Cheltenham - At The Races

Under The Radar

    Chris Sleep and Will Lattimore reveal their selection of 20 dark horses to look out for at the 2017 Festival - essential material for your ATR Tracker over Cheltenham.

In the busy preview period which runs up to the Festival, many hours will be spent discussing the favourites and leading fancies for the feature Grade 1 races which dominate the four days.

But aside of those horses, there lurks an array of lower-profile runners who are pointed either at the hotly-contested supporting races or have missed the mainstream attention in the feature race previews.

Here, our experts from each side of the Irish Sea - Chris Sleep (UK) and Will Lattimore (Ireland) - reveal their shortlist of 20 dark horses for the Festival.

Horse profiles

A Hare Breath (IRE)

A Hare Breath started the season over hurdles and was a superb fourth in the competitive Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in the early part of the season. Following that opening effort, he was sent chasing by Ben Pauling and despite an error at the first fence he warmed to his task well to win a fairly useful novice chase at Bangor.

He didn't really progress at Doncaster on his next start behind Forest Bhian but things didn't really fall his way that day and if forgiven that effort his hurdles form suggests he is more than capable of running a big race for the Arkle.

It's improbable he will beat Altior but given his solid record at Cheltenham there is every chance he can reward each-way or place only support. Richard Johnson has also been booked to ride by Ben Pauling which is certainly no negative. (CS)

Video Form
28 Jan 2017:

Ami Desbois (FR)

Ami Desbois is a three-time hurdle winner this season who has been placed twice in graded company behind Wholestone and Messire Des Obeaux. His second to Wholestone was a superb run where he kept on well up over 3m when showing a gutsy attitude, and he was far from disgraced in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle when dropping down in trip.

He hacked up on his last run in a handicap and is now rated 144. A strong stayer with plenty of experience, which is often a help in this race, Ami Desbois has form with Wholestone and Messire Des Obeaux but is three times the price and he can give a good account here. (CS)

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Aurillac (FR)

  • 7-y-o; grey gelding
  • Breeding: Martaline - Ombrelle (Octagonal)
  • Trained by: D Pipe
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 15 Mar 2017 14:10
  • Result: PU/12, rear of mid-division, carried right by loose horse and last from 6th, soon niggled along, behind 10th, pulled up before 4 out
  • View full form

Aurillac is a maiden over fences and rated 137. He is generally a consistent horse who was placed in his first four handicaps where he caught the eye traveling well over trips around the 3m.

Aurillac is another horse who doesn't have a great turn of foot and just plugs on at the end of his races and the 4m race at Festival might be the perfect fit for him as he will have a strong pace to aim at and there is every chance he can run on late and run into the money.

His run last time out is best to write off as he would have despised the ground. Rebecca Curtis is very astute and is likely to secure the services of a highly capable amateur jockey and at a big price he could reward each-way support. (CS)

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Champers On Ice (IRE)

Champers On Ice has previous Festival form when finishing third behind Unowhatimeanharry in last year's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. He has been given a limited campaign over fences by David Pipe and he was a keeping on second having been outpaced over 3m at Warwick in January.

He was not disgraced when finding 2m4f too short for him at Cheltenham last time and his jumping was sound enough that day. Put bluntly, Champers On Ice looks slow and the longer trip of the 4m JT McNamara National Hunt Chase would be most appealing for him.

David Pipe seems to have the call on plenty top-class amateurs so it will be interesting to see who rides him, should he run here. He has a rating of 143 and does hold entries in the handicaps too. (CS)

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Colin's Sister

Colin's Sister is unbeaten in four starts over hurdles and is a progressive mare. She started the season off winning a pair of novice hurdles before she stepped up in class to win a Listed race before going on to score in a Grade 2 at Sandown last time out where she readily disposed of the useful Happy Diva.

Colin's Sister jumps and travels well and that should hold her in good stead in the OLGB Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham. It is likely she will go for the mares' Grade 1 on the first day as the trip will suit better than the 2m for the novice equivalent.

She is a capable mare whose current BHA rating would have been good enough to hit the frame in recent runnings of this race and she may be able to expose any chinks in the armour of the market leaders who come to the race on the back of underwhelming efforts. (CS)

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This 8-y-o gelding finished second in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase last year and there is no doubt connections have the same contest as their number one target this campaign. He was well-fancied for the Festival closer last season after he won in impressive style at Doncaster but this year his preparation is much different.

The key for most trainers is to get their entry running off the lightest weight possible, they could of raced him in a handicap chase for his prep but the risk of winning a race of that nature and getting a penalty could seriously damage your chances considering 22 out of the last 26 winners carried no more than 11st.

They decided to run him in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown last month for his prep, and I thought he ran a solid race. It`s worth noting he is rated 28lbs lower as a hurdler and the soft ground wouldn`t of suited in the slightest but he stayed on well to finish a closing fifth of 13.

