The Dark Horses of Cheltenham Festival on Each Day

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Day One Dark Horses

Blue Lord – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Appreciate It is warm order for the opening race of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival and rightly so, a two-time Grade One winner already this season and a trainer in Willie Mullins who has won the race a record six times however stablemate Blue Lord might have gone slightly under the radar. Still unexposed over hurdles, Blue Lord won on his debut over obstacles after an early career on the flat in France and since was thrown in the deep at the end in two Grade One’s. The six-year-old was far from disgraced in either of them, first finishing second to Ballymore favourite Blue Lord over 2 and a half miles when far too keen and then third to Appreciate It at the Dublin Racing Festival. Whilst he has work to do to reverse that form, a stronger run race could suit him and there still looks more to come and could be overpriced at 12/1.

Captain Guinness – Arkle Chase

For many, the Arkle is a straight shootout between favourite Shishkin, Energumene and Dan Skelton’s Allmankind however Captain Guineas may be one to run into a place. Henry De Bromhead’s horse was a faller two out when seemingly travelling well against Energumene at the Dublin Racing Festival and whilst it’s unlikely that he would have won, he was travelling well enough to think he may have challenged Willie Mullins’ charge. He clearly has some quirks, having also been pulled up on chasing debut but looked good winning at Punchestown in December and represents last years winning trainer. At the same time, he was seemingly travelling well in last years Supreme too before he was bought down through Asterion Forlonge. This horse is best priced 14/1 and could run into a place against the well fancied top three.

Sharjah – Champion Hurdle

For many, this may not be a dark horse but the betting certainly seems to think otherwise, as last years Champion Hurdle winner is available at 16/1. That seems an overaction to his somewhat disappointing run at the Dublin Racing festival after being so impressive at Christmas however it is important to remember that mirrors exactly last season, which concluded in finishing a fine second in this race. He may have work to do to reverse form with both Epatante and Honeysuckle and giving them weight will not be easy, but the 2021 Champion Hurdle should be run at a frantic pace and will suit Sharjah, who will be held up and the market may have misjudged him here.

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Day Two Dark Horses

Us and Them – Grand Annual Chase

Joseph O’Brien holds a huge hand in this race and whilst Us and Them isn’t one of his more fancied runners, he looks capable of running a strong race.He has not had an ideal season thus fur but that has meant a tumbling handicap mark, he will run of 147, a pound lower than when third in this last year. He has previously finished second in an Arkle over course and distance and four of the last six Grand Annual winners all ran in the race in the year before, which bodes well for this eight-year-old.

Put the Kettle on – Champion Chase

This looks like a competitive renewal and Chacun Pour Soi may well be too good for them but it’s fair to say Henry De Bromhead’s mare may have been slightly overlooked. She is 3/3 over course and distance, including a surprise winner of last years Arkle and certainly loves the stiff stamina test of the Cheltenham hill. Her mares’ allowance in such a race could be priceless and whilst she needs to reverse running with Chacun Pour Soi, a return to Cheltenham will help and she is certainly a dark horse to run a big race here.

Ramillies – Champion Bumper

With now Sir Gerhard to add to favourite Kilcruit, Willie Mullins seemingly holds all the cards here as he goes for a record 11th win in this race and a dark horse for him could be Ramilles. He was an impressive 10-length winner of a bumper at Leopardstown at Christmas and was well fancied when fifth behind Kilcruit at the Dublin Racing Festival. He travelled well that day but seemingly stopped quickly as he was up with a strong pace. A more patient ride this time may allow him to get closer to Kilcruit and give the top two something to think about.

Day Three Dark Horses

Mrs Milner – Pertemps Handicap Hurdle

The Pertemps as usual is hugely competitive and Paul Nolan’s mare be a horse that has been overlooked. She qualified for the race when fourth in a qualifier at Christmas and has been raised 5 pounds for that effort. The Christmas qualifier has produced winners of this race in the past and she was eye-catching enough last time to show she can mark her mark in this race at a big price of 20/1.

Fakir D’oudairies – Ryanair Chase

The Ryanair is perhaps more competitive than ever this year and it is easy to make a case for many of the horses at the top of the market but Joseph O’Brien’s horse may be the dark horse here. He only runs over this trip once and was successful and this may well be his correct trip, perhaps having found two miles too sharp and three miles just too far. He ran fourth as a Juvenile in the Supreme two years ago and was a tight second in last years Arkle when staying on strongly. The Horse was second to Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi last month and was staying on strongly at the end, he is unexposed at the trip and it’s important to remember is still only six and there is still more improvement to come and could give the older horses here something to think about.

Plan of Attack – Kim Muir Chase

Perhaps left field as Henry De Bromhead’s 8-year-old has not shown much at all this season but ran a solid race in this last year off two pounds higher. His first two starts of this season resulted in him being pulled up however it was a lot more like it when he was 8th in a competitive handicap at Christmas. He hasn’t run since and this seemingly has been the plan so has been freshened up and has won fresh in the past. As usual, this is a highly competitive race however using the angle of last years runner on a lower mark, Plan of Attack could be one to keep an eye out for.

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Day Four Dark Horses

Shattered Love – Mares Chase

Elimay is all the range here and has been impressive this season, including last time when beating Shattered Love. That, however, was over 2 miles, shorter than ideal for Shattered Love, who has competed in more stamina tests such as the Gold Cup and Grand National, however, this seems a lot more her trip. She is a course and distance winner having won what is now known as the Marsh Chase in 2018 and her record in mares only company makes for particularly good reading. She was not stopping when passed by Elimay last time and her experience and festival form puts her in good stead, and she is more than capable of running a big race here.

Galopin Des Champs – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle

The Martin Pipe looks as hard as ever to work out and Willie Mullins is likely to be well represented here, including this horse. He was second on hurdles debut over two and a half miles before being pulled up the next time and was thrown into a Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival over two miles when still a median. He was sixth that day at 100/1 but was not beaten at all far and remains very unexposed over obstacles and the step up to two and a half miles may well unlock the extra improvement and he could be well treated off a mark of 142.

Threeunderthrufive – Albert Bartlett The Albert Bartlett is certainly the most difficult of the novice hurdles to solve and Paul Nicholls’ horse here could be one to keep an eye out on. He is a perfect three from three over hurdles and improved for the step up to three miles last time when winning at Musselburgh. That form has already been franked and there should be more improvement to come at the trip. It is an incredibly open race, but this son of Shantou has done nothing wrong thus far and could have the attributes to run a solid race.

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