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Cheltenham Festival Dark Horses

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Vintage Clouds – 15th March – 2:50pm Ultima Handicap Chase

This will be a sixth start in this race for Sue Smith’s admirable 12-year-old, with previous form figures that read F,3,2,8,1. He gained a deserved success in this race 12-months ago when he benefitted from a positive ride from Ryan Mania, and he was always holding the well backed favourite Happygolucky on the run up to the line. His win in 2021 was his 2nd start after a wind operation and his connections have chosen to give him another wind op in December this year to follow the same pattern. He returned from a 67-day break at Doncaster last month, finishing less than a length behind Up Helly Aa King in a Veterans Chase. That run should put him spot on for another tilt at the festival, where he will be able to run on a mark just 1lb higher than for last seasons heroics. The form of last season’s race worked out very well when Happygolucky won at Aintree, whilst 3rd placed Aye Right is a very solid yardstick, so if Vintage Clouds can arrive in the same form, he should go close in a race he knows better than any other horse.

Feu Du Large – 16th March – 4:10pm Cross-Country Chase

France is the undisputed home of Cross-Country racing and this year they will be represented by Feu Du Large from the Patrice Quinton yard. The yard excels in this discipline, with 6 victories over the Cross-Country course at Pau during the winter season courtesy of Saint Godefroy and it is unlikely that Feu Du Large would be sent on his travels purely for the experience. He has a record of 0-15, which isn’t inspiring, but he has placed on 10 of those 15 starts and he has taken well to Cross-Country racing, with form figures of 2,4,2,3,5,3 in his 6 starts on the bank’s courses. He has been purchased by David Maxwell specifically for this race and whilst his rider may not be everybody’s cup of tea, he is an improving amateur and there would be no more popular winning rider at the festival. Feu Du Large is a very sound jumper who has completed all his races over cross-country fences and he should be able to take good care of his charismatic rider. It is very hard to equate his French form with the principles in this race, but he is likely to complete the course and that makes him of interest for each-way punters.

Ballyandy – 17th March – 2:10pm Pertemps Final

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Ballyandy won the Champion bumper here in 2016, but the step up to 3-miles seems to have revived the fortunes of Nigel Twiston-Davies 11-year-old. Having taken his time to reach peak form this season, he showed an improved effort when 2nd at Wetherby in January and then duly obliged by winning over 3-miles at Fakenham 4-weeks later. That was just his 2nd start at the maximum trip and he built on that effort when he delivered a 6-length victory in the final qualifier for this series at Chepstow on 26th February. A mark of 150 is not going to be easy, but he finished 3rd in the Coral Cup in 2019 on a mark of 148 and with a record at the festival of 1,4,3,8 he can’t be ignored in an open finale.

Beauport – 18th March – 5:30pm Martin Pipe

He is also entered in the Coral Cup, so it is important to check the entries for BEAUPORT, but on a workable mark of 142 he can’t be ignored. 12-months ago he missed Cheltenham and went to the EBF Novice hurdle final at Sandown instead, a race he duly won by 11-lengths on a mark of 122. His connections will perhaps be slightly frustrated that he hasn’t added to that win this season, but he has been knocking on the door with a trio of 2nd placed finishes in top handicap hurdles. He has risen to a mark of 142 now, but that still looks fair given the performances that he has put in and he was unfortunate to find only Green Book too good on his last start in a grade 3 handicap at Sandown 6-weeks ago. He is very uncomplicated and should appreciate the stiff finish on the New course and whilst there is always the chance that he will bump into a very well handicapped Irish raider, he is likely to run his race and that makes him of each-way interest.

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