It`s more than likely the ground will ride quicker which will be in his favour and barring any accidents he should be a leading player once again. (WL)

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Divin Bere (FR)

  • 4-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Della Francesca - Mofa Bere (Saumarez)
  • Trained by: N J Henderson
  • Last Race: Aintree, 6 Apr 2017 14:20
  • Result: 2/8, tracked leaders, went 2nd 4th, led before 2 out, ridden and headed narrowly approaching last, kept on flat but no impression on ready winner
  • View full form

Divin Bere was a winner on his English debut in a useful contest at Huntingdon. That form looked good at the time and the horse he defeated that day was Master Blueyes who went onto score by a wide margin in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on his next start.

Divin Bere shaped well and as though Cheltenham would be a track to suit him well. He showed plenty of toughness as he had a bump with his rival on the run in at Huntingdon and that ability to shrug that off and go onto win should help him in a big field at the Festival.

He is rated 139 and that looks a more than fair mark to go to the Fred Winter with and Nicky Henderson has won this race before. Divin Bere holds a solid chance of adding to his tally in this race. (CS)

Don Poli

  • 8-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Poliglote - Dalamine (Sillery)
  • Trained by: G Elliott
  • Last Race: Leopardstown, 12 Feb 2017 16:00
  • Result: 3/7, close up, on terms from 4th, slight lead 11th, pressed from before straight, headed at last, dropped to 3rd and kept on without matching 1st 2 close home
  • View full form

This time last year he was 9/2 to win the Gold Cup and 12 months later you can get 20/1 which, for me, has to be the each-way value selection of the contest.

I understand he had two victories going into last year`s event and this season`s form has been below expectations. However, he hasn`t got the right conditions in his three outings this term and I thought he did really well to finish just behind the vastly improving pair of Sizing John and Empire Of Dirt at Leopardstown last month. That day he was forced to make his own pace which is certainly not ideal for a horse who is an out and out stayer against two speedier types.

Going back over last year`s event, it`s fair to say he would of only finished a well-beaten fourth of nine if Cue Card stayed on his feet. The main reason he didn`t perform to his best was because the ground was too lively and on the sounder surface it took him an age to get going. Looking at the advanced weather forecast, I say the best conditions will be no better than good to soft which will play to his strengths.

There is no doubt the gallop will be strong throughout with the likelihood of Native River and Champagne West in the field, and if he can stay in contention turning for home you would have to think he will be one of the strongest finishers in the field. I for one will not be surprised if he runs better than his odds suggests. (WL)

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Footpad (FR)

This year`s Champion Hurdle looks a lot more open with Annie Power and Faugheen sadly missing through injury. I didn`t see much value at the top of the market but I do think 20/1 looks a fair each-way price for last`s year Triumph Hurdle third.

It`s fair to say he is a horse that definitely prefers plenty of cut in the ground considering all his five wins have been in soft and heavy conditions. However, he did perform really well on good ground in the Triumph and most recently he stayed on from an unpromising position to finish a fast closing second on a sound surface to Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in late January.

Personally, I think the going will be no better than good to soft on the first day and in what looks an open affair this 5-y-o gelding is another that could run better than his odds suggest especially if rain falls over the next week. (WL)

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For Good Measure (IRE)

For Good Measure has run three times this season in Cheltenham handicaps. He started the season with a good second in a Pertemps Qualifier. Following that effort, he was outpaced down in trip and the slow-run race on his last start didn't see him to best effect where he was tapped for toe before keeping on well in the closing stages.

With the Pertemps qualification out of the way and a mark of 138 almost certain to get him into the race, he can go well. He has been given a break since his last run and this will be his first run in the calendar year. It is also worth noting connections went close with If In Doubt (who was unlucky) in this race 12 months ago and he was having his first run in the calendar year then too. (CS)

Video Form
8 Dec 2015:

Jer's Girl (IRE)

This 5-y-o mare came to life at the Fairyhouse and Punchestown festivals over two miles and four furlongs last year and it`s very possible we could see the best of her at this time of the year once again albeit, a few weeks' sooner.

Looking at the betting, punters are making this a two horse race in the shape of Vroum Vroum Mag and Apples Jade but I have no doubt if Jers Girl is back to her very best she is definitely capable of troubling those at the top in the market.

I understand her recent two performances have been below-par ad that`s why we are getting 8/1 but as mentioned above she could well be a mare that is best when the sun is shining and I wouldn`t be surprised if she goes off half those odds come race time. (WL)

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Jury Duty

I have been keeping a close eye on this 6-y-o`s career and although this contest will be very competitive I will be slightly disappointed if he is not involved at the business end.

