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The Ultima Handicap Chase has been dominated by the home challengers for close to two decades now with Dun Doire the last Irish trained winner for Tony Martin in 2006. However, despite the excellent history in the race for the Brits, I think that might change this year with FLOUEUR looking to have a nice profile for Gordon Elliott. Despite jumping like “a bag of hammers” as Jerry Hannon described in commentary at Fairyhouse, he showed guts to win and followed up with a creditable third-place finish in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last month.
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He has previous experience of the Festival following his staying on performance behind Galophin Des Champs in the Martin Pipe last year and that run suggests this trip looks ideal this time around. Five of the previous seven winners of this race won this contest off an official rating between 142 and 148, so an improved British mark of 146 looks a manageable and perhaps fair one. I think he’s a solid each-way player here especially considering his victory over Frontal Assault at Fairyhouse with his stablemate favourite for the Kim Muir later in the week.
Gordon Elliott and his Cullentra House team have an excellent record in the National Hunt Chase and have a strong contender here with RUN WILD FRED. He ran a cracker in the Irish National last April and was an excellent winner of the Troytown at Navan last November. Despite missing Naas with a temperature and by-passing the Ten-Up at Navan because of unsuitable ground, I wouldn’t be overly concerned by his lack of action since Christmas at Leopardstown.
Elliott has history of running some of his previous winners of this race fresh with both Tiger Roll and Ravenhill not running earlier in the calendar year before popping up and scoring at the Festival in March. This horse has some of the best novice chasing form in the book having raced behind the likes of Longhouse Poet and Coko Beach and I think this track will bring out more improvement for him to score for the Gigginstown team.
I was asked for one horse in a post Cheltenham podcast for the Racing Post after last year’s Festival and highlighted SIR GERHARD as the one I would love to see return for back-to-back victories in 2022. Now with only a few days to the start of the action at Prestbury Park, I’m more than happy to remain confident with the Cheveley Park runner with all signs pointing to the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the time of writing.
For whatever reason his owners and the Closutton team believe this race looks the best opportunity for victory and as Ruby Walsh has said in many pre-Cheltenham previews, “whichever one turns up here will win.” That statement is more than good enough for me from the man who remains very much in the loop in Closutton and previously guided Fivefourthree, Mikael D’Haguenet, Faugheen and Yorkhill to victory in this race.
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After the Dublin Racing Festival and his sloppy jumping, I thought using his stamina a little more and heading for this race might suit better over the Supreme and I’ve no doubt his class will see him score despite several intriguing factors. Firstly, he’s not raced beyond an extended 2-mile trip since winning his point-to-point at Boulta, while secondly no 7-year-old has won this race in 24-years since French Holly for Ferdy Murphy and Andrew Thornton in 1998.
However, the son of Jeremy still ticks all the boxes for me with the best form in the book, experience of the venue from his bumper victory last year and two solid runs over hurdles under his belt. Mullins has spoken about the possibility of cheekpieces in recent weeks to keep him more focused, but I’d imagine we’ll now see a more fluent jumping display over this longer distance and with good even gallop.
His maiden hurdle victory at Leopardstown over Christmas has subsequently produced several winners in the shape of Highland Charge, Ashe Tree Meadow and Goven, while he comfortable followed up and got the better of some nice horses at the DRF despite his sloppy jumping display. In summary, SIR GERHARD is a little older and wiser than this opposition and with previous experience of the venue, I’ve no doubt he’ll provide Mullins with another victory in the day two opener.
ALAPHILIPPE stayed up the hill nicely in the Albert Bartlett last year behind Vanillier and ran a creditable fifth in-between both Stattler and Threeunderthrufive. Both of those horses have progressed nicely over fences this season with Fergal O’Brien deciding to stay over hurdles having missed Aintree last April. He comes here fresh with just one run under his belt behind Sporting John at Warwick in January and looks nicely handicapped in my opinion.
The British accessor has dropped him 2Ibs for that race which was a good blow out ahead of his return to Prestbury Park and I think he’s another with an excellent each-way chance. He was beaten just a short head by the dual but ageing former winner of this race Sire Du Berlais at Warwick and is another who brings previous Cheltenham form back to the Festival. A little cut in the ground would help his chances and I’m hopefully of a good run despite an excellent record for the Irish here since 2016.
As our very own Frank Hickey said in jest during our Cheltenham Preview night, the British handicapper must be on LANGER DAN having dropped him 3Ibs for the Festival finale. He looks extremely well handicapped, just 2Ibs higher than last years second to Galophin Des Champs and it’s no surprise to see him favourite for this contest. It was a right decision for me to skip Sandown and head straight to Cheltenham this year and there’s no doubt his run at Taunton will have put him spot on for this race. I think he’s the best handicapped horse for the British team at the Festival and looks primed to strike thanks to another year of majority and that generous rating by the handicapper.
Tuesday 14:50: Ultma Handicap Chase – Floueur (each way)
Tuesday 17:30: National Hunt Chase – Run Wild Fred
Wednesday 13:30: Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Sir Gerhard (NAP)
Thursday 14:10: Pertemps Handicap Hurdle – Alaphilippe
Friday 17:30: Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle – Langer Dan
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