Favourites don’t win at the Cheltenham Festival all the time. Like any horse racing meeting, there are equine athletes capable of outrunning their odds and causing upsets.
These can be unexposed sorts like last year’s ill-fated 16/1 Champion Hurdle hero Espoir D’Allen, or horses simply running the race of their lives like rank 100/1 outsider Norton’s Coin in the 1990 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Who are the main outsiders for Cheltenham Festival honours this year? Let’s take a look…
Day 1 – Dark Horses For Arkle, Champion Hurdle and Supreme
Trainer Dan Skelton and owner John Hales are no strangers to big race success, so unbeaten Arkle hope Maire Banrigh – who also holds an entry in the Marsh Novices’ Chase – has potential. The 8-year-old has won all four starts over fences this season and bolted up by 11 lengths in a Listed contest a Huntingdon against her fellow mares.
Edwardstone was an unlucky loser in the Rossington Main at Haydock Park last time out, and had shaped well in winning both of his previous hurdles starts. He remains a live outsider from Alan King’s stable for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which gets the Festival underway.
Darver Star, meanwhile, ran the race of his life in the Irish Champion Hurdle when making Honeysuckle work to maintain her unbeaten record. Trainer Gavin Cromwell landed the Cheltenham equivalent last season, so it’s surprising to see this 8-year-old as big as 33/1 to go one better than at Leopardstown.
Day 2 – Big Price Runners for Ballymore, RSA and Champion Chase
Leading Irish owner JP McManus also has a wealth of talented horses and a decision needs to be made about Sporting John’s Festival target. Trainer Philip Hobbs has kept the 5-year-old to the minimum distance and running at Exeter so far. As an Irish point winner, however, Sporting John may be better over further and, on that basis, looks a lively outsider for the 2m 5f Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Pym, meanwhile, carries the same colours as Nicky Henderson’s stable star Altior. He has one Festival entry in the 3m RSA Chase and already won a race at the course over that distance. All of the talk and hype surrounds stable companion Champ but, at 25/1, Pym could easily outrun those odds.
Lastly on Ladies’ Day, from the participants in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Dynamite Dollars is an intriguing potential runner for champion trainer Paul Nicholls. He could make his much-anticipated return to action for the Ditcheat handler in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury against Altior. If Dynamite Dollars runs well there, then he won’t be 33/1 for Champion Chase glory.
Day 3 – Who’s Worth Supporting At Bigger Ddds for Stayers, Marsh and Dawn Run success?
Bapaume wants a longer trip over fences than trainer Willie Mullins has been running him over. Although the stable and same owner have beloved veteran Faugheen fancied for the Marsh Novices’ Chase, the race distance of two-and-a-half miles looks sure to suit this younger horse at bigger odds.
While horse racing bookies and apps are always expecting to boost their customers during the Festival, it can pay to look at past form and former Stayers’ Hurdle hero Penhill has a formidable record at Cheltenham. He is two from two over course and distance for Mullins and owner Tony Bloom, so shouldn’t be 20/1 to regain his crown.
Floressa ran a very big race in defeat against older mares at Doncaster last time out. She was far from disgraced for Henderson in that Grade 2 contest, so if reverting back to novice company for the Dawn Run at the Festival, she could well outrun a 14/1 price.
Day 4 – Appealing Prices for Albert Bartlett, Triumph and Gold Cup glory
Wolf Prince was staying on well in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, so that may give trainer Cromwell every reason to pitch him into Grade 1 company again for the Triumph instead of the Fred Winter. He is a 33/1 shot to win the big 4-year-olds only contest.
Gigginstown House Stud have a few decent hands in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle entries, but Cobbler’s Way may be the best of those. He was a gallant runner-up at Grade 1 level last time out and could appreciate another step up in trip more than odds of 20/1 suggest.
Finally, in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Monalee went down all guns blazing in the Savills Chase over Christmas. It was a much-improved effort from his reappearance run and when beaten further in the same race last year. There is still 25/1 about for Henry De Bromhead’s horse who has placed at the last three Festivals, so it’s no stretch to imagine him going well in the big one.