Festival Focus: Novice Chases
There’s been some exciting novice chases all season, and the best of the best will compete at Cheltenham. Best of Bets takes a deep dive into the four novice chases during the week.
Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase – 1m 7F 199yds – Grade One
There have been some stellar Arkle’s down the years. This one, however, seems to only be about two horses. Jonbon vs El Fabiolo.
Starting with the Irish challenge, there was a lot to like about El Fabiolo’s win in the Irish Arkle. He jumped effortlessly, and put in strides when he needed to, and when he was asked by Daryl Jacob to extend, he did so. He suited the two mile trip, and the slight drop won’t be a problem, as he can get the top end of two miles. The last time he faced Jonbon, El Fabiolo was flawless bar the last hurdle, but if he can put in a performance similar to Leopardstown, Jonbon may be in for a tough test.
But Jonbon won’t go down lightly. Supreme horses, who come to the Arkle, have a good record in the race. Jonbon finished behind Constitution Hill, and made up for it by winning at Aintree, holding off his Irish rival. Course form may prove to be the difference, as Jonbon has raced around the Old Course before and handled it well, whilst El Fabiolo hasn’t stepped foot at the Festival. Jonbon has been a class above his rivals, but hasn’t faced staunch opposition until now.
Others that may head to the Arkle include Dysart Dynamo, who burnt out in the Irish Arkle, and will need to put in a similar performance to his novice chases debut to get anywhere close to the two at the top of the market. The Flyingbolt Novice Chase on Saturday, should confirm the last few of the Arkle field.
Verdict: Jonbon; It’s a tight contest between the top two, but Jonbon just edges it with the Festival experience, but El Fabiolo will make it an entertaining race to watch. Jonbon is 13/8 with bet365.
Each-way pick: I fear there won’t be many runners in this year’s Arkle, but one that should come here is Flame Bearer. Would prefer it to be softer, but if he runs well in the Flyingbolt then he should come here, and not be too disgraced. Currently 50/1 with bet365, at time of writing.
National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase – 3m 5F 201yds – Grade Two
This race is for stayers’. We could see the future Gold Cup winner, or maybe the Grand National winner from this race. Tiger Roll won this race in 2017, a year later he won the National. Who could follow in his footsteps this year?
The favourite is Gaillard Du Mesnil, who looks to be a future National horse after finning third in last year’s Irish National. Staying trips is his forte, as his latest run behind Mighty Potter confirms. He won the Nevills Hotel Chase over Christmas, which does point to this race as well as the Brown Advisory, and seen as he has already been placed in that race, Willie Mullins places him here, and looks like it’s his to lose. However, the last favourite that won the race was Back In Focus in 2013.
But he does face competition. Mahler Mission, raced here in October and lost by a staggering 61 lengths. It was his first start of the season, and since then he has gone on to finish a close second to Churchstonewarrior. He was the one to take out of the race that day, and looked like he could stay further. This may be his trip, if cut in the ground comes.
Churchstonewarrior had multiple seconds earlier in the season before winning at Navan. He can get three miles easily, but this trip is a whole lot further, and may face another tricky opponent in Gaillard Du Mesnil.
Chemical Energy has been kept fresh for this race, but disappointed on his last start in a Grade Three. He was sloppy over his fences, compared to his Cheltenham run in October. His best form comes over good ground, and if the ground stays like that then maybe he holds a more than an each-way chance.
Verdict: Mahler Mission; this is the race that has been outlined for him all season, and with previous course form, he could lay down a very big challenge to the short-priced favourite. Best price is 7/1 with bet365.
Each-way pick: Chemical Energy, may go off shorter on the day if the ground is firm enough, but he is one to consider at a small each-way price of 8/1, with bet365.
Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – 3m 80yds – Grade One
Personally, I think this is one of the worst races of the week, certainly one of the worst renewals of the race. There doesn’t seem to be a standout performer in this novice chases division.
