JLT Novices' Chase (Grade 1)
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The Grade One JLT Novices’ Chase is a two mile, four furlong steeplechase open to all novice chasers aged five and over. The race, established back in 2011, sees all declared runners tackled 17 fences. It will be held this year on Thursday 16th March.
Our JLT Novices Chase tips will be online closer to Cheltenham Festival. Read on for our runner by runner preview or view all our Cheltenham Festival 2017 tips now.
There have only been 5 runnings of the JLT Novices Chase so far – here are the standout trends:
- All 6 winners have been either 6 or 7 years old
- All were rated at least 146 or higher over fences before the JLT Novices Chase
- All were rated 140 or higher over hurdles
- All 6 had previous Cheltenham experience, either in a chase or hurdles race
- 3 of the 6 had previously won at Cheltenham but only one (Vautour) at the Festival
- 4 of the 6 winners won last time out (the exception, Noble Prince, was 2nd in the Irish Arkle)
- 5 of the 6 winners were Irish trained (Jonjo O’Neill’s Taquin de Seuil the exception).
With only 6 runnings to go on of this 2 mile 4 furlong Novice Chase, there has been only one multiple winner – Willie Mullins in 2012 (Sir Des Champs), 2015 (Vautour) and 2016 (Black Hercules). He’ll be looking to make it four with one of his many strong novice chasers. A P McCoy and Ruby Walsh have won the race twice each with the other 2 runnings all won by Irish jockeys – Bryan Cooper and Davy Russell – who will all be hoping to make it two wins in the JLT Novices in 2017.
Trends and Analysis: The lack of previous Festival winners is surprising, but the tricky Cheltenham track mean it’s no surprise that all 5 had previous Cheltenham experience. Only one had chasing experience at Cheltenham (Taquin du Seuil) but all were already rated 146 or higher over fences. High class hurdlers often become high class chasers and that’s the trend here, with all rated 140+ over hurdles and 3 winning Graded Novices hurdles.
One of the newer races at the expanded Festival but a popular one with the trainers as it suits those lacking enough speed for the Arkle Trophy over two miles or enough stamina for the RSA Chase over three miles, though with so few novice chases over this trip prior to Cheltenham it always makes for an interesting conundrum. Six renewals so far have seen the Irish raiders capturing the first prize on five occasions with Willie Mullins taking three of them,with Sir Des Champs, Vautour and Black Hercules, added to by Tony Martin (Benefficient) and Paul Nolan with Noble Prince.
The winner of the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 Festival, the JLT appears to be the natural stepping stone for Yorkhill and he has been installed as clear favourite with all major bookmakers following his debut chase victory. Sent off 1/8 favourite for that 2m event at Fairyhouse, he won by an eased down 14 lengths, although his jumping failed to impress. Following the race, trainer Willie Mullins commented: “We would have no difficulty stepping up in trip but he’s very very good at two miles.” Rated at 156 over hurdles following his Aintree victory in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, this race would appear to be the natural progression following his exploits over the smaller obstacles. While he showed by winning a two mile Punchestown bumper that he doesn’t lack a turn of pace, he is also an Irish three mile Point to Point winner and it will be a big decision for connections. Ruby Walsh commented “he would win the Arkle with his mouth open” immediately after this Neptune Novices’ Hurdle win but with his combination of stamina and speed the JLT would seem the most logical step with both Altior and Min looking set to compete over the minimum trip.
Changing ownership to the powerful JP McManus after winning a Grade 1 at Aintree last year, Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air is another interesting runner for Seven Barrows. No match for his stablemate Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, running on well to finish close up behind Min, he ran well on his chasing debut at Haydock with a smooth success in December. Reappearing two weeks later, his win at Warwick wasn’t perfect, as he was hampered on the bend and had to really dig deep in workmanlike fashion to take victory. A dour stayer at the two mile trip, the step up in trip would be the natural next step for him after that gritty effort at Warwick in December and should bring out further improvement. Nicky Henderson also sighted possible fitness issues at Warwick would could suggest better is expected by Seven Barrows of their horse in the coming months: “He didn’t have a hard race the time before at Haydock but he probably put a fair bit into this one therefore he may have needed it fitness-wise. He’s absolutely fine and we’ll probably look at the Grade One Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown on February 4 to try him over two and a half miles and see how he gets on”.