This Pertemps has been his target all season and it was nice to see him qualify for the race with the minimum of fuss when finishing second in a qualifier at Chepstow last month. He had to carry top-weight of 11st-12lb on ground that was probably too soft but his rider wasn`t too hard on him in the closing stages, knowing that the big day is not until the following month.

I have no doubt he has been improving and maturing with racing and he will certainly appreciate the better conditions as he did at the Fairyhouse and Punchestown festivals last year. At Navan, he also enjoyed nicer ground where he was a very impressive winner on his seasonal debut this term. (WL)

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Messire Des Obeaux (FR)

  • 5-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Saddler Maker - Madame Lys (Sheyrann)
  • Trained by: A King
  • Last Race: Aintree, 8 Apr 2017 14:25
  • Result: 3/13, tracked leaders on inside, led after 4 out, headed before last, no impression on winner and stayed on same pace flat, lost 2nd inside final 150 yards
  • View full form

Messire Des Obeaux was seventh in the Fred Winter last season but retained his novice status for this campaign. He progressed well at the start of the season and took the notable scalp of Ballyandy in a Grade 2 at Sandown before progressing again to win the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle in gritty style.

He was given a break after those two top-class efforts and was beaten at Huntingdon but Alan King very much viewed that race at a prep run and was far from despondent with the defeat.

Returning to a more galloping track at Cheltenham will suit this tough, genuine battle-hardened horse and he is sure to run a big race. His previous Festival experience and toughness will be an asset against more inexperienced types. He is good each-way value. (CS)

Mister Miyagi (IRE)

  • 8-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Zagreb - Muckle Flugga (Karinga Bay)
  • Trained by: D Skelton
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 15 Mar 2017 14:50
  • Result: 14/25, towards rear, headway into mid-division 5th, outpaced 2 out, stayed on to chase leaders before last, never on terms, ridden and weakened flat
  • View full form

Mister Miyagi was sixth in a Red hot Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last season's Festival. He has been placed in good races twice this campaign, beginning with a good second behind Hargam in Listed company over 2m at Kempton.

Following that, he was not disgraced upped in trip behind Un Temps Pour Tout at Aintree where he showed the longer trip suited him well. He was outclassed in a Grade 2 behind The New One last time out but he has been given a mid-winter break by Dan Skelton and is entered in the Coral Cup where the trip and better ground look as though they will suit him well.

Much like the Supreme last year, the stronger run race (opposed to muddling small field conditions races) ought to be in his favour and off an official rating of 149 he can be in the mix in the Coral Cup. (CS)

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Peregrine Run

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: King's Theatre - Masriyna's Article (Definite Article)
  • Trained by: Peter Fahey
  • Last Race: Killarney, 26 Aug 2017 15:45
  • Result: Won/7, held up, closer in 5th 5 out, pushed along to progress 3 out, edged left after 3 out, ridden to press leader 2 out, challenged last and soon disputed, kept on well to edge ahead close home
  • View full form

Previous course form is a big plus to have under your belt when targeting a race at this meeting and it was a clever decision by connections to run him here back in November. It was a successful visit in winning the Grade 2 Neptune Novices' Hurdle Trial and the key to the victory was the sound surface.

That was his fourth win in-a-row and connections took a chance by running him on soft ground in another Grade 2 contest at Warwick. To be fair, he ran with credit but it was clear he found conditions too testing and could only manage third but wasn't disgraced.

He has an entry in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle but I feel he has a better chance of winning if he ran in the Coral Cup where he is sure to get in off a mark of 142. The ground should be in his favour if the rain doesn`t come and he is one to keep in mind. (WL)

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This 8-y-o gelding is lightly-raced over hurdles for his age having only had eight starts. The main reason being, he is a solid performer on the flat too and has mixed his career over the two disciplines.

I would be a lot stronger about his chances if he didn`t carry a warning sign. Unfortunately, he can sometimes get upset before the start and concede early ground to his rivals, but connections have fitted him with blinkers in his two recent efforts and his behaviour was much improved.

I also should mention in his two most recent outings he has looked the winner inside the final quarter of the race but found less than expected when push came to shove. But those events had only a few runners and a bigger field and a faster pace should suit him better.

You would think I should be keeping well away from horses with such negatives, but he does have tons of ability and Willie Mullins is a master at getting them ready for the big occasions. I`m sure everyone remembers Wicklow Brave had a similar profile but he still had the ability to win the County Hurdle by eight lengths in 2015.

Maybe a wise move for punters is to back him in-running just in case he gives too much ground away at the start, but overall he is very interesting. (WL)

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Soldier In Action (FR)

  • 4-y-o; chestnut gelding
  • Breeding: Soldier of Fortune - Ripley (Platini)
  • Trained by: M Johnston
  • Last Race: Kempton, 22 Nov 2017 19:10
  • Result: Won/9, made all, ridden over 1f out, hung left approaching final furlong, hung left again and battled on gamely inside final furlong, driven out, unchallenged
  • View full form

Soldier In Action was a progressive horse on the flat for Mark Johnson last summer and ended his spell with that trainer with a rating of 105. Since then, he has been gelded and joined Nicky Henderson who he made a satisfactory hurdling debut for at Musselburgh in a good race.

