For many punters the Cheltenham Festival is all about the supposed “good things”. Be it British banker Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, or the likes of Benie Des Dieux in the Mares Hurdle or Sir Erec in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, upon whom the Irish will no doubt be emptying their wallets.
The claims of the aforementioned runners – and others – really need very little advertising, but year upon year the Cheltenham Festival throws up more than its fair share of shock results and big priced winners. The pursuit of those potential under the radar runners is the focus here as we attempt to unearth four horses who may well outrun their odds in the week’s big Grade 1’s.
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Tuesday 12th March – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle: Brandon Castle each way at 50/1 with BetVictor
We will start at the start, in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Our reason for heading to this race are question marks we have against those towards the head of the market, which may potentially open the door to a surprise result. Al Dancer heads the betting and has undoubtedly been impressive, but is by Al Namix who has never had a winner at the Cheltenham Festival from 28 attempts. Second favourite Fakir Doudairies may need it soft and has other entries, whilst third in line Angel’s Breath had his bubble burst last time out at Kempton.
Looking way down the list the one to catch our eye is Brandon Castle from the yard of Neil King. Beautifully bred for the flat being by Dylan Thomas and out of a Galileo mare, he did achieve a respectable rating of 99 on the level, but it seems that it may be hurdling where he really makes his name. A perfect three from three over obstacles to date, including when thumping the opposition off a mark of 130 last time out, this fluent jumping front runner looks well worth a crack at this.
Wednesday 13th March – Champion Bumper: Ask For Glory each way at 16/1 with Betfair
With six of the past nine winners returning a double figure SP, the only flat race of the festival has proved to be well worth a look when seeking those big priced winners. Anything from the yard of Willie Mullins is to be feared as ever, but it is a runner from one of the major British operations who will be carrying our cash here.
Paul Nicholls is not commonly associated with success in this race – indeed he has never won it – but hopefully 2019 will be the year that all changes. Nicholls has his string in rude health headed into the meeting which counts for plenty, and in Ask For Glory he looks to have just the right type for this contest. An impressive point winner, he was snapped up for a pretty penny on the back of that run and promptly sluiced home on his debut for the yard at Chepstow on soft ground. Expected to improve for a slightly sounder surface – which he will likely get here – he looks well worth a punt.
Thursday 14th March – Ryanair Chase: Balko Des Flos each way at 12/1 with BetVictor
Returning to the theme of looking for reasons to oppose those towards the head of the market, we turn to this years Ryanair Chase. Two of the first three in the betting – Footpad and Min – may not even run here, and in the case of the former, haven’t shown enough this season to warrant support at single figure odds. Monalee is solid but unspectacular, whilst Un De Sceaux is eleven now and possibly not quite the force of old.
It can often pay to side with runners with form at previous festivals, and that will be our strategy here, with the Henry De Bromhead runner Balko Des Flos the one to be on for our money. A solid fifth in the 2016 Albert Bartlett, he was bombing along only to come to grief in the 2017 JLT, but his finest hour came in this very race 12 months ago when he won in a canter from no less a horse than Un De Sceaux.
Given a significant break on the back of a disappointing effort in the Savills Chase in December, it looks worth chancing that he will once again be cherry ripe for his big day.
Friday 15th March – Albert Bartlett Hurdle: Dallas Des Pictons each way at 25/1 with Bet365
The big hurdle event on the closing day has been the home of the shock result in recent years, with 33/1 shot Kilbricken Storm just the latest in a succession of big priced winners last year. It therefore makes sense to target this contest when seeking that bumper payday.
Nicky Henderson’s Birchdale looks the best of the British contenders for this race but probably due to his connections he looks short enough on what he has actually achieved at the track. Gordon Elliott’s Commander Of Fleet makes marginally more appeal but again hasn’t been missed by the market.
It is another from the Elliott yard who catches our eye. Dallas Des Pictons took a little while to warm to the task but has steadily improved as he has been stepped up in trip, culminating in a hard-fought win in a handicap at Leopardstown last time out. Clearly this demands more, but Elliott is a master at producing bundles of improvement from his runners at the Festival, and this one looks just the type of out and out stayer required for a race which can often turn into a real slog.