The Jewson Novices Chase commences the third day of racing at the Cheltenham Festival. The race is run on the New Course over a distance of two miles and four furlongs, which see’s participant’s jump a total of seventeen fences. Introduced for the first time last year, the race didn’t disappoint attracting a high quality field, which saw the impressive Noble Prince battle up the hill to a four length victory over the Phillip Hobbs trained Wishful Thinking.
This year’s renewal looks set to attract another high class field with a potentially memorable race on the cards. Currently at the head of the ante-post market are Peddlers Cross, Al Ferof and Silviniaco Conti. These three, however, seem very unlikely to participate as all have alternative targets. Al Ferof looks set to stick to two miles in the Arkle, unless connections decide to have a crack at the Queen Mother. Peddlers Cross should be another to follow suit and go for the Arkle, while Silviniaco Conti’s trainer Paul Nicholls has stated that the horse is likely to bypass Cheltenham and instead be trained towards the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
The main Irish challenger at this stage looks to be the Willie Mullins trained Sir Des Champs. An impressive winner of the Martin Pipe H’cap Hurdle last year, the six year old gelding has had a flawless start to his novice chasing career, which has included victory in a Grade Two Novice Chase at Leopardstown, where he beat smart prospects Fists of Fury and Hidden Cyclone. The form looks very solid at this stage and although the horse also holds an entry for the Royal and Sun Alliance, the Jewson trip looks ideal and the Betfair market suggests it is indeed his current favoured target.
One that has very much taken the eye is Champion Court. He ran a very respectable race at last year’s festival, when finishing fourth behind the smart Bob’s Worth in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle over three miles, a trip which arguable stretches the horses stamina. He started off this season back at Cheltenham where he ran a good race to finish second to the more than useful Grand Crus, also beating home Zaynar in the process, who has since gone on to run some respectable races. He was then stepped back up in trip in a very hot novice race which was won by Join Together, again running a solid race for a long way, when just fading out at the business end. He returned again at the start of January to gain victory in a two mile four furlong novice chase, beating off the Nicky Henderson trained Solix, who looks sure to re-oppose come March. It would appear connections have now realised that the horse is better suited to a stiff two and a half miles around Cheltenham, which makes the Jewson his ideal target.
Of the other likely runners, For Non Stop has some exceptional form to his name. He was running a mighty race in last year’s Coral Cup when coming down at the second last while still holding every chance. He ran a cracking race at Sandown to only go down by a quarter of a length to last year’s supreme novice winner Al Ferof. He looks likely to take his chance and should be capable of running a big race if his jumping holds up, which would be a worry. Bog Warrior has looked like a machine in previous runs over in Ireland, but it all went wrong last time when the horse took a very heavy fall at Leopardstown. Trainer Tony Martin has gone on record and stated that they will be taking their time with the horse and that the festival might come a bit soon for him. However, it is likely that the Arkle would be his first choice target even if he was to take his chance. Cristal Bonus could well turn out to be Paul Nicholls main hand in the race. The gelding has some smart form over hurdles and made an impressive start over fences, routing a weak looking field in a beginners chase at Chepstow on heavy ground. He has loads of scope to make a fine chaser, but at this stage would have a bit still to prove with only the one run over fences to his name. Solix ran a solid race when finishing just behind Champion Court, however he is another one who’s jumping lets him down, but couldn’t be totally ruled out if improving it before March.
As things stand, the value at the moment looks to rest between two horses. As stated above Sir Des Champs has done nothing but improve in each of his starts over fences and he might not be done with yet. A winner at the course previously shows he handles the unique nature of Prestbury Park and he should run a cracking race for the Irish and their champion trainer Willie Mullins. Champion Court is another that shouldn’t be overlooked. He has plenty of solid course form to his name, with the race distance of two miles four furlongs looking perfect. Gloucestershire based trainer Martin Keighley is having a good season with his small string and has proven he is adept at getting a horse right for the big day. The consistent gelding looks sure to be involved at the finish and is a solid each way bet at the current price.