Dropped in class next time out, he learned plenty from that run and was heavily backed to win, doing so by a wide margin at Doncaster. He ought to have progressed again since that run.

Soldier In Action is a classy flat horse who is battle hardened, this is often needed in the Triumph Hurdle and hopefully by the Friday of the Festival it will be decent ground. He has a superb chance. (CS)

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Sub Lieutenant

This 8-y-o gelding has certainly turned a corner since joining the Henry De Bromhead camp and is one of the best jumpers of a fence in Ireland. He made a quick start for his new trainer with wins at Limerick and Down Royal in the Autumn and performed with credit to finish just behind Djakadam and Sizing John in his most recent starts.

There is no question I may be looking for too much against the likes of Un De Sceaux and a previous winner in Uxizandre but he does show his best on a sound surface and 10/1 seems a fair each-way price, especially with the likely chance that there could be a small field in the line-up. (WL)

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I was expecting to see this 7-y-o gelding over a fence this season but connections decided against that plan for now and looks a well-handicapped horse off 149 over hurdles.

This son of Robin Des Champs finished behind the exciting Altior in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season where he stayed on really well up the hill from an unpromising position to finish fourth.

We still don`t know which handicap hurdle he is going to line-up in, I can understand it`s a very difficult decision to make. A fast run two-mile on the New Course will certainly bring his stamina into play for a crack at the County hurdle on the Friday, or the longer trip around the sharper track on the Wednesday could suit him just as good in the Coral Cup.

He was late to get his season underway, January was the first time we saw him where finished a close third behind Jezki giving him six pounds at Navan. But to his credit, he reversed the placings on level terms the following month at Gowran Park, indicating he needed his first run.

Whichever contest they decide to run him in I`m sure he will make his presence felt. (WL)

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Tully East (IRE)

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Shantou - Ghillie's Bay (King's Ride)
  • Trained by: A Fleming
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 18 Nov 2017 14:25
  • Result: 6/17, held up towards rear, smooth headway 4 out, tracked leaders next, not fluent 2 out, soon one pace, no impression before last
  • View full form

Connections have to make shrewd decisions at the start of the season if they are training their horse to tackle graded contests or handicaps at the festival and I feel this seven-year-old gelding has a very workable mark of 138 to tackle the novice handicap chase on the opening day.

He actually caught my eye finishing fourth in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle last season, where his rider possibly got to the front too soon and he tired late on.

This season, he made a winning chase debut at Thurles back in December, we weren`t able to see much because of the bad fog but his rider Denis O`Regan was very pleased with his jumping and was really looking forward to the rest of the season.

He wasn't up to Grade 1 and then Grade 3 company on his next two starts, but handicaps have always looked better for him. He was over-faced on his last couple of runs, but the main aim was to have the three starts you need to be able to take part in the novices' handicap chase and that`s what they have done.

He is currently 20/1 and I wouldn`t be surprised if he goes off a good deal shorter come race day. (WL)

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Value At Risk

Value At Risk was fifth in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle two years ago where he didn't stay the trip. His chasing career got off to a poor start last season when he fell on his first two starts but he showed his ability by bouncing back to win a Grade 2 hurdle at Fairyhouse later that spring.

He resumed his chasing career this season and having needed the run on his seasonal reappearance, he went onto score in gritty style at Bangor. Value At Risk has a mark of 138 which could underestimate his ability over fences and he has been given a mid-winter break by Dan Skelton who is sure to have him primed to run a big race here.

He shows his best form in the spring months so it is reasonable to expect a big run in the Close Brothers Handicap Novices' Chase. (CS)

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Western Ryder (IRE)

  • 5-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Westerner - Seesea (Dr Massini)
  • Trained by: W Greatrex
  • Last Race: Chepstow, 22 Nov 2017 12:45
  • Result: Won/15, tracked leaders, challenged 4 out, not fluent next, switched left before 2 out, led between last 2, ridden and kept on well flat
  • View full form

Western Ryder is a dual-bumper winner who scored nicely on his debut at Ffos Las. Following a defeat at Market Rasen he bounced back in taking style when smoothly moving through from off the pace to score in a Listed contest at Ascot in December.

Trying to give 21lbs to the above average Daphne Du Clos, may in time, show to have been an impossible assignment but he was not disgraced only being beaten by three lengths and the race was run in a good time also.

The strong pace and a big field ought to suit him well. This will be Western Ryder's fifth start which in a race that is usually rough and physically demanding on a horse, that previous experience could hold him in good stead. (CS)

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