Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cheltenham 2018: Five Dark Horses for the Savvy Punter

The Cheltenham Festival is now less than a month away and punters are excitedly studying the form ahead of the prestigious National Hunt meeting. The March Festival is one of the biggest betting events of the year and it always sees armchair fans lump on the favourites as they buy into the hype. But at Cheltenham the fields are deep and stacked with talent, so the favourite wins less than 30% of the time, and it typically pays to seek out the longer priced outsiders that could spring a surprise. Here are five each-way shots that have a good chance of upsetting the odds at Cheltenham:

Definitely Red

Might Bite is the clear favourite to win the Gold Cup after romping to victory in the King George VI on Boxing Day, while defending champion Sizing John is given the best chance of usurping him. But there is plenty of talent in this superstar field, and Definitely Red stands out at as a brilliant longer shot when you take a look at the spread betting lines. In Cheltenham’s only Gold Cup trial, the Cotswold Chase, he beat American by eight lengths, and trainer Brian Ellison believes he now has a great chance in the most prestigious jumps race of the year. He said: “The Gold Cup is quite open. Might Bite is favourite but I don't think the form of the King George looks that strong. Red has every chance and could be overpriced.” The nine-year-old has won his last two races and is being lined up for a Grand National tilt, but first he will aim to dazzle at Cheltenham.


It is hard to look past defending champion Buveur d’Air in the Champion Hurdle as he has not lost since 2015 and is in magnificent form. But there is real competition for the places and Melon looks like he could well be in the mix, despite odds of 20/1. He won the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle in November, but has since lost out to Cheltenham contenders Supasundae and My Tent Or Yours. He has struggled in elite company recently, but has two second place finishes in Grade 1 contests at Cheltenham and Leopardstown under his belt and he will be a dangerous opponent in the main event on the first day of the Festival. Melon is a big, strong horse and if he reaches his full potential he can certainly be in the conversation as the runners charge up the final hill in the Champion Hurdle.


Many are predicting a straight fight between Supasundae and Sam Spinner in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but write off Wholestone at your peril. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ brown gelding features twice in Timeform’s list of the top 10 hurdle performances this season, as does Sam Spinner. They met in Chepstow in October, when Sam Spinner finished second and Wholestone was fourth, but Wholestone was the better horse at the weights. He has run really well on good ground, so if the rain holds off next month Wholestone will be in with a great chance of upsetting the favourites.


Another runner from the Twiston-Davies stable, Ballyoptic, looks like an intriguing dark horse for an open RSA Chase. Presenting Percy and Monalee are the current favourites, but this race is anyone’s and Ballyoptic is attracting some ante post action. He was last seen winning the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby on February 3, and he secured an impressive 13-length victory at Exeter in the autumn. He is economical and well measured at the fences and seems to improve as races develop, so he will be a strong contender at the March Festival.

Cloudy Dream

Ruth Jefferson’s Cloudy dream was outstayed by Gold Cup hopeful Native River in this month’s Denman Chase at Newbury, and she instantly withdrew him from Gold Cup contention and pointed him at the Ryanair Chase. That drop back in trip to 2 miles and 5 furlongs should suit his strengths, and he is also likely to improve on spring ground. Cloudy Dream has had 11 races over fences, and he has won three and finished runner-up eight times. This season he has finished second in all four races, so he looks a great each-way shout at 16/1 in the Ryanair Chase.

Author bio
Martin Green is an experienced horse racing correspondent and tipster and has been covering the Cheltenham Festival for many years.