SELECTION: FANTASTIKAS | 14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
After a 23-5 battering in the Prestbury Cup last season, the Irish domination in Gloucestershire has left plenty to be desired as crowds prepare to descend on the enclosures of the Home of Jumps Racing once again for the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.
But one contest that Britain can always rely on stealing from their rivals across the sea is the Ultima Handicap Chase, the first handicap of the week which is ran over the three-mile and one furlong trip on the opening day.
Not since 2006 has an Irish raider taken this event, with the home nation winning the previous 11 renewals, including last year as Vintage Clouds saw off all-comers to win at the fifth time of asking.
Quite remarkably, that success for Sue Smith’s grey put Britain 2-1 up after the first trio of races, and they would go onto record only a further three victories for the remainder of the week.
However, with far more strength in this year’s Supreme and the current Arkle favourite, the runners-up from twelve months ago could race into an early 3-0 lead if all goes their way this time around.
And the horse that can temporarily continue the early wet sail is FANTASTIKAS.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’s novice carried some very strong hurdle form into this sphere and is two from four over fences, with both wins coming at Lingfield Park (also left-handed).
Since his debut at the Surrey track, six of the eight that followed him home that day have won since, giving him a major form boost.
He ran a cracker at Cheltenham in the Dipper on New Year’s Day, finishing third to L’homme Press and The Glancing Queen – both of whom have huge chances at the Festival themselves, and that was over a shorter-than-ideal trip.
With a mark of 144, he looks off a very nice weight of 10:06 – 17 of the last 21 winners have the race have had under 11st on their back.
He’s only 1lb higher than last year’s winner but at 7-years-old, he’s very unexposed and his second to Brown Advisory fancy Threeunderthrufive is solid enough form to boot.
To add, three of the last six winners of the race have been out of a French dam (Un Temps Pour Tout x2, Coo Star Sivola) – the son of Davidoff falling right into that category with his links to Negresse De Cuta.