The JLT Novices Chase is a Grade 1 chase run over a distance of two miles and four furlongs, which during its running there are seventeen fences to be negotiated.
Run on the New Course at Cheltenham, the race was established in 2011 and currently takes place on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival, and in 2014 will be run as a Grade 1 for the first time having previously only been of Grade 2 status.
The Irish have held the upper hand in this race so far winning all three renewals, most recently with Benefficient (2012) who is currently the forefront of the Ryanair Chase market a year on from his win here.
Given this is a novice event generally we are looking towards younger horses to come to the forefront here and with their only being two renewals of the race it is fairly hard to develop any key trends or stats to follow, that said I have come up with a couple which are potentially worth looking at.
A few stats to take a look at;
- All three winners of this race had previously run to an RPR of above 150 over fences.
- All three winners of the race had previous course form at Cheltenham, running over hurdles at The Festival the previous year.
- All three winners had at least three previous chase starts prior to winning this race.
- All three winners of the race were rated above 140 over hurdles.
Oscar (IRE) (12.6f) — Marble Sound (IRE) (Be My Native (USA) (11.7f))
Notes: A very decent hurdler a couple of seasons ago, and arguably his best effort of those was a distant second to the grey aeroplane Simonsig in the Neptune Novices Hurdle in 2012. A grade two winner over the smaller flights, he has turned his hand to these larger obstacles and put forth a brilliant impression when slamming Arkle candidate Trifolium by fifteen lengths giving him weight. A winner of a Grade 2 Chase on his previous start, Felix Yonger beat Defy Logic in impression fashion, and given that one’s exploits since in winning the Grade 1 Racing Post Chase at Leopardstown (beating Trifolium by 3.5L). If that wasn’t strong enough then Trifolium winning the Irish Arkle (Grade 1) on his most recent start makes you look closer at Felix Yonger, and a quick look at the ground conditions for his two recent defeats you can make excuses for both. The prospect of quicker ground next week puts him bang in the picture, and is one you must consider strongly.
Poliglote (10.6f) — Victoria Royale (FR) (Garde Royale (11.2f))
Notes: A typically highly-regarded French import for trainer Paul Nicholls who worked his way in the World Hurdle last season after the injury to Big Buck’s where he was expected to run a big race. He was previously being talked up as a certainty for the County Hurdle at a couple of preview evenings, but things didn’t transpire as planned in the World Hurdle as he trailed in a well beaten eighth. Put away after that he made his return over fences in October, readily accounting for Bears Affair in what looked a decent race at the time (since beaten in handicap off 140). He then got the better of Fox Appeal in a duel at Wincanton (giving him 6lb), a horse which has proven to be a competitive 150’s horse over fences judging by recent performances. An easily win at Newbury followed in a race his trainer had previously won with Denman en-route to his RSA Chase winning season. He then met up with Oscar Whisky in what was essentially a shoot-out between the two, with Wonderful Charm attempting to give away 8lb to Nicky Henderson’s high-class recruit, and only just failed to give weight and a beating to that rival. He jumped economically throughout and travelled extremely well throughout the race, but the weight difference told in the closing stages and he couldn’t hold off the better weighted rival. He hasn’t been seen since so will turn up fresh for the big race next week, and has to be seriously considered at this stage – a high class recruit.
Oscar (IRE) (12.6f) — Ash Baloo (IRE) (Phardante (FR) (12.7f))
Notes: A real top-class hurdler who has made a seamless transition to fences, albeit at a rather late stage in his career at the age of 9 (same can be said of Rock On Ruby in Arkle). He was a 164-rated hurdler before making the switch, and looks like being just as good over fences based on performances thus far. He has improved with experience over the larger obstacles, and should really have beaten Taquin Du Seuil on his fencing bow, but was ridden for experience by Barry Geraghty on the day and was done for speed by that rival. Geraghty made no mistake next time round though the pair met, and outsprinted Jonjo O’Neill’s rival to the line to exact revenge, despite being 5lb worse off at the weights. Between those two efforts he outpointed Wonderful Charm at Cheltenham (getting 8lb) in a gritty display, once again jumping accurately throughout bar one mistake four out. He comes into this race after a workmanlike win in the Scilly Isle’s at Sandown in atrocious conditions, and with the ground forecast to dry out brings him right into play as a major contender.
Voix Du Nord (FR) — Noraland (FR) (Homme De Loi (IRE) (12.0f))
Notes: A horse sourced from French soil that has come across the channel with a lofty reputation after showing good form over hurdles, most notably when defeating recent Greatwood Hurdle winner Dell’ Arca. He was given a provisional hurdles rating of 137 based on his two starts over the smaller obstacles, and has been sent straight over fences by Harry Fry. Beaten on debut at Warwick behind Mr Mole, he looked as though he’d come on plenty for that effort and experience over the larger obstacles, and he duly obliged next time up when fitted with a first time tongue tie. Not sure whether he is as good as they think but you can only beat what is put in front of you, but wouldn’t be one I’d personally be getting too excited about all things considered – he does however, remain a horse of potential.
