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2022 Cheltenham Festival Tips - Early Handicap Pointers and Tips

13 Jan 2022
Jon Vine 13 Jan 2022
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  • An early look at three of the handicaps at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival
  • Nine handicap races take place during this famous meeting
  • We've highlighted some general trends for the Cheltenham Festival handicaps
  • You can also see our ante-post shortlists for the Ultima Handicap Chase, the Paddy Power Plate and the Martin Pipe 

ultima handicap chase
A general view as runners make their way towards the first fence in The Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase at Cheltenham. (Getty)
In this article, we've highlighted some general trends for the handicaps at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, before running through our shortlists for the Ultima, the Paddy Power Plate and the Martin Pipe.
    Table Of Contents
  • General Cheltenham Festival Handicap Trends
  • 2022 Ultima Handicap Chase Tips
  • Ultima Handicap Chase Shortlist
  • 2022 Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase Tips
  • Paddy Power Plate Shortlist
  • 2022 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Tips
  • Martin Pipe Shortlist

General Cheltenham Festival Handicap Trends

In recent years, younger horses have been dominant in handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival. 70% of handicap chases in the last five years have been won by horses who were eight years old or younger. 77% of the handicaps over hurdles (not including the Boodles) were won by seven-year-olds or younger. Don’t be afraid to back novices in any handicap at Cheltenham. Especially over fences, with 62% of the handicap chases in the last five years going the way of novices.

The Shunter, Belfast Banter and Heaven Help Us won last year carrying weights of 10-05 or less. Those victories can be viewed as trend busters as, in the previous seven years, 75% of the handicap winners carried 11-00 or more. 

Finally, although we’re going to earmark a few potential handicap winners in the upcoming shortlists, be aware that 65% of the handicap winners in the last decade had their final outing on January 24th or after. There’s plenty of time between now and the middle week of March for horses to either enhance or obliterate their handicap chances. If you’re betting on any of the handicaps now, you must certainly bet with caution.

2022 Ultima Handicap Chase Tips

Ireland has trounced the British at recent Cheltenham Festivals. There is, however, one race that we can say with a modicum of certainty that Ireland won’t be winning, and that’s the Ultima Handicap Chase. You have to go back to 2007 to find the last Irish-based winner of this day one handicap. Only six Irish runners in the last decade have managed to finish in the first five places. It’s clearly not a race that the top Irish trainers target.

I did say earlier that backing younger horses in handicaps is a sensible plan of attack. The Ultima is a slight exception to that rule, as 11 of the last 15 winners were aged eight or over. Proven stamina over at least three miles is a must and previous experience around Cheltenham goes a long way too.

Ultima Handicap Chase Shortlist

Alnadam2022 Ultima Handicap ChaseGET 25/1 HERE
New customers only. 18+ T&Cs and wagering requirements apply.

Remastered seems like the ideal type for this sort of race, but he hasn’t finished the race well on either of his last two outings around Cheltenham. Fortuitous Charlie Hall Chase winner, Fusil Raffles ran well back in handicap company when fourth in the Racing Post Trophy and he would certainly be a player here, if Nicky Henderson decided against taking up his Ryanair Chase entry.

Kim Bailey came close to winning this handicap with a novice last year, as Happygolucky finished an agonising second. Does He Know has a similar profile to his injured-stablemate and boasts plenty of winning form around the track. I’m not sure whether he quite has the class of Happygolucky, though, and soft ground may be an issue. He’s certainly one to consider, though.

Fantastikas won very well on his chase debut at Lingfield and has run with great credit in two Grade Twos since then. He’s a novice to consider. As is second-season chaser Kiltealy Briggs, who kept on strongly to beat Mint Condition on heavy ground at Haydock to open his account over fences, and travelled every bit as well as both Bravemansgame and Ahoy Senor in the Kauto Star before being outpaced down the stretch. 

ALNADAM was backed into favouritism for this race 12 months ago, and ran well before tiring late on. On his latest effort here at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, he looked to be going flat-out for the majority of the race, before staying on again late to finish third. 

Although he’s yet to win over three miles, Alnadam shaped the last day like the step up in trip would really suit and he’s currently rated four pounds lower than what he was at the Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago. Dan Skelton will surely have the Ultima on Alnadam’s radar and he would be my best bet at this stage.

Harry Skelton riding Alnadam clear the last to win The Virgin Bet Warriors Handicap Chase at Sandown Park. (Getty)

2022 Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase Tips

The Paddy Power Plate is one of my favourite races of the entire Cheltenham Festival, and this year’s race promises to be a cracker. Four of the last five renewals of this day three handicap have gone the way of novice chasers, so any British or Irish novices who rock up on St Patrick’s day have to be respected.

