Continuining his series of Cheltenham 2020 review articles, after discussing the biggest eyecatchers and the best performances, Steven Dowler looks at five horses which performed above expectations. Here are his 5 best Cheltenham 2020 outsiders who defied expectations.
Cheltenham 2020 outsiders: MITCHOUKA (Northern Trust Handicap Chase)
Kicking off our Cheltenham 2020 outsiders is Mitchouka, formerly trained by Gordon Elliott.
He looked a horse with serious potential as a juvenile, having comfortably won a grade three back in February 2018 before running respectable races in top level company the next twice. Sadly, Mitchouka never reached those heights thereafter over fences, having fallen on his chase debut when looking set to collect the prize as 2/7 favourite.
Nearly two years had passed before this once promising sort got off the mark over fences back in February on his stable debut over 2 miles at Thurles. Mitchouka then put in another decent effort for connections to finish third back over the same C&D before having his sights set on Cheltenham. He was sent off an overlooked 33/1 for the Northern Trust Handicap Chase at Cheltenham off a mark 139.
The reason for his ludicrous odds was that he had been pulled up on his two previous visits to the Cheltenham Festival. However, Mitchouka ran above expectations and better than his odds suggested with an enthusiastic sixth place finish.
Donal McInerney switched his mount off towards the rear of the field as plenty of pace was ensured so he could get a nice tow into the contest when things heated up.
With three fences to jump, Donal McInerney was yet to move a muscle on Mitchouka, who was making headway through the opposition. Ultimately, Donal had to make the sacrifice to switch him right when not getting much room towards two out which lead to a bad mistake at a vital stage stumbling on the landing side of the fence.
Therefore, Mitchouka lost valuable lengths but picked up strongly once in the clear, until hitting the last fence when looking set to play a part in the finish. Still, to his credit, he kept on well to not be beaten all that far in what was a truly run contest.
I can see the handicapper dropping Mitchouka a pound or two from this highly encouraging performance leaving him with a good chance of landing a huge pot for connections now he has found his feet again.
Cheltenham 2020 outsiders: OUTLANDER (Cross County Chase)
Outlander was a high-class horse in his prime, winning two grade one events over fences. He joined Richard Spencer two runs ago prior to making his cross country debut here and, despite being a 12-year-old with an impoverished record at Cheltenham, he ran an extraordinary race to finish sixth given he had no previous experience of the track.
Always handy, Outlander jumped from fence to fence, showing plenty of enthusiasm in the hands of James Bowen proving he was no back number in the field despite his advancing years. Heading into the final few fences, the distress signals were out on the majority of the field but Outlander was still looking fairly dangerous tracking the pace going nicely. However, when Tiger Roll and Easysland kicked clear of the field, Outlander was outpaced.
Even so, the admirable twelve-year-old never let his rider or connections down as he kept on determinedly all the way to the line to run above expectations, thus earning a spot in our list of Cheltenham 2020 outsiders. There won’t be many more options for Outlander as he approaches his teenage years but he does have plenty more in the tank to run well in decent races given his back-class and his recent performance at Cheltenham.
Cheltenham 2020 outsiders: RONALD PUMP (Stayers’ Hurdle)
Who would have thought both defending champion Paisley Park and Summerville Boy would finish outside the top-three in this years Stayers Hurdle? Not only was this a huge shock but another surprise was in store for all to see as we witnessed the biggest ever priced winner of the Stayers Hurdle, as Lisnagar Oscar took the race at monster odds of 50-1, surpassing 1999 winner Anzum who held the record at 40-1.
I had previously stated that Ronald Pump would be a huge player in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle off top-weight. When I saw connections decide to have a crack at this grade one event instead I must admit I thought it was a big mistake but I was proved wrong. Ronald Pump was sent off 20-1 in the hands of Bryan Cooper and was held-up in rear throughout 75% of the race.
Despite jumping quite poorly on the whole, Ronald Pump cruised into contention at the top of the hill, although another mistake at two out didn’t help his chances. However, the ground he covered on the flat to slice inbetween horses rounding the home bend was something to behold. Ronald Pump was in contention jumping the final flight but paddled his way through it, handing the initiative to Lisnagar Oscar, who kept on well to win with Ronald Pump finishing second.
Cheltenham 2020 Outsiders: NAVAJO PASS (JCB Triumph Hurdle)
Donald McCain doesn’t have the star power he once had with the likes of Peddlar’s Cross and Overturn all becoming great horses for him over time. However, one horse who might develop into a grade one winner, particularly when he goes chasing over longer trips is Navajo Pass, who ran a tremendous race to finish fourth in the Triumph Hurdle.
His first three starts over hurdles saw him race hard from the front to good effect, having gained a grade two success in good style. Sent off at 40-1 for the Triumph Hurdle, Navajo Pass was unable to dictate matters from the front so Brian Hughes decided to drop him in behind the three high-class horses Goshen, Allmankind and Aspire Tower.
Having travelled better than his odds suggested, Navajo Pass found himself outpaced and losing track position coming down the hill where he looked well beaten. Then, all of a sudden, Navajo Pass found a second wind and picked up determinedly from the second last hurdle, making up a huge amount of ground.
Jumping the final flight, he still found himself in midfield but responded to his riders urgings and was gaining on the rivals in front, missing out on third place by a length.
Summarising Navajo Pass’s performance, I think connections will step him up in distance before too long and he could be a major force when tackling a set of fences. Definitely one of the Cheltenham 2020 outsiders to keep an eye on going forward,
Cheltenham 2020 Outsiders: BURNING VICTORY (JCB Triumph Hurdle)
Despite Burning Victory becoming a very fortunate winner of the Triumph Hurdle, with Goshen unseating at the final flight, Willie Mullins has a serious mare on his hands. She didn’t jump at all well on her stable/hurdle debut but won with loads in hand and at a decent level too, grade three company.
It was a brave move for Willie Mullins to send her straight into grade one company on only her second course appearance, especially with her needing to improve and jump a lot better than she did on debut. Having said that, this promising four-year-old mare was held-up at the back of the field in the hands of Paul Townend and was giving the leader Allmankind a good 20-length head start. Paul Townend never looked anxious about those pacesetters and let Burning Victory do her own thing.
Yet again, she made two or three mistakes on the way round but that never stopped her momentum and, with everybody focusing on what was going on at the front, you could see Burning Victory was swinging away rapidly in behind. She was asked to pick up and the response was immediate in the home straight. Although Goshen was unlucky to come down, this beautifully bred mare showed a nice turn of foot on the run-in to score well.
I’m sure connections had only hoped Burning Victory would run into a place at best having been sent off 12-1 but she clearly improved a considerable amount since her debut success and who knows what the future holds for her because she is a very talented horse with a big engine.
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