All you need to know about the Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase at Cheltenham Racecourse on Tuesday 14 March.
When and where can I watch the Ultima Handicap? 2.50pm on Tuesday 14 March, live in stunning HD on Racing TV.
Which Grade? Grade Three. Which course is the Ultima staged on? Old Course.
What Distance? 3m 1f (20 fences). How much prize-money? £125,000.
Ages: For 5yo+. Weights & Allowances: Handicap.
Sponsor: Ultima Business Solutions.
Since 1997, 12 of the 25 winners had an official rating between 139 and 145 with 27 more runners in that ratings bracket hitting the places (23% win and place strike-rate). Seven of the last 13 winners and four of the last five were officially rated between 139 and 145.
13 of the past 15 winners had won over 3m or further.
Last time out:
Nine of the past 18 winners came into the race on the back of a win.
Avoid older horses and focus on younger legs:
Since 1997, just six horses (from 134 runners) aged 10 or older have won the race - Vintage Clouds in 2021 (something of a stats buster with lots of Ultima experience) was the first to triumph since Chief Dan George in 2010. Since 2010, only four more horses aged 10+ have managed to place in the race.
Conversely, five or the last 10 winners (including Corach Rambler last year) were in their novice season over fences.
Some caution with the jolly:
Coo Star Sivola (5-1) obliged in 2018 but, overall, market leaders have not delivered for punters in recent years with 12 of the last 25 runners returning at double-figure odds. Wichita Lineman under that inspired AP McCoy ride is the only other winning favourite in the last 25 years, although market fancies tend to show up fairly well all the same. Of the 13 favourites, joint-favourites or co-favourites since 1997, 13 have hit the places (45% of the time).
Ten of the past 13 winners had run at Cheltenham that season, including 2022 scorer Corach Rambler and seven of the last 10 Ultima winners. The three exceptions boasted good Cheltenham experience regardless - Vintage Clouds (2021) had previously placed twice in the race, Un Temps Pour Tout (2017) had won the race the previous year and Holywell (2014) was a previous Festival winner.
Irish trainers have only won the race twice since the turn of the century and Irish-trained runners are 0-26 in the last 10 renewals although six have hit the places in that time.
Eight of the past 10 winners all wore headgear of some sort. Beware The Bear (2019) and The Conditional (2020) both wore blinkers, while Vintage Clouds (2021) sported first-time cheekpieces. Other horses to run well in first-time headgear in recent years are Tea Clipper (4th at 12-1) in 2022, Kildisart (2nd at 10-1) in 2020 and Shantou Flyer (2nd at 14-1) in 2018 for Richard Hobson.
Paul Nicholls is 0-25 in this race and Frodon was his only runner in 2022 when the former King George winner could only manage twelfth. Dear Villez (2009) was the last horse to place in the race for Nicholls.
This competitive handicap, originally known as the National Hunt Handicap Chase and now officially as the Festival Trophy, has been marketed as the Ultima Handicap Chase since prominent jumps owner Max McNeill and his company came on board ahead of the 2015 edition. It provides a stiff test over the trip, with the pace nearly always a strong one.
Novices or second-season chasers have a good record in the race, making life difficult for the proven class horses who are more exposed, so much so that back-to-back winner Un Temps Pour Tout (2017) was the first horse to carry more than 11st 10lb to victory since Different Class in 1967.
Winners of the race often take part in the Grand National, although not always in the same year. Horses to have achieved victory in both events include Royal Tan, Team Spirit, West Tip, Seagram and Rough Quest.
If you are looking for a trainer angle, David Pipe and Jonjo O’Neill have both won the race three times in the past 15 years. Irish trainers have drawn a blank in that period, although Gordon Elliott’s Noble Endeavor finished third in 2017, and Paul Nolan's Discorama finished third in 2020.
Recent renewals of the Ultima Handicap Chase:
2022 - Corach Rambler
What a ride this was! Derek Fox guided Corach Rambler to an unlikely victory in 2022, and it was no surprise Fox’s effort won Racing Ride of The Season at The McCoys Awards.
Held up towards the rear, Fox gave his mount a patient ride and crept into contention before coming with an incredible late run to win going away.
He still had more horses in front than behind him at the top of the hill, but the pair weaved through rivals to record an unlikely victory.
Winning-trainer Lucinda Russell said: “Because of the false starts we were at the back and I was stood with the owners and said to one of them ‘we’ll need a vintage Derek Fox ride’ and we got one!”
2021 - Vintage Clouds
On his fifth start in this race, the 11-year-old Vintage Clouds (28-1) raced typically enthusiastically and proved too good in a feel-good success for jockey Ryan Mania, trainer Sue Smith and owner Trevor Hemmings.
The admirable grey was always towards the head of affairs and really attacked his fences on the second circuit. He looked vulnerable approaching the final fence, but readily pulled away up the hill to defeat Happygolucky (100-30F) by five and a half lengths with Aye Right (11-2) two and a quarter lengths further back in third. Cepage (14-1) finished fourth.
