Ultima Handicap Chase – The Unexposed Chasers

There’s generally a full field in this race these days, although this hasn’t really resulted in compression of the rates to the same extent as in some other festival handicaps. The horses towards the top of the handicap have done well. However, one point which is definitely worth noting is that classy horses with strong form over hurdles who are relatively unexposed over fences have a very strong record in recent years.

This stands to reason – if a horse hasn’t run in very many races over fences but has shown talent over hurdles, the mark that they run off in this is unlikely to reflect the full extent of their potential. This theory is backed up by a number of stats:

  1. 8 of the last 10 winners had previously run in 9 or less chases – these horses filled 67% of the total places from 48% of the total field in the last 10 years. In the last 5 years, they’ve filled 70% of the total places from 49% of the total field.
  2. 9 of the last 10 winners were either novices or second-season chasers – the exception was The Druids Nephew in 2013, who had previously run in 12 chases and was a third-season chaser. This stat just backs up the idea that we want something relatively unexposed over fences, who could be a couple of steps ahead of the handicapper. The three novices to win had all won a hurdles race worth £10,000 or more to the winner, which brings us on to the next point…
  3. 5 of the last 10 winners ran off a chase mark at list 7lb lower than their hurdles mark. 5 of the last 10 may not seem like a huge number, but there were only 14 horses in the last 10 years which fit this description. There were no horses which fit the description last year, but there are a couple of contenders this time around.

These stats give a clear idea of the type of horse we’re looking for – in their first or second season over fences, they’re relatively unexposed over these obstacles but showed some good form over hurdles (more specifically, were officially rated 7lb higher over hurdles than over fences).

Let’s begin by looking at the horses which fit all 3 of these trends (although I’ll be lenient on the 7lb requirement)

  1. Snow Falcon – A novice chaser, having run just 4 times over fences, he’s officially rated 149 over these obstacles (compared to 157 over hurdles).
  2. Knight Of Noir – A second-season chaser who has run in 6 chases (but also ran in 5 hurdles races since going chasing). He’s rated 142 over fences and 147 over hurdles.
  3. Ballydine – A novice chaser with just 4 chase starts to his name, he’s rated 135 over fences and 139 over hurdles.
  4. Gwencily Berbas – A second-season chaser who has run in 8 chases and is officially rated 132 over fences compared to 149 over hurdles.
  5. Ibis Du Rheu – A second-season chaser who has run in 5 chases and is officially rated 141 over fences and 146 over hurdles.

These aren’t a definitive shortlist, but it is one angle into the race and so I’m going to profile each of these horses in order to find out whether any of them will be particularly suited by the conditions in this race:

Snow Falcon

  • Overall Record: 32 runs – 9 wins – 9 places (7 runs, 2 wins and 1 place were on the flat so for the purposes of this profile I’m focusing on 25 runs, 7 wins and 8 places in National Hunt races)
  • Cheltenham record: 2-0-0
    • 5th in the Neptune Novices Hurdle in 2015
    • 5th in the Stayers Hurdle in 2017
  • Seems versatile in terms of ground – 12-4-4 on yielding or better, 13-3-4 on yielding to soft or worse.
  • 2-0-1 over 3m 1f but he has won over 3m (6-1-2).
  • Sean Flanagan usually rides (15-4-4) but G N Fox has a very strong record (3-2-0). Nina Carberry also has a good record (3-1-2) and the only other jockey to ride him was Paul Carberry (4-0-2).
  • His win record is better in smaller fields but his place record is almost identical so it’s probably not a major preference (12-5-2 in fields of 7 or less, 13-2-6 in fields of 8 or more).
  • He’s definitely able to run well fresh (3-2-0 after over 120 days off the track) but again, it doesn’t seem to be a major preference.
  • His record from October to February (17-6-6) is better than in March and April (6-0-2).
  • He has run well at left-handed tracks but it would appear to be a minor preference (16-5-5 compared to 9-2-3 going right-handed).
  • He may prefer flatter tracks (17-6-4 on flat tracks and those described as having slight undulations, compared to 8-1-4 on more undulating tracks).

