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The first handicap of the Cheltenham Festival 2024 is the Ultima Handicap Chase which is run over 3m 1f on the old course and it's safe you say you're going to need a lot of luck to pick the winner for this race with 23 horses lining up.

This race has been very generous to the UK trainers, and considering the Irish have been battering the British lot in the Prestbury Cup in recent years, this race has been a safe race for the British with no Irish-trained winner since 2006 when the Tony Martin trained Dun Doire won under Ruby Walsh. This race in particular has been a happy hunting ground for me, as I've managed to pick out the last four winners for Mr Fix It Tips with The Conditional (2020), Vintage Clouds (2021) and my favourite, Corach Rambler winning the last two renewals. I've definitely cursed myself by mentioning my record for this race, but it's always a competitive race and many come into having a great chance of coming out victorious.

Cheltenham 2:50 – Weveallbeencaught 10/1 (0.5pt EW, Bet365/WilliamHill) & The Goffer 13/2 (0.5pt EW 6pl)

Due to the nature of this big field handicap, I won't have enough time or space to talk about every runner, so the ones I feel need to have a mention will receive one.

I'll start from the top of the weights and work down. Stumptown has to be respected for this race given who is training and riding. Keith Donoghue and Gavin Cromwell are a lethal combination who have had a tremendous season, especially in the UK, but the form of his win at Cheltenham last time out hasn't exactly been boosted and the rise in the weights will make this tough towards the top of the handicap for this. I couldn't put people off from backing him, as he is still a 7yo and could have something left up his sleeve, and the course form is always a big positive to take into the Festival.

Monbeg Genius will have his followers for this race given that a lot of you will have backed him for this race last year which saw him finish 3rd behind Corach Rambler. The form of last year's Ultima has worked out tremendously well, so it's an easy vote to go back in on him again if you did so last year. However, this year hasn't exactly gone to plan, but he did finish 3rd in the Coral Gold Cup, so is still very capable at this level. The Kelso run last time out was a poor effort, and with that just being 10 days ago, it seems like they are fully focused on the Grand National and this is a prep run. It wouldn't be surprising if he returned to form for a trainer who knows what he is doing when having a target.

Despite the UK trainers having such a cracking record in this race, it can't remain like that forever so if you do like an Irish-trained horse you've got to go with your gut and that is what I am doing with The Goffer. He is an interesting candidate for the Ultima this year as Gordon Elliott has given this horse a totally different approach for this race, with the horse arriving fresh from a 142-day layoff. Despite the lazy journalism from the Racing Post claiming he is 5lb lower for this race this year, he is in fact 2lb lower, but that doesn't bother me as he is still lower than putting in a nice performance just 12 months ago. He didn't seem to get home last year, but I think he did as well as he could have as he did track a very wide course throughout the entirety of the race, and he did have a busy campaign leading to the Ultima, so if this approach sees him a much fresher horse, as long as he is fully tuned up, he is a huge player.

One of the most talked about horses coming into the Cheltenham Festival has been Meetingofthewaters. JP McManus bought this horse recently, and he has a great record when buying horses before the Festival which sees them either run well or win at Cheltenham. This lad won in great fashion at Leopardstown just after Christmas, but that was off a mark of 130 and now off 147 he has a lot to prove. He is very short in the market for a horse who has gone up 17lbs for his most latest victory, which saw him go off 14/1 on his last start where he unseated at the first. Surely, he would've been well supported if the Mullins yard thought he was still well-handicapped for that event 37 days ago. I'm more than happy to swerve him at the prices.

If Chambard was to win this race then it goes to show you can never fully doubt the older horses. This horse is an Ex-Festival winner from back in 2022 in the Kim Muir. He is a horse progressing with age (12yo), but he has a lot to prove off his current mark of 146 (141 with 5lb claimer on board), surely there are younger horses on better marks than this. And speaking about doubting horses, you can never fully rule out a Christian Williams runner. Christian has done me no favours this jumps season, I've tipped up many of his horses in lesser races and ended up with egg on my face on multiple of occasions, but we all know he is the man for the big pots and that's why Kitty's Light cannot be overlooked fully. He is dangerous to totally rule out given his record in big pot handicaps like the Eider Chase and Scottish National, but he has never won off today's mark and his jumping can often put him on the backfoot, and in a race of this nature he might struggle, but he will be staying on all the time.

Kim Bailey will really fancy his chances in this race with his two runners of Trelawne and Chianti Classico. Kim has gone agonisingly close in this race in recent years with Vinndication finishing fourth off 11st 12lbs, and then Happygolcuky was very well fancied to win the 2021 renewal, backed into 100/30F and that saw him finish 2nd, so he'll be seeking revenge in this race and on form both of his runners are in with a shout. Both of his runners made up my final four who I fancied to really run well, but you can't back all the runners in the race so I decided to leave them out, and mainly that was because Trelawne has been a thorn in my side this year. I really do rate this horse, but he has started to become a quirky customer. I've been saying he needs 3m for a long, long time and it's convenient that he gets the trip at the Cheltenham Festival. He could be very well handicapped at this trip, but it's strange how Harry Cobden in on board and David Bass has jumped ship, as I thought Bass would've stayed on Trewlane. The return to a left-handed track will be dangerous if you're on him as the last time he was seen going this way he had a meltdown at Wetherby, nearly running out of the track and constantly hanging. Chianti Classico is a strong stayer and he will be powering up the hill. He was never going to be suited by Kempton last time out, and to be beaten by a course specialist in his most recent race isn't a bad thing. With Bass siding with him, he's got to be a player for the places at the very least.

I am surprised to see the odds of Weveallbeencaught being as short as they are, as when I went through the race and started to really fancy him I thought we would be getting 20/1, but here we are at much shorter odds, but I like his chances and have always liked this horse. The Nigel Twiston-Davies horse gets in this race right at the bottom of the weights at 10st 9lbs, with just one horse carrying less, and I think that could be huge for his chances of winning. I am a big fan of unexposed horses turning for races like this, they might lack experience over the larger obstacles, but they could be ridiculously well handicapped if it clicks and I've always felt like this horse was going to be a very good staying chaser. He is a very big horse, and I refuse to believe he has hit his ceiling at a mark of 134. He made a good impression on chase debut to finish within 3.75L of Flooring Porter, which had Broadway Boy in second. That seems like a very strong piece of form, and I'm willing to forgive this lads following two runs where he was severely poor as to what was expected from him. He was 20L behind his stablemate Broadway Boy on the run after and was then last of six in December. He hasn't been seen since, so connections have clearly felt that he is best when fresh and given his record when coming back from a break, it's hard to deny that. Including his PTP run, he has won three times when returning from a break (including PTP debut), and his best run this season was on seasonal reappearance. The tongue tie is on and with Nigel firing in five winners in the last 14 days, his fitness should not be an issue.

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