We take a look through the current ante-post market for the JLT Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and pick out a possible challenger who could upset the hot favourite.
Since its inception in 2011, the JLT Novices’ Chase has been a spectacular curtain-raiser on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival. Irish horses have dominated the roll of honour in this race, with the first and second of Willie Mullins’ three victories, separated by wins for A.J Martin and Jonjo O’Neil in 2013 and ‘14 respectively.
Mullins’ trains the favourite for the title once again, with last year’s Neptune winner Yorkhill
) making a good impression over fences during the last few months. He was given an extended summer holiday by his connections, after putting in a very tired performance when finishing fourth at the Punchestown Festival. When he was eventually unleashed by the Irish Champion Trainer, he powered to a convincing victory on his chasing debut, leaving a decent field almost 15 lengths behind over a two mile trip at Fairyhouse.
Yorkhill powered to Neptune glory at the Festival last season.
A similarly emphatic victory was expected on his next outing at Leopardstown, where he was stepping up to a 19 furlong trip – but despite Ruby Walsh looking relaxed and unmoved in his mounts saddle, he had to work hard for a victory over a fairly mediocre field. He holds an entry into the Grade 1 Flogas Novices’ Chase on the second weekend in February and he will have to show marked improvement if he wants to extend his winning run over fences there.
Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air
) has only tasted defeat once during his short jumping career and that came when finishing a very good third behind Altior and Min in the Supreme Novices’ in the opening race of the 2016 Festival. He claimed his maiden Grade 1 title at the Aintree Festival last year, before his trainer pushed him into the chasing ranks for this upcoming season. He comfortably beat the handy looking Cloudy Dream
) on his first outing, before labouring to what should have been a simple victory in a class four on his next chasing appearance. All his runs have come over two miles so far, but he looks to be more of a stayer, so the step up in trip here should suit.
Seven Barrows stablemate Whisper
(12/1 William Hill
) endured a difficult season last year, where he was found wanting in Grade 1 hurdling company. Since the transition to chasing, he’s looked back to his excellent best – securing victory in a class two on his chasing debut, before upsetting Clan Des Obeaux to win the Dipper Novices’ Chase on New Year’s Day. Both his seasonal victories have come at Cheltenham, so returning to the Festival – where he won the Coral Cup back in 2015 – will be a big boost to his chances.
The soft going at Cheltenham at the start of the year played right into Whispers hands, but with the going in March likely to be much firmer, Clan Des Obeaux
) will fancy his chances of turning the tables on his Cheltenham rival. Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old didn’t put in a smooth showing on his chasing debut, finishing just over three lengths behind Rock The Kasbah
) in fourth at Chepstow, but he looked every inch a potential Festival contender on his next outing at Newbury - where he romped to a superb victory in the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices’ Chase, beating Virgilio and future Kempton handicap winner, Our Kaempfer by ten lengths.
) also fell to a narrow defeat last time out, finishing just over a length behind the impressive Waiting Patiently
) in a Grade 2 at Haydock. The pair looked very tightly matched and if Paul Nicholls charge wasn’t giving away three pounds to his rival, the result could easily have been different. The six-year-old had made a lasting impression on his first two chasing performances, destroying Vintage Clouds and Welsh Shadow at Haydock, before cruising to a comfortably win over Rock The Kasbah in a Grade 2 Chase at Ascot. His record at Cheltenham doesn’t make pretty reading – he unseated his rider two from home back in 2015, before finishing near the rear of the field in the Coral Cup last year – so that might cast a little doubt over his Festival chances.
Politologue won an impressive winner at Ascot back in December. Diamond King
) was the impressive winner of that Coral Cup contest at Cheltenham in March, but he has struggled to assert himself in Graded Chases since taking on the larger obstacles. He won easily on his chasing debut, but he’s trailed over the line with the last few entrants in both his appearances since. A Toi Phil
) has also struggled in both his attempts at Grade 1 contests, but away from that top level company he has looked good – easily winning a Grade 2 at Punchestown and snatching a large handicap prize at Leopardstown on his latest appearance.
Nicholls and Henderson are both likely to play very strong hands, as they look to end the Irish supremacy in the JLT. Le Prezien
) is a very hardy competitor - he stepped up in trip at the Aintree Festival last season and came closest to defeating Yorkhill in that Grade 1. He’s been deployed over two miles to start off his chasing career and after a narrow defeat to Charbel
) on debut, he has claimed two good victories on his last two appearances. Top Notch
(20/1 William Hill
) was third behind Charbel and Le Prezien when he made his bow over fences, but since then he has secured three comfortable victories, including a class two victory over the JLT distance at Ascot just before Christmas.
O O Seven
) was an excellent victor over course-and-distant back in November, but he fell to a surprise Graded defeat on his next run, when stepping up to three miles. He has won over that longer trip before, so Henderson may be tempted to go for the RSA, but an outing in the JLT at Cheltenham is definitely not ruled out. Anibale Fly
) is A. J Martin’s only shot at another victory in this race. He was pulled up on his first outing on British soil in December, when attempting three miles for the first time in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton – but he was a very close second in a two-and-a-half mile Grade 1 at Fairyhouse earlier in the season, so he could be an each-way danger over a more comfortable trip.
In-fact, with such a gap between Yorkhill and the chasing pack in the betting, an each-way punt seems the best course of action for an ante-post bet in the JLT. With so many quality costumers sitting at inviting odds, you could make a convincing each-way case for most of them, but the selection for the Festival is going to be CLAN DES OBEAUX.
Paul Nicholls outlined him as one of his top novice prospects at the start of the season and after a rusty performance on his chasing debut, he’s lived up to his trainers high regard in subsequent appearances. The style in which he landed the Berkshire Chase at Newbury – a course which holds many similarities to the track at Prestbury Park - was magnificent and on favourably good ground at the Cheltenham Festival, he’s more than capable of putting in a similarly impressive performance in the JLT.
16/3/2017 1:30pm Cheltenham selection – CLAN DES OBEAUX each-way (20/1 bet365)