so he’s proven in the contest, though he was in better form then and the ground certainly wasn’t as deep as it is for this renewal. That said he’s bound to go well if his trainer can get him here 100% fit.
In terms of the stamina test he’s fine, though he probably prefers a longer trip and not necessarily very soft ground. Two Scottish National wins mark him out as a proper competitor.
Still going well when falling two from home in this last year but probably wasn’t going to win it and may prefer the ground a little better than this. One crucial point though is that he’s still improving and doing so on heavy ground so must go well.
Seemed to take a big step forward last time out on the heavy but that was over 3m4½f so if anything may be staying on well at the end when it’s all too late.
After running in only four chases and mainly in small fields this is a whole new test for 6yo RAMSES DE TAILLEE, however he’s been improving race after race over this sort of trip and ground and represents terrific value at around 10 and 12/1. The more experienced Vintage Clouds is still improving, albeit slowly, and may well stay on to grab a place.
Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (5.30 Cheltenham) – 2m4½f
Any Second Now
Coming into the race as favourite despite no wins in four chase attempts seems strange, though he is one of the leading contenders based on his second in a Grade 1 novice chase in Ireland. That sort of form can be flattering however and I’m not certain he’s that well handicapped.
Runner-up here in last year’s Pertemps Final (3m, hurdles) and won easily over this trip last time out over fences. He’s not been facing the best of opposition but he has had an easier time than most because of that and is probably better than he’s shown so could make a mockery of his handicap mark over the larger obstacles.
De Plotting Shed
A lot has been made of the fact that he is running here off a mark 7lbs lower than his hurdles mark but I think it fairly represents how well he’s done over fences. Holds a chance based on his second at Fairyhouse in January but arguably his form has taken a dip slightly when the ground has been genuinely heavy.
Should resume improvement back over this trip and has no issues with the heavy ground, so coming here off a reasonable weight means Willie Mullins’ 8yo holds every chance in the race.
There’s a lot to like about Willie Mullins’ Livelovelaugh and he must have an excellent each-way chance, however I’m not certain that he’s well enough handicapped and so the vote goes to BARNEY DWAN. Noel Fehily’s mount has won on heavy over hurdles and likes a stamina test so could be well handicapped for this.
The likely market leaders Any Second Now and De Plotting Shed definitely have chinks for the others to exploit and our horse may be allowed to go off at something around the 9/1 mark.