Willoughby Court: could take his rivals outside their comfort zones
By Lewis Porteous 6:55PM 28 FEB 2017
DOUVAN, Altior and Cue Card might be the first names that comes to mind when pondering this year’s Cheltenham Festival but it’s not all about the market leaders.
With 28 races to consider, there is no shortage of horses flying under the radar as others make the headlines. In a bid to seek out some value away from the limelight, we pick out four dark horses who could outrun their festival odds.
1. Willoughby Court
Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (16-1 generally)
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (14-1 generally)
Why’s he interesting? The betting for the Neptune, which would appear to be the favoured target for Willoughby Court, is headed by two exciting novices in Neon Wolf and Finian’s Oscar but Willoughby Court’s credentials are similarly convincing. Despite this, the Ben Pauling-trained contender is five times the price.
Like the market leaders, he is a Graded winner over hurdles after a convincing all-the-way success at Warwick last time and with only seven runs to date, he is still open to masses of improvement.
He has already shown the ability to maintain a relentless gallop, should stay further and could be the one to take his rivals outside their comfort zones.
Key piece of form On official ratings, Willoughby Court had no right to win a Grade 2 at Warwick in January yet he galloped some decent rivals, including the 141-rated Peregrine Run, into submission.
The eight-length runner-up that day, Gayebury, was himself a 13-length scorer at Chepstow at the weekend earning him a 15lb hike in the handicap to 147, which can only bode well for Willoughby Court.
Main dangers As mentioned above, Finian’s Oscar and Neon Wolf not only have strong form credentials but also come with big reputations, while whoever Willie Mullins chooses for the race has to be feared considering he launched Faugheen in this three years ago and Yorkhill last year.
Mister Miyagi: ran well in the Supreme last season
2. Mister Miyagi
Coral Cup (25-1 generally)
Why’s he interesting? Testing conditions and a hike in class found Mister Miyagi out last time but forgive him that run and a case can easily be made that he is overpriced in the Coral Cup market.
Not disgraced in last year’s Supreme, he relishes drier ground and has clearly been saved for the race by Dan Skelton, a trainer renowned for getting the best from his horses fresh.
Skelton was runner-up in the same race last year with Long House Hall, so should have a good grasp of what is required, and looks to have another live chance.
Key piece of form A third to Hargam at Kempton in October and second to Un Temps Pour Tout at Aintree the following month read well but it is his run in last year’s Supreme that really takes the eye.
After hitting the first, he came through from well the back with a pleasing effort to take sixth behind five top-notchers, in the process showing the track to be no problem whatsoever.
Main dangers Skelton’s former boss Paul Nicholls has an interesting contender in Modus, who bolted up over this trip at Kempton last time, while another Nicholls protege, Harry Fry, has earmarked the same race for the rapidly improving Air Horse One.
Doctor Harper: sent off the 4-1 favourite for last year’s Kim Muir
3. Doctor Harper
Kim Muir Handicap Chase (20-1 Betfair Sportsbook)
Ultima Handicap Chase (25-1 Ladbrokes and Betfair Sportsbook)
Why’s he interesting? Doctor Harper was backed as if defeat was out of the question in last year’s Kim Muir, going off the 4-1 favourite, yet he is a best-price 20-1 for the same race this season.
Admittedly things did not go to plan 12 months ago when an early mistake put him on the back foot and he was beaten when unseating.
However, he could return for the same race on an identical mark and should be at his peak at the age of nine. While pulled up at Warwick last time, that came just two weeks after a gruelling run at Cheltenham and he heads to the festival a fresh horse and not without hope.
Key piece of form Doctor Harper proved what he can do when he gets into an early rhythm when beaten just a short-head into second at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
That proved the course holds no fears and he is reasonably treated off just 5lb higher.
Main dangers Dangers are plentiful, including the Henry de Bromhead-trained stablemates Full Cry and Heron Heights, who are closely matched, proven at the track and appear to excel on drier ground.
Starchitect: could be third time lucky for him at the festival
PICTURE:John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)
Racing Post Arkle (33-1 generally)
JLT Novices’ Chase (40-1 generally)
Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (25-1 Betfair Sportsbook)
Grand Annual Handicap Chase (16-1 Betfair Sportsbook)
Why’s he interesting? Hailing from the same yard as Doctor Harper, Starchitect has twice gone close over hurdles at the festival but now switched to chasing, this could be his time to land a big one.
Fairly treated off 143, a mark he won off over hurdles, he looks to have been campaigned with a festival handicap, most likely the Grand Annual, in mind by David Pipe and comes in off a confidence-boosting win last time.
Key pieces of form Take your pick from his his fourth in the 2015 Fred Winter or fifth in last year’s County Hurdle, both of which prove this horse has the appetite to perform well at the festival.
He was rated 150 at his pomp over hurdles and the stars are aligned for a big run.
Main dangers Le Prezien would not look out of place in the Arkle, so has to be feared in handicap company. The same goes for former Champion Chase hero Dodging Bullets.