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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021

Five at 25: Long-shots that might keep you from entering a Cheltenham world of pain

Good and thorough man Johnny Ward has cast his eye on five horses that might get you over the line.

“IF YOU WILL it, it is no dream.”

The more erudite reader will recognise this quote from Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism as we know it today. More likely you may recall Walter bawling it out before a game of bowling in the Coen brothers’ masterpiece, The Big Lebowski.

Source: Movieclips/YouTube


The Cheltenham Festival can be an especially chastening experience, especially if punters in the main are winning but you are not.

Should results go against you in March, your antepost selections can save you, rather like a rainy-day fund. And even Cheltenham is no fun when you can’t find a winner and it is hammering down rain.

Here is this column’s first and perhaps only installment of Five @ 25. Five Cheltenham picks, ordered alphabetically, that are priced at least 25/1.

In a nod to bias, patriotism or sheer laziness, all are Irish-trained. Feel free to add your own long-shots in the comments section.

Dallas Des Pictons (National Hunt Chase) – 33/1

This horse was in the news midweek on account of being allocated an outrageous British chase rating of 147. The42 contacted the British Horseracing Authority yesterday for a comment on this matter over email but as yet has not received a reply.

It seems as though he has been given his British hurdles mark, which the handicapper is entitled to do across the water. A well-fancied second in the Martin Pipe last year, it might be that his handicap options are no more over fences.

“If this is welcome to Cheltenham, we know what’s going to happen when the festival weights come out if that’s the case,” scoffed Gigginstown’s Eddie O’Leary.

So where does he go then? He is hardly taking on the same connections’ Battleoverdoyen in the RSA Chase, so that leaves the National Hunt Chase, now a three-miles-and-six event. Gordon Elliott has won this race three times this decade alone and Dallas Des Pictons looks good enough to go close in your average renewal. O’Leary said this morning he is in the mix for this race.

Darasso (Ryanair Chase) – 50/1

A horse I’m a big fan of. His only run this season was his recent last of four in the New One Hurdle, in which he looked rusty and in need of the run, but far from disgraced. Last year, he ran a nice race in the Galmoy before bolting up over two miles, firstly at Gowran hurdling then over fences at Navan.

hugh-horgan-on-darasso-alan-dobbs-on-rhinestone-and-tom-hamilton-on-fakir-doudaries Hugh Horgan on Darasso, Alan Dobbs on Rhinestone and Tom Hamilton on Fakir D'Oudaries in Joseph O'Brien's yard last month. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The endearing quirk of Darasso is how much he finds after racing lazily and the horse he beat easily at Navan, Cadmium, hacked up in the Topham Chase next time, bringing his rating to a whopping 162. How good could Darasso be?

I have no idea what the plan at Cheltenham, if there is one, amounts to, but handicaps look out of the question and, with Epatante there, so presumably does the Champion Hurdle. The Ryanair Chase (over perhaps his ideal trip) would be my pick: owner JP McManus has two other entries in that, one of them a huge price (Hell’s Kitchen) and the other (Defi Du Seuil) almost certainly not running in it.

Mt Leinster (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) – 25/1

Sligo Rovers defender John Dunleavy put this suggestion up in a text recently and I initially scoffed at it before giving it a bit more consideration. I was, as it turned out, educible.

This horse runs in the colours of Florida Pearl. “We’d been keeping that name for a good horse as it’s the mountain overlooking our yard,” said Patrick Mullins after he won his bumper by 22 lengths. Five subsequent defeats in that sphere hardly suggested he would win much over hurdles – but then Moscow Flyer couldn’t win a bumper.

To my mind he appeals as an out-and-out two-mile hurdler and he absolutely bolted up in a maiden at Leopardstown at Christmas, the 130-rated Entoucas nine lengths back in second (having been well-backed). On that performance, with a good deal more to come, Mt Leinster is a lively candidate for the Supreme, trained by a man with a sensational record in it yet 33/1 in what looks a potentially below-average renewal. Likely he goes to Leopardstown next weekend.

Risk Factor (Champion Bumper) – 25/1

Risk Factor and Mt Leinster have something in common: their first start was in a Ballinrobe bumper, though Risk Factor was beaten and he was second again at the Galway Festival.

Left off until Christmas at Leopardstown, he produced a pretty sensational performance to beat Hamundarson by six and a half lengths. Gigginstown quite reasonably do not run horses in the Cheltenham Bumper but the word was that Hamundarson was Micheal O’Leary’s best bumper horse.

Post-race, trainer Joseph O’Brien said that the seasonal plan for Risk Factor involved “working back from Cheltenham”. His dam, Refinement, also ran in the Coolmore colours, a gambled-on second in the Cheltenham Bumper in 2004.

Santa Rossa (Dawn Run Mares’ Novice Hurdle) – 25/1

Rare is it that trainer Dermot McLoughlin has a Cheltenham runner but Canardier did him proud by finishing fifth in the Coral Cup last season. Santa Rossa could be better again.

The form of her Leopardstown bumper win under a year ago at the expense of Bigbadandbeautiful and Jeremys Flame looks pretty sensational now and she did remarkably well to finish third at Aintree considering how keen she was. Presuming she jumps well – we will see tomorrow as she makes her hurdling bow at Fairyhouse – she looks absolutely perfect for the mares’ novice hurdle, which at this stage is pretty run-of-the-mill, the favourite 5/1.

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If you win it, it is no dream.

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Johnny Ward

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