The JLT Novices Chase is a Grade 1 chase run over a distance of two miles and four furlongs, run on the new course at Cheltenham and was established in 2011. The race takes place on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival which during its running there are seventeen fences to be negotiated.
A few stats to take a look at;
- All four winners of this race had previously run to an RPR of above 150 over fences.
- All four winners of the race had previous course form at Cheltenham, running over hurdles at The Festival the previous year.
- All four winners had at least three previous chase starts prior to winning this race.
- All four winners of the race were rated above 140 over hurdles.
Great Pretender (IRE) — Red Rym (FR) (Denham Red (FR))
Notes: Whilst an above average hurdler (in fact very good rated 157), chasing has without doubt been the making of him this season. A string of placed efforts and campaigned over a trip short of his best when well beaten in the Champion Hurdle last season, he has taken to chasing like a duck to water. Winning his first four races by a combined distance of 37 lengths including a brace of Grade 2’s, he fell when making a novicey mistake pitched into open company for the Ascot Chase on his most recent start. It shouldn’t have dented his confidence too much and he heads for this with real strong claims of taking the prize back to Ditcheat.
Robin Des Champs (FR) — Gazelle De Mai (FR) (Dom Pasquini (FR ) (9.3f))
Notes: A truly superb winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season making all the running on the way to a brilliant success. He rounded off his season with a victory at Punchestown going 5 for 5 including three Grade 1 victories along the way. His first run over hurdles was an easy win over Clarcam at Navan towards the end of November, but suffered a reversal at the hands of the same rival in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novices’ Chase on his next outing. Mullins and Walsh have both since told the press that he just wasn’t on his game that day, and a bloodless success in an egg and spoon race over two miles three furlongs at Leopardstown told us very little. The faster pace and better ground we are accustomed to at Cheltenham should bring out improvement in him and he remains one of the top novices in this division based on what we’ve seen – combined with his strong hurdles form of last season.
Milan (13.8f) — First Battle (IRE) (Un Desperado (FR) (10.9f))
Notes: A horse I was quite excited about going novice chasing this season and he has really proven his ability to mix it at the highest level with two brilliant performances to date. A respectable second to Valseur Lido in the Drinmore (despite jumping left throughout) he reversed that form at Leopardstown in the Flogas and looks sure to play a hand at the business end of this race. The ground is likely to suit and he’ll get a strong pace to take aim at, he heads to this with serious chances.
Anzillero (GER) — Libido Rock (FR) (Video Rock (FR) (12.1f))
Notes: Could end up in either this or the RSA Chase depending on where stablemate Don Poli is campaigned (could go for RSA Chase or NH Chase). Was a very good novice hurdler last term for Willie Mullins, although not quite in the same league as Ptit Zig of Vautour, and has looked a superb addition to the chasing ranks on his three starts to date. An easy winner on his debut at Punchestown, he followed that up with an excellent eight-length victory in one of the strongest Drinmore Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) I’ve seen for some time. He re-opposed Apache Stronghold in the Flogas Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) at Leopardstown in February and suffered a narrow defeat to a top-class horse. He remains open to improvement with that being just his third run, and wherever he goes he looks sure to run his race.
Gitane Du Berlais goes keenly through her races but has strung together a couple of impressive victories on her two starts to date over fences. Most recently when drawing clear of Irish Saint at Sandown (Irish Saint has won since). She is still unexposed heading into this and gets the benefit of the mares allowance.
Un Ace could yet look to go down the handicap route off a mark of 144 but has shown fair form over fences since stepping up to this trip, and the prospect of quicker ground should squeeze out further improvement. Appears to lack the class of the principles but could surprise by out-running his current 33-1 price tag.
Irish Saint was impressive when winning at Kempton over the weekend but the race fell apart around him in truth. He looks just short of top class over fences (as he was over hurdles) and the exchange suggests he is far from certain to run, despite the sea of blue on Oddschecker at the time of writing.
Shanahan’s Turn had looked an exciting prospect at the start of the season but he has really fallen apart in his last two races and there is little room for optimism as to his chances of lifting this prize should he line up (which must now be unlikely).
Splash Of Ginge was disappointing on his last effort at Sandown but has run poorly on all four times he’s gone right-handed, so I wouldn’t take that form too literally. A winner of a good handicap over a furlong further here in January gives connections cause for hope, but has a few pounds to find with Ptit Zig and others – that said he commands each-way respect at prices around the 25/1 mark.
The Tullow Tank hasn’t been right since winning on his debut over fences at the beginning of the season, but showed signs of a mini revival behind Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido the last day. Doesn’t look up to the level needed to win this though unless a minor miracle occurs.
A race which has often attracted an excellent field since its inception in 2011 and once again we look to be treated to a fascinating spectacle.
Vautour heads the market for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh and was a top class hurdler last season. His novice chase form is difficult to assess based on what we’ve seen so far. A disappointment at Leopardstown in December has been attributed to a muscle problem, and his last win was basically an egg-and-spoon race he was entitled to win. He obviously heads here with really promising claims but can’t help think he is a little on the short side at the head of the market given what those around him have done.
Have missed the boat with Apache Stronghold with him being available at 16-1 prior to his victory in the Flogas Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown. A strong pace and drier conditions looks sure to suit this slick jumping son of Milan and he will be thereabouts at the business end, although 6-1 is now the best price you’re going to get for him.
Valseur Lido is another that brings strong Irish form into this race having been an impressive winner of the Drinmore Novices’ Chase in December. He suffered a reversal of fortunes at the hands of Apache Stronghold when the pair last met at Leopardstown earlier this month, and all his best form has been on ground with some dig in it. He looks sure to head here now looking at the exchanges and his form ties in closely with Apache Stronghold, although this one can be backed at 8-1 at present.
The one I think to be with at this stage remains PTIT ZIG who has put together a string of impressive performances this season since switched to fences, and if you can forgive his recent fall at Ascot then he arguably should be favourite for this on what we’ve seen so far.
There is almost certainly a preference for a bit of juice in the ground as far as the Nicholls gelding is concerned, however he has shown enough on quicker conditions over hurdles to suggest he’ll be effective should we get the projected quicker ground in two weeks’ time, and his victory in the Dipper Novices’ Chase was on ground verging towards good which gives added enthusiasm as to his chances.