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 mount's 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.
(5/1 William Hill
) won on his seasonal reappearance back in October, then produced two very solid third placed finishes over in Ireland, coming home behind A Toi Phil in a Grade 2, before almost causing a huge upset in the Neville's Hotel Chase at Leopardstown in December, where he was held just one length behind Our Duke and Coney Island. He finally got his reward for a good season on his next outing, when he put Our Duke and Bellshill to the sword to score in the Grade 1 Flogas Chase, again at Leopardstown.
) 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. Waiting Patiently has been very impressive for Malcolm Jefferson this season, winning on all three of his starts to date. His present at the Festival was up in the air earlier in the season, but seeing as the ground is likely to be soft, he is sure to take his place at the post in the JLT.
Daryl Jacob riding Top Notch (left) clear the last to win Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown.
) 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. His latest victory was easily the biggest of his career, when he battled bravely to overcome long time leader, Baron Alco and claim the Grade 1 Scilly Isles title at Sandown. He's far from the biggest horse in the paddock, but the size of his heart cannot be questioned - he's definitely a possible Festival champion.
Both Nicholls and Henderson are both likely to play very strong hands, as they look to end the Irish supremacy in the JLT. Le Prezien
(14/1 William Hill
) 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. 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. Charbel
(12/1 William Hill
) features prominently in the betting, despite falling heavily when leading the way in the Arkle on Tuesday afternoon. It wouldn't be unheard of for a horse to run twice at the same Festival, but it would be a big ask. Nigel Twiston-Davies may fancy Flying Angel's
(16/1 William Hill
) chances of repeating the good run he put in at last year's Festival, when he finished a very close second behind Ibis Du Rheu in the Martin Pipe. He hasn't been at his best this season, but he comes into the JLT nicely under the radar and Nigel's son, William is sure to give the six-year-old a confident ride.
Yorkhill is fancied by many to repeat the success he enjoyed at the Festival last year, but a less than impressive performance in his last outing, plus the fact Willie is mulling over a return to hurdling next season, makes Yorkhill easy to lay at the Festival. Top Notch is a plucky character and is bound to be there at the finish, but POLITOLOGUE is going to be the selection in this year's JLT.
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 comfortable 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 – but he is clearly in excellent form and there is no time like the Festival to put in a good performance at Prestbury Park and show everyone what he is really made of.
16/3/2017 1:30pm Cheltenham selection – POLITOLOGUE (11/2 Coral)