The Small Yards With Big Chances At This Year’s Festival

Runners fly over the hurlde at last season's Cheltenham Festival

Runners fly over the hurlde at last season’s Cheltenham Festival

2021 Cheltenham Festival Tips

Daniel Overall has taken a look at some smaller yards who could be about to taste success on the biggest stage of all.

Harriet Graham (Aye Right, Ultima Chase, Tuesday, March 16)

A racecourse clerk and a trainer, it would be a fantastic story if Harriet Graham was able to train the winner of the big race on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival; and she has a good chance of doing so with her stable star, Aye Right.

Second in the Ladbrokes Trophy behind the Grand National favourite, Cloth Cap, he ran another superb race in defeat in the Sky Bet Chase but there are reasons to mark-up that effort; Harriet Graham noted before the race that she wished the race was over a bit further and on better ground, which he’s likely to get here, while Callum Bewley dropped his whip after the third last. It’s also worth noting that his preparation was far more ideal, as he was forced to run in a Jumpers’ Bumper just ten days before the race due to the ground being frozen up in Scotland.

Fifth in last season’s Festival Novice Chase, he ran a great race considering the calibre of opposition and the fact that he only had one completed start over fences prior to running at Cheltenham and that came in a two-runner race. He made a few bad mistakes at last year’s festival but his jumping has improved no end since.

While a mark of 154 is no gift, he has a good profile for this race and his prominent run style will hold him in good stead. All being well, he should be bang there at the business end.

Nicky Martin (Bear Ghylls, Ballymore Novice Hurdle, Wednesday, March 17)

Nicky Martin and the Bradley Partnership have enjoyed a fair amount of success together with the likes of The Two Amigos, but they may have quite a special horse on their hands in the form of Bear Ghylls.

He sauntered home on his sole start in a bumper last term to beat the now 135-rated Guard Your Dreams by nineteen lengths.

Hopes were high for his transition to hurdles and he has duly delivered, winning all three of his starts thus far. He beat the subsequent winner and Grade 2 placed, Make Me A Believer quite comfortably on his debut over obstacles; in fact, the six that chased him home that day have all won since. He then went on to concede a penalty to the now 137-rated Gowel Road next time out before making a mockery of an opening mark of 130.

What he has achieved thus far has been impressive especially when you consider that is jumping has been lacklustre while still looking a tad green. Nicky admitted that they’re now on “Plan H” in terms of getting him to the festival due to a series of abandonments and his immaturity would be a major concern in a race of this nature.

Regardless of how he gets on here, he’s an exciting horse for connections and he could develop into an exciting novice chaser next term.

Nick Mitchell (Lieutenant Rocco, Ultima or Festival Novices’ Chase)

Having worked for both Paul Nicholls and Robert Alner before starting his own operation in 2008, he relinquished his licence at the end of the 2018-19 season having tasted Grade 1 success before returning to the training ranks this term with a string of fourteen horses.

Lieutenant Rocco was a good novice hurdler last term although he did not look ready for last season’s Albert Bartlett where he pulled up. You can forgive him that run, especially considering that the Tizzard’s endured a frustrating week while he was always going to make a better chaser.

Having gained some experience over shorter trips, including when chasing home the useful Munir/Souede duo of Fusil Raffles and Messire Des Obeaux, he duly got off the mark over fences once stepped up to three miles, beating a decent field quite comfortably.

You’d be inclined to believe that a mark of 147 underestimates his underlying ability and he would have a big chance in an Ultima but he is not certain to run in that race; Nick Mitchell seemed to be favouring a tilt at the Festival Novices’ Chase at the festival in the immediate aftermath of the race. Only a six-year-old, he’s clearly an exciting long-term prospect and you can see why they’d be hesitant to run him in a tough handicap so soon into his chasing career. Whether his mark and the daunting prospect of challenging Monkfish has made them change their tune remains to be seen.

Michael Winters (Chatham Street Lad,  Marsh Novices’ Chase, Thursday, March 18)

The joyous scenes of Mick Winters rolling around in the mud of the winners’ enclosure at Cheltenham after Chatham Street Lad’s emphatic victory in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup will go down as one of the more heart-warming and memorable scenes of the jumps season.

Given a mark of 156 by the British handicapper, the earlier plan appeared to be the Paddy Power Plate but connections have seemingly decided to take a chance in Grade 1 company, which he’d be entitled to do considering his lofty mark.

And you can certainly see their thinking; outside of Envoi Allen, they don’t have much too fear and this race could cut up significantly. And as the old saying goes: you should never be scared by one horse (although many would argue that in this case, they should be!)

The fact that he has course form is a positive and he would have each way claims although nine-year-olds do not have a flattering record in the festival novice chases. Since 2003, twenty-nine of that age group have taken their chance across the three Grade 1 novice chases; none have been successful while only three have placed. Looking solely at the Marsh, only three nine-year-olds have run in the race, recording form figures of PF8; with the eighth failing to beat a rival home.

A great character of the game, it’s great to Mick Winters have a horse that he can go to war with for all that this looks a step too far.

Jonathan Sweeney (Roseys Hollow, Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, 

Having only saddled twenty-two runners under rules in the last two seasons, Jonathan Sweeney has done very well with his small string. He even had Mahler Allstar run well in last seasons Champion Bumper; he holds entries in the Ballymore and the Albert Bartlett but with only one start over hurdles to his name, he may swerve the festival.

Instead, Jonathan Sweeney’s best chance of a winner comes in the form of the progressive mare, Roseys Hollow, on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. An impressive winner of a bumper back in March 2019, that performance motivated JP McManus to purchase the mare.

Having shaped with plenty of promise on her first two starts over hurdles, she got off the mark at the third attempt when beating the useful Global Equity, who has also finished behind the likes of Gauloise and Skyace. However, it was her defeat of Royal Kahala and the aforementioned Gauloise in the Solerina that marked her down as a mare on an upward curve and a true festival contender.

It is important to note that she was in receipt of four pounds and three pounds respectively from those rivals and that Grade 3 victory has earned her a five-pound penalty; so, she will now have to concede five pounds to Royal Kahala while she will be off level weights against Gauloise should they all line up at Cheltenham.

Still, she is a progressive mare and should not be readily dismissed.