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Five under the radar runners to take from the 2016 Cheltenham Festival

Sprinter Sacre! Wow!

I reckon I’m still recovering from last week’s exertions!

The bookies took a pounding over the four days…but so did I!

The way the festival panned out just did not suit the way I operate.

I was more Richard Johnson last week than Ruby Walsh.

Stats were taking a bit of a battering and I was left bashing my head off the wall in frustration for most of the week.

It’s a frustrating game at times though.

But I’m willing to ride the downs as well as the ups. You simply have to. It’s the only way to stay sane when you are part of this wonderful sport.

After a couple of days recuperation I’m building back up to full speed and after watching and re-watching numerous replays of Cheltenham 2016 I’ve pulled out five under-the-radar types that may have just skipped your attention last week…

Five under the radar runners to take from the 2016 Cheltenham Festival…

GHOST RIVER (P Bowen)

9th in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle

He started as a relatively unconsidered 100-1 shot in the Neptune and although his 53L 9th suggests that was a fair enough pricing up of his chances he didn’t run like a 100-1 shot for the majority of the race. He was bang there in the leading/chasing group until the run between three out and two out and it was only then he begun to weaken quickly, as the race started to reach its climax.  Jockey Sean Bowen wasn’t hard on him once the race was out of his reach and he allowed him to amble home in his own time.

He ran a similar kind of race in the Bumper last year (21L 12th). Both those festival runs have been the only two times he has raced on ground as quick as Good and I think it’s a fair assessment to make that he probably isn’t quite as happy on quick ground as he is on ground with plenty cut underfoot; his three bumpers wins have come on Soft (X2) and Heavy (X1).

The fact he won three bumpers is in itself a pointer to the horses ability as not many bumper horses are able to carry a double penalty to victory in that sphere.

He’s yet to open his hurdles account in three starts to date but he was up against the smart Politologue on hurdles debut, where he fell late on when a clear second, and then ran a sound race in second at Chepstow 13 days later when chasing home Aurillac from the Rebecca Curtis yard.

He’s now been given a hurdles mark of 126 after his run at Cheltenham and that’s an extremely workable rating and should allow his trainer Peter Bowen to place him in a winnable handicap before seasons end, should they find ground with a bit of cut in it.

Next season I suspect he will go chasing and that’s where I believe his full potential will be unleashed. He’s related to a couple of staying types and Ghost River’s end game is likely to be as a 3m+ chaser.

WESTEND STORY (P Hobbs)

5th in the Champion Bumper

I’ve mentioned this youngster on the blog previously and he once again caught my eye here with a fast finishing fifth. He met trouble around 3f out and found himself right near the back of the pack so the fact he rallied to only be beaten 3L 5th at the line says plenty about his ability/engine.

He came into this off the back of two impressive bumper victories and despite defeat here kept his upward curve going by recording another career best figure, fully suggesting he’s learning and progressing with each run.

Word is he has already schooled well over hurdles and he rates as an extremely exciting prospect for the novice hurdle scene next term. He could be very good indeed.

MAD JACK MYTTON (JJ O’Neill)

14th in the County Hurdle

The 6yo met trouble early on in the race but travelled into contention very smoothly at the bottom of the hill but just couldn’t kick on as the climb back up hill begun and he faded tamely to finish a 15L 14th. There was, however, a lot of promise in the way he moved into contention and he should have races in him from OR 137 (dropped from OR 140 for the run). I suspect, however, that wins may come away from very undulating tracks like Cheltenham as he seems ideally suited to flatter tracks (he is 2211 (2/4) on flat tracks, 3220 (0/4) on slightly undulating tracks and 4020 (0/4) on very undulating tracks) and less undulations will help him finish off his races stronger.

Both his previous wins have come in March & April (form of 1041) and although those are not the only times I would consider backing him it could be that the spring months are his preferred months.

Both his wins have also come on Good ground (41120 on Good) and again although it isn’t imperative he runs on such ground it is probably preferable.

A flat track, good ground, spring handicap hurdle could be his for the taking, with something like the Swinton at Haydock or indeed something at Aintree being logical next steps,

JONNIESOFA (R Dobbin)

9th in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

The best horse Rose Dobbin has had in her yard to date? I think that would be a resounding yes.

He’s very much at home on Soft or Heavy ground so this Good ground would have been very much against him here but to the horse’s credit he kept on digging in like a little terrier until around two out when he just couldn’t keep up with the front group on the fast ground. There was no disgrace in this effort, however, and if you look at his ground splits – Heavy & Soft form 12121 | Good form 39 – then it’s a fair indicator that he was always going to be up against it here (which in itself makes this effort extremely commendable).

He came into this off the back of a G2 win at Haydock yet he still only holds a rating of OR 137, a mark that does look well within his range. Whether connections get the chance to make use of that on his preferred ground is another question though as novice chasing looks to be his game next season.

They could, however, take in the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock in November before embarking on a chasing career. The likes of According To Pete, Diamond Harry, Burton Port, Gevrey Chambertin and Definitly Red have all ran well in the race in their novice chase season, as an intermediate step before fully embracing the chasing game, and with a C&D victory to his name already it would seem a logical starting for Rose Dobbin’s stable star. He’s also highly likely to get his favoured cut underfoot at Haydock in November. Align all that with the fact his profile fits that of previous winners of the race pretty snuggly and I reckon we have a plan!

Whether he turns out to be any better than a handicapper is another matter but if played correctly I reckon team Dobbin can pick up a tasty pot or two with him next season.

WORK IN PROGRESS (D Skelton)

8th in the Martin Pipe Hurdle

I think it’s fair to say that a bit too much use was made of the 6yo in this race. He was upwards of 15L clear at one stage but the writing was on the wall as they faced up for home and his petrol tank was flickering on empty long before the line.

With that in mind it’s to the horses great credit that he was only beaten 17.5 lengths at the line as he must have been running on fumes for the last couple of furlongs at least. Ridden with a bit more restraint I’m sure he would have finished a hell of a lot closer.

A big galloping track like Cheltenham is unlikely to play to his strengths anyway and his two wins to date have come on the tighter lay-outs of Kempton and Fakenham, so again this run could be marked up a touch on that angle.

The future seems to be over fences for the son of Westerner although the fact he was dropped a couple of pounds to OR 137 for this run must give connections the temptation to find him a tasty handicap hurdle pot before seasons end, one where he’s ridden with a touch more restraint and he doesn’t have to tackle a big galloping track.

Whether it’s handicap hurdles or novice chases the future looks bright for Dan Skelton’s youngster and we can be sure the young trainer will place him to the best of his ability.

The above five horses all ran better than their finishing positions suggested and I would expect to see them all in the winners enclosure next term or prior to the end of this current season.

Ben (NTF)

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