An Early Look Ahead To The 2022 Cheltenham Festival Handicaps

Ultima Handicap Chase

We are starting this Handicap piece off with the first race of its kind at the festival, with the Ultima Handicap Chase always seeing a attritional gallop to the line.

This handicap event is one of the very few races at the festival that is dominated by the English with the Irish raiders now 0-15 in the race having last took the spoils in 2005.

With that in mind, we are highlighting three British horses that could end up in the race and if they do have big chances of going close.

The first is the seven year old mare VIENNA COURT (20/1) who could step up in trip for the event having already won twice at Cheltenham this season, Winning a Mares Handicap Chase over 2m4f and then last time out backing that up in the Grade Three Paddy Power Handicap Chase on New Year's Day.

GOOD BOY BOBBY (20/1) for Nigel Twiston-Davies could be a big player in the event if the handicapper is lenient looking a rejuvenated character over fences this season.

He has been seem three times at Wetherby and Newcastle, winning two of his three events and the step up to three miles and bought huge improvement from him, player.

Finally, another British runner that could enter the race is the Harry Fry trained PHOENIX WAY (33/1), who was upped to three miles last time out and it seemed to make the penny drop over fences for the first time when second in the Listed Silver Cup at Ascot.

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Next up is the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle which sees plenty of youngsters who can't good enough at the top level in that division, go for handicap glory.

This event has been dominated by the Irish in the last few years with all of the last four winners coming from across the Irish Sea.

With this in mind we are sticking with the thought that it will go to our friends across the pond, with three big players that all offer big chances if going for the race

The first is the four year old CHAMPION GREEN (12/1) for Joseph O'Brien with gelding being a decent horse on the flat and since being seen twice over hurdles showing plenty of ability without winning yet.

MAX MAYHEM (22/1) is another who could make big appeal for Joseph O'Brien, needing his first run over hurdles this season since coming from the flat, but last time out gave a much better run when fourth behind likeable types, Pied Piper and Vauban.

Finally, BEN SIEGEL (25/1) for last year's winning trainer Noel Meade is worth keeping an eye on if going for the race, having bolted up on hurdles debut at Punchestown in November.

Coral Cup

The Coral Cup is the most valuable handicap hurdle on the Wednesday and over the years has seen some very special winners of the event, with a strong mix of both British and Irish horses winning the races, with the leaderboard showing four English and Four Irish in the last eight years.

This year we think the 2m5f event could go back to the English having been won by Heaven Help Us for Paul Hennessy, under a superb front running ride from Richie Condon.

The first shout if heading into the event could be MARIE'S ROCK (25/1) for Nicky Henderson with the trainer winning four of the last 12 renewals and this mare stepping up to this trip for the first time in her career last time out and she went on to bolt up at Kempton.

Another potential runner that might go well is the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained GOWEL ROAD (25/1), having had festival experience when running in the County Hurdle last season at the track and since winning over course and distance this term.

Grand Annual Handicap Chase

A race that used to be on the Friday of the meeting but now resides on the Wednesday is the Grand Annual Handicap Chase that last season was one of the five races won by the British.

Like the Coral Cup this race has been shared between the countries over the last five years, and with that in mind we have looked at one Irish and One British horse that could line up with a chance in March.

The first is the Willie Mullins trained GENTLEMAN DE MEE (16/1), who was favourite for the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle last year but ran no race, but since going over fences this term has shown plenty of ability and his latest second behind Haut En Couleurs reads really well.

If given a respectable handicap mark he could be a big shout for JP McManus.

The British shout for the race is the Sam Thomas trained BEFORE MIDNIGHT (20/1) who has been targeted at this race all year, having won his first two events at Cheltenham and Ascot over the two mile trip and having tried to mix it with the elite in the Desert Orchid and failing, he will certainly be turning up here all being well.

Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle

One of the most anticipated handicap events of the entire week is the Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle that over the years has seen horses like Delta Work, Presenting Percy and Sire De Berlais win the race and go on to win better races.

