The big owners and trainers dominated the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, with Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott training fifteen of the twenty-eight winners between them. Given the strength of their teams, this year looks like being no different but we have found five underdogs who may be able to take home a slice of Cheltenham glory themselves.
A remarkable story with Gemmell blind from birth and with just a handful of horses running in his colours. He has a half share in Discorama who has a number of novice chase entries and wouldn’t have been beaten far by the National Hunt Chase second favourite (Ballyward) last time but for coming down at the last. The more likely of his two chances has to be the vastly improved Paisley Park whose demolition job in the Cleeve Hurdle saw him take his place at the top of the market for the Stayers’ Hurdle. He has had just nine runs in his life so with further improvement a distinct possibility, he has to have a live chance.
Only just over a year since taking over the licence, Woollacott has legitimate claims of taking home the Arkle Challenge Trophy, the second race of the meeting. An impressive winner over this course and distance on his chasing debut, he’ll appreciate the ground coming up on the sound side. Twice a winner at the Aintree Grand National Festival, springtime clearly suits him well. Deeper ground was no help to him at Sandown in December but arriving here fresh will suit him, a big player if he gets the ground to suit.
The only runner in these colours in the last five years, he claimed the cross country chase at the December meeting to book his place at the Cheltenham Festival. He was runner-up on his only other run over these fences as well as a winner the only time he has run on the main Cheltenham track so the course clearly brings him alive. His two cross country chases are his two best career runs so for all that he has plenty to find at the weights with the 2018 winner Tiger Roll, a place wouldn’t be a surprise in the Glenfarclas Chase.
Just a couple of horses in training with Stuart Edmunds but they have had plenty of fun, notably with this chaser. The National Hunt Challenge Cup would look a natural fit for this strong stayer, running a huge trial for the contest at Ascot when runner-up in the Reynoldstown Chase. He had plenty of use made of him there taking on the free going Top Ville Ben so to be staying on again all the way up the run-in is a huge testament to his attitude. Talked of as a Welsh National horse of the future, if he can straighten out his jumping a touch going back left-handed, he can lay down a marker for that contest at the end of the year
Owned by JP McManus who certainly couldn’t be considered an underdog but trainer Nick Gifford only has a string of about twenty horses in training at present. The ground came up too soft for him to show his true form at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival when taking part in the bumper, a far smarter type when he encounters a sound surface. He got the better of a cracking tussle at Ascot in November, though his disappointing effort over Christmas suggests that the Supreme would be beyond him. He was a shade disappointing in the Betfair Hurdle back at Ascot last time out on his handicap debut but tacky ground that day won’t have been to his liking. Given a genuinely good surface in the County Hurdle, he should show much-improved form.