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Friday, 26 January 2018

Race Cards For Cheltenham

The Cheltenham Festival which, this year, takes place between Tuesday, March 13 and Friday, March 16, is the most eagerly anticipated National Hunt meeting of the year. The intense, concentrated competition over the four days is often reflected in the starting prices of the winners, with odds of 33/1, 50/1 and even 100/1 nothing out of the ordinary. From looking at Tuesday to Friday's card I'll handpick a few Outsider options. 

Last year alone produced winners at 40/1, 33/1, 25/1, 20/1, 16/1 (three times) and 14/1 (twice), with just six winning favourites from 28 races, so we’ve tried to look beyond the obvious market leaders for a few race card selections who could go well at rewarding odds.

I must confess to having a bee in my bonnet about Singlefarmpayment, who started 5/1 favourite for the Ultima Handicap Chase at last year’s Festival, but went down by a short head to Un Temps Pour Tout after leading over the final fence. Tom George’s now 8-year-old has run three times since, finishing second at Cheltenham, over the same course and distance as the Ultima Handicap Chase, falling in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and finishing a never dangerous fifth at Ascot. He’s becoming disappointing, but off a 5lb higher mark, he could be worth a small interest at 14/1 for this year’s renewal of the Ultima Handicap Chase.

The Coral Cup will be as competitive as ever, but one that takes the eye is Christian Williams’ progressive 6-year-old Limited Reserve, who can be backed at a seemingly generous 20/1. The son of good jumps sire Court Cave has yet to win beyond 2 miles 3 furlongs, but has plenty of stamina in both halves of his pedigree and could improve again stepping up to 2 miles 5 furlongs on the Old Course. He was all out to beat subsequent winner Zalvados on his most recent start at Haydock just before Christmas, but his form earlier this season has worked out well and he’s still only had seven starts for Christian Williams.

The Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle Final is equally impenetrable, but Sykes has looked better than ever this season and finished a close second in a series qualifier at Warwick when last seen in January. A 3lb rise in the weights for that performance put him on a handicap mark of 142 and, while he’s unlikely to find inherent improvement as a 9-year-old, he’s officially improved 16lb since joining Nicky Martin from Philip Hobbs in October. The Mountain High gelding seems to act on any ground and, at 40/1, is another worth a small interest.

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