The opening handicap of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival is the Ultima Handicap Chase, a 3m 1f challenge in which the field tackle 20 fences over the Old Course at Prestbury Park.
Twenty-three runners remained in the field at the 48-hour final declaration stage, including last year’s winner Corach Rambler. He will be bidding to become just the fourth horse to win this race twice, matching Sentina (1957, 1958), Scot Lane (1982, 1983) and Un Temps Pour Tout (2016, 2017).
With an official rating of 155, Fanion D’Estruval is the highest-rated runner in the field for Venetia Williams, while champion trainer Paul Nicholls is represented by Threerunderthrufive.
Cheltenham 2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase tips
John Hill’s fancies for the big race are below. Scroll down to read the expert analysis behind them.
Odds correct at time of publishing and may be subject to change.
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Repeat on cards for Rambler
CORACH RAMBLER powered up the hill at Cheltenham to win the Ultima Handicap Chase in 2022 by just under three lengths. The talented chaser looked to be getting better as that race progressed.
The nine-year-old scored off a mark of 140 last year but it was clear he was a long way ahead of the handicapper. He is now up to a mark of 146, helped by two below-par performances this season.
Lucinda Russell’s runner often finds his best form at this time of the season, so his autumn runs at Carlisle and Newbury are not concerning. The Scottish trainer has clearly had this race and the Grand National in mind from the start of the campaign, so you would expect him to peak in the spring.
The nine-year-old will give Russell an excellent chance of a second Grand National success next month at Aintree and he has a similar profile to One For Arthur, who scored in Liverpool in 2017. However, before his connections think about the world’s most famous steeplechase, they will be hoping their horse can provide them with another Cheltenham Festival victory.
The chaser has won on soft and heavy ground, so even if the forecast rain does fall prior to day one of the Festival, there will be no concerns about the conditions.
Tip: Corach Rambler @ 7/1 with BetUK
Oscar Elite can show class again
OSCAR ELITE represents one of Joe Tizzard’s best chances of having a winner at the Cheltenham Festival this week. He showed what he was capable of when he landed the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot last month, scoring by an impressive seven lengths.
Off a mark just 1lb lower than he has this year, Tizzard’s chaser finished third in this race in 2022. He lost out on second place just on the line, Gericault Roque finishing a head in front of him.
The eight-year-old normally takes a few runs before he shakes off the cobwebs from the summer and he should build on his effort at Ascot. His jumping was much that day and if he can get into that sort of a rhythm again in this contest, he should be in the mix come the business end of the race.
With 10st 12lb on his back in this handicap chase, he has a nice weight to carry. This will be his sixth appearance at this course, so he is very familiar with this venue.
Tip: Oscar Elite @ 11/1 with BetUK