As we head ever closer towards the JLT Novices Chase 2017, it is quite apparent that the Irish have had a high degree of success in this race since its inception in 2011.
Only Jonjo O’Neill when taking the 2014 renewal with Taquin Du Seuil has been victorious from over this side of the Irish sea, with Willie Mullins tasting victory 3 times amongst a total of 5 Irish victories so far.
Mullins looks to have another strong hand in the race this year in the shape of Yorkhill who is one of the strongest novice favourites of the whole Festival, and is bidding to give Mullins a third straight win in the race, having saddled Vautour (2015) and Black Hercules (2016) to success previously.
JLT Novices Chase 2017
Presenting x Lightning Breeze (Saddlers’ Hall)
Notes: The hot favourite and one they all must beat. A very easy winner of both his chase starts to date he has won a total of 8 from his 9 races under rules and is clearly a high-class operator. Ruby Walsh is certain to retrain the ride on him and you’d imagine he’ll take the world of beating next Thursday afternoon. A recent spill in a schooling session could possibly have dented his confidence however but I suspect he’ll be on his A game next week for a trainer and jockey who are so efficient round here.
Poliglote x Scarlet Row (Turgeon)
Notes: A vastly better chaser than hurdler for Paul Nicholls, and he has wasted little time in putting together three wins from four outings over fences this campaign. I remember watching him at Haydock where he completely lost his composure before the start of the race, so for him to finish second giving 3lb to the eventual winner and see him fight all the way is a testament to his ability. Seemingly better on softer ground but has handled slightly quicker over fences with success, and he is very much a live threat to Yorkhill at this stage of their careers.
Poliglote x Topira (Pistolet Bleu)
Notes: Didn’t quite hit the heights expected of him over hurdles after a fruitful juvenile campaign, but was a very fair fifth in last season’s Champion Hurdle, and looks to be every inch as good over fences as hurdles. After an initial third on his chasing bow, he has improved with experience to string together a sequence of four victories, including the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase at Sandown. Jumps efficiently and goes well here which will stand him in good stead and is very much a strong contender for top honours.
Martaline x Nikos Royale (Nikos)
Notes: Once regarded as one of the nicest novice hurdlers Noel Meade has seen pass through his hands in recent memory, he didn’t really fulfil that prophecy over hurdles but has wasted little time making his mark over fences. He was a handy winner of his chasing debut, before getting lost in the fog at Punchestown on his next outing. He clearly didn’t perform on that occasion and has backed that up with two really eye-catching performances at Leopardstown in Grade 1’s, and will look to expose any chinks in Yorkhill’s armour.
Kilcrea Vale will be ridden by Jeremiah McGrath for Nicky Henderson and has won two of his three chase outings so far. He’s clearely useful and will appreciate the return to better ground and is one who you could chance at a big price if those near the fore didn’t interest you.
Charbel more likely to turn up for the Arkle on the first day you’d imagine.
Flying Angel could run in either this of the Arkle but it’s hard to imagine him being good enough for either to be honest. An in and out performer who is pretty decent on a going day but more questions than answers for me.
Bellshill looks more likely to pitch up in the RSA Chase, as will Alpha Des Obeaux.
A race which revolves around the limitless potential of Yorkhill who just looking at him was born to jump fences. He has been very good in his two performances over the larger obstacles to date, but is prone to the odd mistake and that schooling error will have knocked his confidence a little.
I still fully expect him to turn up at Cheltenham next week on his A game, and Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh will make sure of that but at the current prices he is just too short.
Disko has clearly improved for the switch to fences which has been the making of him. His win in the Flogas Novices’ Chase is a good piece of form, and you can expect him to be thereabouts at the finish, but is likely to bump into one or two just better than him on the day.
Kilcrea Vale has the ability to surprise a few and to certainly outrun his 33/1 price tag.
Politologue seemed much better with the hood fitted at Kempton last time but the big occasion at Cheltenham is a whole new world to what he’d have encountered at Kempton in February. He is a very good chaser in the making but needs to prove he is over those pre-race antics and I couldn’t entertain a bet on him until he’s done this.
With leaves me with TOP NOTCH for Nicky Henderson and Daryl Jacob, who will bid to add his name onto the honours list for the first time, and become the second English-based trainer to win the race since it started in 2011.
As good as Yorkhill over hurdles if not better, he has looked just as good over fences this winter and comes to this race with an ideal prep. His win in the Scilly Isles is strong form and a repeat of that sends him close, and for that reason he will be my selection.