There’s one week to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2017 and here’s a review of the Ultima Handicap Chase on Day 1.


Otago Trail 25/1 (156 likely top weight) – Big player if the ground came up soft or heavy. Chased home Bristol De Mai at Haydock and had already beaten him at Newcastle in the Rehearsal Chase where Definitely Red was back in third. Readily won at Sandown last time. Stays really well and high class animal with cut in the ground. Races prominently as well so won’t need as much luck in running. Ultima only entry.

Saphir Du Rheu 14/1 (156 also) – Another big player. Not as ground dependent as Otago Trail hence the shorter price and always runs a solid race at Cheltenham. Was staying on powerfully over slightly shorter trip at the track last time when giving over a stone and a half to the winner. Bolted up next time when long odds on. He stays very well and if he can stay in contention turning for home would have a big chance.

Un Temps Pour Tout 16/1 (155) – 7lbs higher than when winning the race last season but every chance he can be very competitive again. Himself and Holywel had far too much class for them and were front rank from the start and drew clear of the rest to fight out the finish. Big chance again as clearly this has been the target since the disappointment in the Hennessy. This is definitely the best race for him as he has a turn of foot at the end of his races in this company.

Noble Endeavour 9/1 (154)Another massive player. Put him up as the bet of Christmas at 12/1 for the Paddy Power. He duly bolted in with an extremely well handicapped horse in The Crafty Butcher home in second. He is up 11lbs for that and Phil Smith has done him a favour in not increasing his mark as he has done with so many of the irish runner. This is his only entry too and a strongly run race would suit him down to the ground. He has a massive chance.

Belami Des Pictons 16/1 (153)High class prospect for Venetia Williams. If you take the view that he needed the run on his seasonal reappearance at Fontwell and put a line through that then he arrives here having wn his last 6 starts over hurdles and fences. He jumps incredibly well for a novice no doubt due to his early development in France. He has a 5lb penalty for his effortless win at Leicester meaning he effectively runs off 153. He is another that will have a stronger chance the softer the ground gets but as the ground will definitely be good to soft at very best it isn’t a concern. He has a huge chance but I look him against horses with more proven class such as Un Temps, Holywell and Noble Endeavour and wonder if their proven class an experience might see them repel him at the weights.

The Young Master 20/1 (150) Had clearly been laid out for the race last season after finishing down the field in the Cleeve Hurdle en route to the festival as his stablemate the Druids Nephew had done the previous year before hacking up in the race. He performed creditably in third but didn’t have the tactical speed of Holywell and Un Temps at the business end of the race. I think we can expect a very similar performance again this season and its hard to see him reversing form with those two even on marginally better terms.

Holywell 14/1 (148)Finished a very creditable second in the race last year when chasing home Un Temps Pour Tout when the two showed their class to pull clear having race prominently. He takes his chance from a mark of 148 which is 5lbs lower than last year. He also has a 12lbs pull with the winner. With that in mind he has an incredible chance if Jonjo O’Neill can bring him back to somewhere near his best. He has shown absolutely nothing so far this season but he is a spring horse and never shows anything in the early part of the year. Ideally he wants better ground but as long as we get good to soft on day one as we did last year then he clearly handles it fine. There is nobody better then Jonjo for getting one ready for the big day and if he turns up in the same mood as last year he is clearly the one to beat on these terms. It was less than two years ago that he thumped Don Cossack at Aintree in a grade one and now he is running in a handicap with a light weight. We have to put our faith in Jonjo here to have him right on the day. If he is back to his best then he is simply a handicap blot.

Our Kaempfer 14/1 (148)Clearly has a decent enough chance with a light weight and has been put away for the race since winning impressively at Kempton in January. He was put up 10lbs for that win meaning he also runs from a mark of 148, the same as Holywell. Given what they have achieved respectively over fences you would have to be with Holywell. Our Kaempfer has also done most of his winning on right handed tracks and was beaten in the Pertemps last year when again having a nice weight and being strongly fancied. He should go well but I think there are a few others with more class which appeal more at the weights.

The Druids Nephew 12/1 (146) Would be an interesting contender if he creeps in with a low weight. He runs from the same mark as when he won the race a couple of years ago but clearly hasn’t been the same horse since falling when in the lead in the Grand National. I think last years renewal of the race was stronger than the one that he run and although I respect his chance he would have to defy a long absence and return to his best form. Since 2010 horses off a 90day+ break at the Festival have thrown up 16 winners from 432 runners. That isn’t a strike rate which appeals to me.

Ibis Du Rheu 20/1 (146)Needs 14 to come out which may well happen. He would have a chance if the race became very attritional due to a deterioration in conditions or stupidly strong pace. He was out paced in the Martin Pipe last season when the pace set was very strong and he picked up the pieces in the closing stages. I think he is a nice staying chaser in the making but I don’t see him holding his position through the race and unless the race is run in testing conditions I can’t see him being good enough.

Recommended Bets



Weather Watch – Otago Trail @ 25/1 (On the day)

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I defy anybody to watch a re-run of last year’s race and tell me that Holywell and Un Temps Pour Tout will not be involved in the finish again this year. They were front rank from the start and showed their class to pull clear of the field. We have to be with them again at the prices and these are prices worth taking now with the concession of NRNB and BOG given that there are a few priced up towards the head of the market that are highly unlikely to get a run. Singlefarmpayment, Champers On Ice and Mall Dini are very unlikely runners and their removal from the market will see the prices of our selections shorten appreciably. Provided we race on the same ground conditions as on the opening day last year then I expect a very similar result and on 12lbs better terms Holywell can reverse the form. If we were to get testing ground then Otago Trail would also have a massive chance but it is probably best to hold fire until closer to the time with that one. Nobel Endeavour has a massive chance and is worth a saver on the day but is priced accordingly.

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