Taquin Du Seuil
Voix Du Nord (FR) — Sweet Laly (FR) (Marchand De Sable (USA) (7.5f))
Notes: A top class horse when the mud is flying, he has really shown just how good he is when being allowed his conditions over the larger obstacles. A 147-rated hurdler in his prime, he looks every inch as good, if not better at the chasing game, and comes into this race off the back of a devastating victory in the mud at Haydock. His form ties in very well with Oscar Whisky, beating him firstly giving away 5lbs, before that rival reversed the placing’s off levels when the pair last met. Is prone to the odd fencing error, and the prospect of the ground drying out tempers confidence somewhat, but should run his race, and any rain around next week would be a bonus to this one.
Double Eclipse (IRE) (16.1f) — Kinross (Nearly A Hand (9.6f))
Notes: Has steadily improved through the handicap ranks, most notably when winning the Grade 3 handicap December Gold Cup at the course in December, before following that up with a handicap of similar stature again on New Year’s Day off a mark of 140. No match for the (on his day) high-class Wishful Thinking when the pair met again at this track at the end of January, although the ground was almost certainly on the softer side of ideal for Double Ross that day. He is a very likeable old-fashioned chasing type who is clearly on an upward curve, but whilst he’s done very well so far I think there will be at least two or three in here with too much class for him off level weights.
Flemensfirth (USA) — Mandys Gold (IRE) (Mandalus (12.3f))
Notes: Rated 135 over hurdles and from the same connections who saddled Aupcharlie in the race last year. Always looked a chasing type over hurdles and made an eye-catching debut over the larger obstacles when beating Mullaghanoe River at Navan in December. He followed that up with a second placed effort to leading National Hunt Chase fancy Foxrock, jumping exceptionally well throughout before his stamina gave out over the longer distance. Back down to this trip, and the prospect of better ground likely to bring out more improvement, he would certainly need to improve on what we’ve seen but cannot be dismissed lightly.
Djakadam looks to be heading in this direction despite an entry in the Arkle Chase on Day 1. A 132-rated hurdler, he is unbeaten in two starts over fences and clearly has plenty of ability, but he doesn’t have much in the way of experience on his side and his stable have a much better shot in the shape of Felix Yonger.
Off The Ground has really improved through the handicap ranks on his last couple of starts, and looks worthy of taking the step up to this level. He needs to show further improvement to mix it with horses of this quality though, and I can’t help but feel he’ll come up short.
Mozoltov is untried on ground quicker than soft but was very impressive on his latest start over fences. He has thrown in the odd jumping error in his fencing, and he wouldn’t be able to get away with that on the big day, and the prospect of quicker ground is also an unknown.
Bright New Dawn jumps very efficiently in his races, but wasn’t a match for Djakadam when the pair met two starts ago. He followed that up with an impressive success dropped back in trip to beat Mollowney. Isn’t certain to line up at Cheltenham and may instead head to Punchestown so treat with caution if you like this one.
One of the better races at this year’s Festival, there are a good four or so in with realistically strong chances of landing this.
Wonderful Charm hasn’t been seen since his excellent second when attempting to give away weight to Oscar Whisky over course and distance in December, and arrives here fresh and ready with ground likely to suit. He is a high-class operator and has to go close based on what we’ve seen so far.
Sizing Gold has shown how well he jumps a fence, and the prospect of quicker ground will really accentuate that point. Henry De Bromhead has proven his ability to ready one for the big races at Cheltenham given his exploits with Sizing Europe, and there are strong vibes going around the preview evenings for this one at the moment.
Oscar Whisky is a horse with a wealth of talent, and has done nothing but improve over fences. He jumped brilliantly and efficiently, and despite his debut defeat in a farce of a race he really hasn’t done anything wrong. He was workmanlike in terrible conditions at Sandown, and in many of his races has been forced to cutting out the running due to the small fields, with most horses electing to dodge him because of his high hurdles rating. He is a horse who is better when able to settle in-behind runners in his races, and scythe his way through runners with his high cruising speed. He is one I am very sweet on for this race, and I’d favour him to maintain his superiority over Wonderful Charm despite them now meeting off level weights.
Felix Yonger is the best Ireland have to offer, in a race which they have won three years in a row. The prospect of a return to a quicker surface really sets the pulses racing, as he was absolutely electric when dispatching Trifolium, and before him Defy Logic both of whom have turned out to be Grade 1 winners.
For me this race boils down to FELIX YONGER and Oscar Whisky, and I just feel the Willie Mullins trained son of Oscar will have things fall into place for him for the first time since savagely impressive victories over in Ireland. I think you can allow him excuses for his two recent defeats, both of which can be attributed to the ground and should he recapture his form prior to that then he’ll win.
If there are any chinks in his armour though, Oscar Whisky will expose them and therefore cannot be discounted at around the 7-1 mark.