Knight Of Noir

  • Overall Record: 20 runs – 5 wins – 5 places
  • Cheltenham record: 3-0-2
    • 2nd in a 2m 5f class 3 handicap hurdle in November 2014
    • 2nd in a 3m class 2 handicap hurdle in January 2015
    • 9th in the 3m listed Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle at the 2015 festival
  • He has a strong record on good ground (6-2-1). 14-3-4 on good to soft or worse is strong too, however, and includes a win on heavy (2-1-0), so he’s definitely versatile.
  • He has won over 3m 1f (1-1-0). 1-0-0 over 3m 1½f.
  • Noel Fehily has a strong record on him (5-2-1), as does Tom Scudamore (7-1-3). Nick Scholfield is 4-1-0, Paul Townend is 1-0-0 and J A Best is 2-0-1.
  • 2-0-0 in fields of 16 or more may be worth noting but it’s a small sample size to start with – 6-1-1 in fields of 7 or less isn’t overly impressive either, while 12-4-4 in fields of between 8 and 15 is more encouraging.
  • He has a poor record when back out within 30 days of his last start (5-0-1) and after a break of over 120 days (3-0-1). The rest of his starts have come after a break of between one and two months, and his record after this length of time off the track is 11-5-2.
  • His place record would suggest a definite preference for left-handed tracks (11-3-4 compared to 9-2-1 going right-handed).
  • He has a strong record on flat tracks (5-2-2), and while his record on more undulating tracks isn’t encouraging (15-3-3), his record on tracks with extreme undulations such as Cheltenham is decent (7-2-2).

Ballydine

  • Overall Record: 9 runs – 3 wins – 3 places
  • Never ran at Cheltenham.
  • His form is generally on soft ground – 6-3-3 on soft, 1-0-1 on heavy. 2-0-2 on good, so it may not actually be that important.
  • He has won over 3m (1-1-0) and placed over 3m½f (2-0-1).
  • T J O’Brien (1-1-0), Richard Johnson (2-1-1) and Sean Bowen (1-1-0) have won on him. Noel Fehily (1-0-0), Brian Hughes and J J Burke (2-0-1 each) haven’t.
  • He may prefer larger fields (6-3-1 in fields of 8 or more, including 3-2-0 in fields of 12 or more, compared to 3-0-2 in fields of 7 or less).
  • His record is very strong when back out quickly (3-3-0 when back out within 30 days of his last start).
  • Contrary to the last stat, he starts the season well (3-2-1 in October/November). 1-0-1 in December, 2-0-1 in January, 1-1-0 in February and 2-0-0 in March/April.

Gwencily Berbas

  • Overall Record: 13 runs – 3 wins – 2 places
  • Cheltenham record: 1-0-0
    • 9th in the grade 3 2m½f Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the 2015 festival.
  • Seems to prefer softer ground (9-3-1 on yielding to soft or worse, 4-0-1 on yielding or better).
  • 1-1-0 over 3m 1f.
  • Paul Townend (1-1-0) and Adrain Heskin (5-2-0) have been on board when he won. Denis O’Regan (7-0-2) has been less successful.
  • 4-1-0 on undulating tracks isn’t as strong as 9-2-2 on flat tracks and those with slight undulations.
  • It’s hard to see very many trends and patterns in his form.

Ibis Du Rheu

  • Overall Record: 12 runs – 1 win – 2 places
  • Cheltenham record: 4-1-1
    • 6th in the a grade 2 2m 1f juvenile hurdle in January 2015
    • Won the class 2 2m 4½f Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle at the 2016 festival
    • 3rd in a class 2 2m 5f handicap novice chase in January 2017
    • Pulled up in the Ultima Handicap Chase last year
  • His sole win was on good ground (1-1-0), 3-0-1 on good to soft and 8-0-3 on soft.
  • He hasn’t won over further than 2m 4½f (1-1-0). 7-0-3 over further. Being pulled up in this race last year was the furthest that he had ever run over.
  • J Sherwood was on board for his win (2-1-0). Harry Cobden (1-0-1), Sam Twiston-Davies (8-0-3) and Nick Scholfield (1-0-0) have also rode him.
  • He has come up short at anything better than class 2 (6-0-1, with the place coming in a listed race).
  • His win came in a large field (24 runners in the Martin Pipe). 4-0-0 in fields of 7 or less, 4-1-4 in fields of 8 or more.
  • Almost all of his success has come after a moderate break – 3-0-0 when back out within 30 days, 3-0-1 after over 120 days off the track, but 5-1-4 on the rest of his starts, which came after a break of between 30 and 60 days.
  • 9-1-3 going left-handed is better than 3-0-1 going right-handed.
  • 7-0-2 on flatter tracks, 5-1-2 on more undulating tracks such as Cheltenham.

Update on March 12th: Interestingly, only 1 of these 5 horses will run in the race tomorrow – Knight Of Noir.

While many firms are offering enhanced each-way terms for this race by adding an extra place, it’s worth noting that most of these are offering only a fifth of the odds for a place. William Hill are still offering a quarter of the odds each-way. If you open an account with William Hill using this link, you’ll receive €30/£30 of free bets once you place your first bet of €10/£10 or more. If you’re interested, take a look at our Free Bets page to find out how you could win some cash prizes from The Parade Ring as well as picking up your free bets. 

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