This event has been dominated by the Irish of late with them winning all of the last six meetings, with Gordon Elliott taking out three of the last four renwals.

With that in mind we have two potential runners from the Cullentra stables that could enter the race and have a big chance if they do.

The first is the likeable ARDHILL (14/1) who has looked a new horse on his sole run for Elliott going to Ascot over three miles and landing a very smart Handicap Hurdle.

Rasied 7lb for that run, he is still to qualify for the race but is set to be entered into a qualifier in the near future and knowing the yard he will sneak in through the places and be a short price for the event.

A horse that has already done this for Elliott is FOLCANO (20/1), who qualified for the festival race when sixth of 20 runners on debut in a qualifier at Punchestown.

He has since been seen twice, running to a fair level, but looking to get his mark down for the race at the festival.

Paddy Power Plate

The newly named Paddy Power Plate over 2m4f is a handicap chase that comes on the Thursday of the meeting and having been landed by an Irish hotpot last year we think the same could happen this year.

CIEL DE NEIGE (16/1) for Willie Mullins and JP McManus, who loves targeting a handicap event, has been a horse for the majority of his career that ran over two miles, with his best effort coming at Newbury when finishing second in a photo-finish in the Betfair Hurdle.

Sent chasing this term he has been seen twice over extended trips, winning well on debut at Thurles over 2m2f and then when tried at 2m4f last time out was even better, beating the hat-trick seeking Busselton.

Being unexposed over fences is usually the way to go in this race and if staying under the handicappers radar he could be worth following.

County Hurdle

Moving onto Friday's handicaps and the first one we are looking at is the County Hurdle where certain trainers have some very good records in it.

Over the years it has been the Willie Mullins and Dan Skelton show in the race, with the pairing training eight of the last 12 winners of the race.

Our first potential shout for the race is the Skelton trained WEST CORK (12/1), who is certain to be targeted at this race and will not be seen again this season until this event.

The eight year old had over 18 months off the track and returned this term in the 19 runner Greatwood Hurdle over the County Hurdle course and distance and was a determined winner.

He has since been seen once more in a Grade Three and faded late on, but looks to have a big shout if all is well with him ahead of the meeting.

Our Irish stance on the race could come from SAINT FELICIEN (20/1) for Gordon Elliott with the very unexposed type unbeaten in both his runs to date, Bolting up on debut in France in March and then on his Irish debut doing the same at Gowran Park.

He looks a weapon going forward.

Kim Muir Challenge Cup

The penultimate handicap of the meeting sees the Kim Muir Challenge Cup over a marathon trip and last year it was landed by an Irish plot job.

This event seems to be under the Irish trainers grasp, with all of the last three renewals going back across the Irish Sea and we think the same will happen this season.

Gordon Elliott is never far away in this event having the winner of the race last term with Mount Ida and BRAESIDE (20/1) for the same connections looks to have a big chance if going for the event this term.

The second season novice chaser finally got off the mark on seasonal debut at Cork over 3m4f showing that staying trips are his game and then last time out in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas he was a good fourth.

If not too high in the weights, this looks a perfect contest for him.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle

The Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle is the final event of the Cheltenham festival every season and last year was taking by the emerging superstar Galopin Des Champs.

Looking to find another one of him in the pack this year, our early shout for the race is the Henry De Bromhead trained GERRI COLOMBE (20/1).

Making the first start of his career in a point to point at Lingstown over three miles he went on to win by a head and he was then bought for £240,000 and given to the Cullentra handler.

In January 2021 he made his rules debut in a bumper over two miles at Fairyhouse and in extremely taking style he took the contest by 24 lengths.

Seeming to have a monster on their hands, they gave him one more run on the level and he was an easy winner once more and now set for hurdles this term he could be anything.

Unleashed over hurdles this season he made his debut over 2m4f at Down Royal and bolted up in a fair maiden hurdle.

He could easily be pitched into the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett, but if heading to this race looks to have a huge chance.

James Mackie | @JMackieRacing