All of the last eight winners were rated in the 140s. All eight had won at least once over a trip between 19 and 21 furlongs and all eight had previous experience running in Graded races, either over hurdles or fences. 

Paddy Power Plate Shortlist

Palmers Hill2022 Paddy Power PlateGET 20/1 HERE
New customers only. 18+ T&Cs and wagering requirements apply.

Emmet Mullins won this race with The Shunter 12 months ago, and he could have it earmarked for Noble Yeats. Since winning well on his chase debut at Galway, where he was ridden fairly prominently, Mullins’ seven-year-old has barely picked up from the rear on his last three starts. Those defeats could see this talented young chaser make his Cheltenham Festival debut off a workable mark.

Gabynako was backed into a very short price for the Martin Pipe last season, only to unseat his rider at the opening flight after being hampered by a faller. Gavin Cromwell’s charge laboured on heavy ground at Limerick over Christmas, but he did beat a future Grade One winner in Fury Road at Fairyhouse earlier in the season. Tf he was handed a mark in the high-140s, I could see Cromwell swerving a showdown with Bob Olinger in the Turners' Novices Chase in favour of a tilt at this handicap.

The one I like most at this stage for the Plate, though, is PALMERS HILL, who remains open to further progression over fences. Jonjo O’Neill reverted back to hurdling last season, after Palmers Hill jumped poorly on his chase debut at Taunton. Jonjo Jnr rode him in the Coral Cup, where the 33/1 outsider jumped fairly poorly throughout, but finished off his race well to finish inside the top ten.

Palmers Hill made no mistake on his reappearance over fences at Wetherby, beating Topofthecotswolds with plenty left up his sleeve. O’Neill’s nine-year-old then didn’t jump with much fluency during the first circuit of the Howden’s Handicap at Ascot, but Palmer’s Hill got his act together when Jonjo asked for an effort and scooted clear after the last to secure a ten-length success. 

Lightly-raced for his age, I’m convinced Palmers Hill is capable of progressing beyond his fresh mark of 142 and I wouldn’t be surprised if connections decided to go straight to Cheltenham for a tilt at this lucrative handicap.

palmers hill
Jonjo O'Neill Jr riding Palmers Hill (green) clear the last to win The Howden Handicap Chase at Ascot. (Getty)

2022 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Tips

Having been taken under Martin Pipe's wing during the fledgling stages of his training career, Gordon Elliott the race named in honour of his former mentor one of his top priorities at the Cheltenham Festival. Elliott saddled the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle winner in 2017 and 2018. He trained the runner up in 2016, the second and third in 2019, and Column Of Fire looked to be coming with a winning challenge in 2020, only to fall at the final flight.

That highly-publicised ban meant that Elliott missed a trip to Cheltenham 12 months ago and his Martin Pipe runners, under the name of Denise Foster, performed surprisingly poorly. Now back at the helm of his County Meath powerhouse, Elliott has been firing in the winners at home in Ireland. Add into the mix that Elliott has won 25% of the handicaps staged at the Festival over the last six years (seven wins apiece over hurdles and fences), then there's no other trainer I'd want to side with in this year’s Martin Pipe.

Martin Pipe Shortlist

Chemical Energy2022 Martin Pipe Handicap HurdleGET 16/1 HERE
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Elliott usually points one or two of his most promising novices at the Martin Pipe. All of the last six winners were rated 138 or higher and all of the last eight winners had experience running in a Graded race at some point of their careers.

Off Your Rocco and Top Bandit have shown a good level of form this season and Elliott ran both at Cheltenham during the autumn. I A Connect’s only defeat in three starts over hurdles came at the hands of the vastly more experienced Ciel De Neige, and he would be another to consider should he be handed a mark under 145. As would Gringo D’aubrelle, despite looking a little one-paced when third behind Stage Star in the Challow Hurdle over Christmas.

If I had to pin my colours to one of Elliott's possible runners at this stage, it would be CHEMICAL ENERGY, who was outpaced when finishing 11th in last season’s Champion Bumper. Davy Russell’s mount won nicely over two-and-a-half miles on his hurdles debut at Navan in the autumn, before bumping into Supreme Novices' Hurdle candidate, My Mate Mozzie in the Grade Three For Auction Novices’ Hurdle back down over two miles.

Elliott’s six-year-old then made the most of a swing at the weights to beat Lunar Display in a Rated Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Chemical Energy was well on top as they hit the line that day, and the runner-up has since boosted that form by winning a Listed race back in with her own sex.

I suspect the British handicapper would give Chemical Energy, who’s rated 132 in Ireland, a mark between 138 and 142, which would ensure he carried a decent weight into the Martin Pipe and Elliott would love to give Andrew and Gemma Brown – who stuck by him throughout the fiasco last year - a Cheltenham Festival winner. 

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