Mania tasted shock Grand National success back in 2013 with Auroras Encore but subsequently became disillusioned with the game and quit the saddle. This was his first Cheltenham Festival winner.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d come and ride a Cheltenham winner, especially so soon after coming out of retirement. I couldn’t be happier.”
2020 - The Conditional
The Conditional clung on for victory in a thrilling contest in a poignant result for jockey Brendan Powell and trainer David Bridgwater, who was celebrating his first Cheltenham Festival success.
The Conditional travelled nicely throughout, but after a mistake at the second-last looked vulnerable before pinging the last and seeing it out strongly to deny Kildisart (10-1) by a neck in second, with 11-2 joint-favourites Discorama and Vinndication further back in third and fourth.
"I thought we had lost it at the second-last when he pecked," said Bridgwater. "It was a great day when he won here in October, but to come and do it here is just amazing. I've always been lucky here as a trainer and a jockey."
This was a special success too for the jockey after a tough time. This was a third Festival winner for Powell - with all three victories coming in the Ultima.
This definitely means more," he said. "Things hadn't gone so well more recently and last season wasn't very good at all. A massive thank you to David Bridgwater as well as Michael Scudamore and Angus and Lynne Maclennan, who gave me an agreement to ride some nice horses, and they picked me back off the floor.
"This means a lot. I lost a good friend in James Banks a month or so ago and he was watching down today."
2019 - Beware The Bear
Beware The Bear, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Jerry McGrath, was a 10-1 shot and pounced from off the pace to beat his 23 rivals.
For much of the way it looked like Up For Review might give Willie Mullins his third winner of the afternoon as he travelled powerfully on the heels of the leaders running down the hill.
However, he made a mistake three fences from the finish and his effort soon petered out.
Beware The Bear – a winner at Cheltenham in January – was in the lead at the top of the home straight and while Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds finished strongly, Henderson’s inmate had just enough in reserve to hold him at bay.
Nick Alexander’s Lake View Lad ran a fine race to finish third ahead of Lucinda Russell’s Big River – another Scottish challenger – in fourth.
2018 - Coo Star Sivola
A big gamble and sent off 5-1 favourite, Coo Star Sivola repelled Shantou Flyer up the Cheltenham hill in a gripping finish to bring up a first Festival winner for jockey Lizzie Kelly.
Always handy, the six-year-old novice was in the right position throughout in a steadily-run race and took up the running on the turn for home.
A winner for the first time over fences only three weeks previously at Exeter, Coo Star Sivola improved for this first try at three miles on the biggest stage. “I knew he would gallop up the hill,” said Kelly. “But my goodness that was the longest hill in the world!”
2017 – Un Temps Pour Tout:
Un Temps Pour Tout became the first horse in 50 years to carry 11st 12lb or more to victory when outbattling Singlefarmpayment (pair pulled three-and-a-half lengths clear of third) in a thrilling finish to this competitive handicap.
David Pipe’s eight-year-old had come into the race on the back of two spins over hurdles, having disappointed in his big mid-season target the Hennessy Gold Cup where he finished almost 20 lengths behind winner Native River.
He’s built a terrific record at Cheltenham though, winning or finishing placed on four of his seven visits.
2016 – Un Temps Pour Tout:
This was a demolition job. The gallop looked strong but even so, very few horses got into it and Un Temps Pour Tout showed just how good he was when getting a stiff test of stamina over the trip.
A Grade One winner over hurdles, he was still in his novice season over fences and the original plan had been to have a crack at the RSA Chase but connections decided that a mark of 148 was too tempting to pass up and they were justified as Un Temps Pour Tout powered clear up the hill to thrash 2014 winner Holywell and The Young Master, who won the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown the following month.
2015 – The Druids Nephew:
Everything fell into place for The Druids Nephew, who travelled supremely well under a patient Barry Geraghty ride and it was obvious that, barring an accident, he was going to play a major part in the contest from some way out.
In front before the second last, he was not for catching up the hill but it was a performance he was unable to replicate thereafter, including in two failed attempts at the Grand National.
2014 – Holywell:
Holywell did not impress everyone despite getting the job done in a Doncaster novice event the previous month but Jonjo O’Neill’s decision to add blinkers for his Cheltenham Festival appearance proved a masterstroke and his talented but quirky seven-year-old produced a polished performance to win at the Festival for the second year running.
It was a success that proved the springboard for even greater glory as he went on to win the Grade One Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree the following month from future Gold Cup winner Don Cossack by a whopping 10 lengths!
2013 – Golden Chieftain:
Golden Chieftain, a horse who did not always jump fluently, was sent off an unconsidered 28-1 chance in 2013 but he got his act together on the big day.
Brendan Powell’s mount showed how just how well handicapped he was when everything fell into place by storming away to win this ultra-competitive renewal by a remarkable 10 lengths.
However, the Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old was hammered with a 16lb hike in the ratings, a rise which proved too much for him as he drifted into a two-and-a-half-year spell in the wilderness before he finally won a handicap off a much-reduced mark of 121 at Fontwell in November 2015.
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