In my previous article I pointed out five favourites that could fail to live up to expectations at this years Cheltenham Festival. From the highly-rated to the possibly underrated, here are my five Cheltenham underdogs to watch out for.
Cornerstone Lad (Champion Hurdle)
We start with the feature race of the opening day of the Cheltenham festival 2020, the Champion Hurdle. One horse in particular seems to have been overlooked in the market, fighting fifth hurdle winner CORNERSTONE LAD.
By no means is it easy to make all in a champion hurdle but CORNERSTONE LAD seems to have been underrated in the market compared to Pentland Hills. For one he beat Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth, who suffered that terrible injury, but it remains a good effort to win a race which normally works out very well in context to the champion hurdle.
Since 2007, eleven horses have either placed or won the Fighting Fifth hurdle before placing or winning the Champion Hurdle. These include Harchibald, Sublimity, Peddlers Cross, Binocular, My Tent Or Yours, Countrywide Flame, Arctic Fire, Wicklow Brave and, finally, Buveur d’Air who won both races twice.
CORNERSTONE LAD did not manage to win at Haydock last time out but he was giving up plenty of weight to Pentland Hills as well as Ballyandy and kept on strongly all the way to the line where he was beaten by under one length.
The ground will be in his favour on Champion Hurdle day and I think he will be a hard horse to pass if getting into his usual prominent role towards the front. CORNERSTONE LAD might not win but there are certainly worse outsiders at the Cheltenham Festival than a horse who has grade one winning form this season. He is certainly one of the Cheltenham underdogs to consider, especially in the Place pools, in a weak renewal of the Champion Hurdle.
FAGAN (Coral Cup)
You need plenty of stamina with a touch of class to be competitive in a Coral Cup. FAGAN, trained by Alex Hales, looks a proper plot job by connections for this year’s race.
This 10 year old was a high-class horse when formerly with Gordon Elliott, even managing second in the grade one Albert Bartlett here back in 2016. FAGAN is fragile and lightly raced for his age but is a horse with so much ability and was second on his last start here over fences over three miles behind Black Corton. Although he was pulled up in the Scottish National back in 2018, he was sent off 7/1 favourite for the race rated 147 and was limited to just two runs that year.
FAGAN returned from a near two year absence with his new stable back over hurdles at Haydock. He travelled really well into the race before fitness took its toll late on. The Coral Cup is his only entry at the Cheltenham Festival and he has been dropped 2lbs from his latest run. You would expect him to have come on loads for that latest run and, with a low weight and nice mark, as well as Cheltenham and graded form, he is one of the Cheltenham underdogs who could spring a surprise.
GUITAR PETE (Pertemps)
The 10-year-old GUITAR PETE looks underrated and makes our list of Cheltenham underdogs.
He is extremely well handicapped these days, especially over hurdles, and is now 5lbs below at a mark 135 than when he stayed on sixth in a qualifier for this at Haydock last time off a mark 140.
GUITAR PETE is rated much much higher over fences and loves it around Cheltenham. He was third in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle, then went on to win the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup off just 1lb lower back in 2017. He looks absolutely primed for this race off a low weight and a reduced mark. Connections look to have mapped out this race with him for a long time, so taking this into account, I would not dismiss this course specialist.
EMBITTERED (County Hurdle)
Joseph O’Brien has already quoted that his smart youngster EMBITTERED will most likely go for the County Hurdle and he could run a huge race.
Being one of Ireland’s smartest bumper horses of last season, he made a bright start to his hurdles career when beating the more than useful Blackbow. EMBITTERED tried to go with Envoi Allen next time out in a grade one but couldn’t live with that one late in the day having matched strides with him for a long way. Regardless of that outcome, he still managed a fair fifth and was then a respectable third in another grade one next time out behind Abacadbras.
EMBITTERED then made his handicap debut last time out in the Ladbrokes Hurdle off a mark of 140 and ran really well to finish sixth of 22. He wasn’t beaten by far considering that he was sandwiched approaching the last hurdle and lost valuable momentum. As a result, EMBITTERED is up 6lbs for that effort in defeat which looks quite harsh but he is a very good horse and I would certainly consider him as one of the Cheltenham underdogs I’d select in a Place pool.
STAKER WALLACE (Foxhunters)
Enda Bolger is no stranger to success in the Foxhunters, having trained On The Fringe to win the race twice. This time around he runs STAKER WALLACE, who has an outstanding chance in my opinion despite being one of the Cheltenham underdogs.
He has run just four times under rules in five years. Back in 2017 he made his Hunter Chase debut at Leopardstown on just his third start and finished a creditable third behind stablemate On The Fringe and Foxrock with Salsify back in fourth. At that time, those three horses were the best Irish hunter chase horses around.
STAKER WALLACE wasn’t seen for three years under rules after that before returning to finish second behind the smart Billaway, who had race fitness on his side. He was then sent for a point-to-point last time out and won very easily, which will have put him spot on for the Foxhunters. Derek O’Connor will take the ride, which is a huge positive as he has ridden the horse before, and I am really excited to see him in the Foxhunters as I think he will reverse the form with Billaway and be bang there at the back end of the contest.
Whether you’re backing Cheltenham underdogs or fancied favourites, don’t miss out on our huge Cheltenham pools which will be appearing on our racing pools page throughout the week.