Some people think that Gerri Colombe is the standout pick, which is why he is the favourite. However, he hasn’t competed over three miles and is making a big step up in trip from his win in the Scilly Isles. L’Homme Presse used that route last year, but looked like he needed the step up. Gerri Colombe, whilst classy, didn’t look like he was needing a step up in trip and 2/1 is just too short to have him. Plus he doesn’t have any course experience.
The Real Whacker has raced three times at Cheltenham this season, and has won twice over fences. He seems to love Cheltenham, especially after his last race on the new course. On the old course, he jumped out to the right, slightly, but his front-running style has earned him plaudits. But has he had enough experience to win the race, with just two chase starts and six starts over his whole career.
Sir Gerhard has been aimed at the Brown Advisory this year, making a marked step up in trip since his chasing debut over two miles. He stepped up last year to win the Ballymore, but I fear this may be too much of a step up.
Ramilies holds an entry in both the National Hunt and the Brown Advisory, but this looks to be the more likely destination, given the same owners have Gaillard Du Mesnil in the National Hunt. After being penalised for barging last time out, he held on well to cross the line in first position. Horses who raced in last year’s Albert Bartlett have a good record in the race, with six winners in the last 13 renewals, Ramilies finished sixth.
Thyme Hill does hold a chance, and after cheek pieces worked wonders at Kempton last time out, he’ll be looking to come here with some vigour and a point to prove. He is one of the oldest horses in the race as a nine year old, and was meant to go chasing last term. This race may have come a year too late for him, I fear.
Verdict: Ramilies; Looks to stay all day, and the Albert Bartlett form for this race should work out in his favour, he may need cut in the ground, but 12/1 with Sky Bet, is a great price for a race which doesn’t look too appealing.
Each-way pick: It’s a bit hit and miss at this stage knowing what will definitely come to this race. McFabulous wasn’t talked about during Paul Nicholls’ stable tour, so if does he comes here he could present a long-shot, each-way value at 80/1 with bet365, who are Non Runner No Bet.
Turners’ Novices’ Chase – 2m 3F 168yds – Grade One
From the worst, to, possibly, the best race of the week. People in the racing world are deciding what their NAP’s of the week are, and mine comes here.
Firstly, the outright favourite Mighty Potter has been flawless over fences. His wins have encapsulated the minds of the racing public and is a serious talent. Two Grade One’s under his belt, he loves the trip of two and a half, and could stay further in the future. The only slight worry, and it is very, very, slight, is whether he can handle the course after he was pulled up in last year’s Supreme. It doesn’t just sit right with me that his only uncompleted start came at the Festival.
However, one who loves the track is Banbridge. Two out of two at the track, and after his run in the Arkle trial in November, it was plain to see that two-and-a-half was his trip. He did get beat by Mighty Potter, over a right-handed track, but produced an eye-catching run in the Irish Arkle, finishing incredibly well. Joseph O’Brien has a small jumps stable, but they are all of a high quality, as he’s picked up four Grade Two’s in the UK this year. Could he pick up a Grade One?
Appreciate It is on the same course as Banbridge after his run in the Irish Arkle, although he looked more like a two mile horse, rather than needing the step up in tri[p. He got outgunned on the line for second, and was underwhelming in the race overall. His jumping needs to be at a standard of his first two chase starts to have a chance here.
Stage Star is Nicholls’ pick for the race, after impressing last time out over C&D in a handicap. He stays at the same winning mark too. His only weakness would be the ground, as he would want some cut rather than rattling good ground, but has no problem with staying on the new course.
Balco Coastal finished second to Gerri Colombe in the Scilly Isles, and as the winner makes the step up, Nicky Henderson decided to stay at the trip, which is ideal. Solo has franked the form with his Kempton run, but faces two big opponents at the top of the market.
Verdict: Banbridge; NAP of the week for me, his Cheltenham record is brilliant and his jumping has been brilliant. If he can produce a finish like he did in the Irish Arkle, then Mighty Potter will have a very stern test.
Each-way bet with BetUK Balco Coastal; should stay on strongly given the distance between him and Gerri Colombe. The ground should suit too, and has some course experience finishing second in last year’s Classic Novices’ Hurdle on Trails Day.