Most impressive on both his runs to date, Politologue looked potentially very smart when making all in brilliant fashion at Ascot in a Grade 2 in December. Jumping with finesse and class, he was never in any real danger and despite idling up the run in, he still won easily by 4 lengths. That was only his second chasing run so far and Paul Nicholls’ 6 year old still remains with a lot of potential and that was confirmed by Nicholls himself in an interview after his Ascot romp: “He was at the top of his game at Ascot and he is obviously exciting, one thing he does do is jump and gallop. I’m in no hurry with him as he is a horse for the future“. He does obviously need to prove that he is suited by Prestbury Park and also doesn’t seem to be at his best on good ground which would be a concern with that being a likely going come March. Regardless of these question marks though, he is an exciting prospect and should be suited by the thorough stamina test that Cheltenham provides, and if handed a soft lead then a best priced 8/1 could be severely underestimating his potential.
A smart hurdler at his best, Whisper has been rejuvenated over fences after a quiet season last year. Winning on chase debut at Cheltenham against some useful rivals, he returned to Prestbury Park a month later to beat the potentially useful Clan Des Obeaux in the Dipper Chase despite some mistakes down the back. Davy Russell was more than happy with the 9 year old’s performance in an interview after the race: “All credit to Nicky and the team to get this horse back. He jumped great and he’s very good. Dai rang me two weeks ago and said it’s important I come to ride him again and to keep him going forward. His confidence is on the up“. For powerful connections the only way is up and as his confidence continues to build with every run, with his Cheltenham suitability already assured with two good performances at the track. Now a four time winner at the course, he is impossible to discount despite his age versus some of his rivals and a best priced 14/1 for the race could be generous for what he has shown so far.
Despite his defeat in the Dipper Chase to the aforementioned rival, is is much too early to discount Clan Des Obeaux yet. Thrice raced over fences for Paul Nicholls, he was undoubtedly impressive at Newbury on his second attempt over fences, winning a Grade 2 without having to come off the bridle. He led the Dipper Chase all the way to the second last where he made his first mistake of the race which gave Whisper the momentum and as a horse that doesn’t stop galloping, it was always going to be difficult for him to repass up the hill. He did rally bravely showing that he does have a good engine underneath him but just didn’t have enough to regain the initiative despite being given 5lb, but should have gained a lot of experience from that run and Paul Nicholls wasn’t disappointed by his performance: “He just made a mistake at the second-last when he didn’t want to. The other horse is a real stayer and our horse will probably be better in a faster-run race. This horse is only five so will definitely have a break and is more of a horse for the future”. As a strong galloper he perhaps didn’t set himself a quick enough pace that day and if doing so on his next run and continuing his upward curve, he could be a dark horse for the race.
Another who it would be foolish to write off would be Different Gravey, who ran well on chasing debut to ease to victory at Ascot in November despite some sketchy jumping. He was never quite right at Cheltenham in December on his second chasing start, never getting into a rhythm and always seemingly struggling. As a performance it is hard to get a handle on why he was so poor that day but he is almost certainly capable of much better as a lightly raced 7 year old and can probably be forgiven that performance. He does however have something to prove now and will need to put in another assured display in preparation for Cheltenham to be considered a danger to the other entrants, but he has time on his side and a best priced 33/1 does seem high on the back of just one poor performance. At his best, he is a strong traveller who sits in midfield stalking his opposition before mounting his challenge up the home straight so a strong pace usually suits him best and he is definitely a horse to track closely for the rest of this season.
Paul Nolan charge Noble Prince picked up the first edition of this race back in 2011 when a Grade Two and sponsored by Jewson. The seven-year-old finished four lengths clear of 7/2 favourite Wishfull Thinking.
A standout jump at the last saw the race secured for the Nolan yard, with Noble Prince finishing the four clear of Wishfull Thinking in second and nine clear of Henry De Bromhead’s Loosen My Load in third.
Sir Des Champs picked up his second Festival win for Willie Mullins and the Gigginstown team in this race in 2012. The six-year-old former Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle winner took victory from Champion Court by four-and-a-half lengths.
Davy Rusell gave him a patient ride, only showing his hand when taking the downhill fence and then quickening nicely away from the last to forge away for a four and a half length victory over Champion Court in second to make it seven wins from seven.
In 2013 it was the turn of 20/1 outsider Benefficient to take the plaudits, seeing off David Pipe’s hot favourite Dynaste for Tony Martin and Bryan Cooper.
Benefficient looked to make all in his noseband and headgear, though was headed by the Pipe grey at the third from home. Captain Conan seemed the most likely of the challengers as he took second with the eventual winner back in third. He responded well to the urgings of Cooper over the penultimate fence though and headed both Dynaste and Captain Conan over the last. He would be aided by the rail as he carved out a three length margin of victory over the beaten favourite.
2014 saw the legendary A P McCoy was back on top again, leading Taquin Du Seuil to the winners enclosure for Jonjo O’Neill.
The second successive seven-year-old victor was held up towards the rear in the early stages with just three behind him and the pace being set by eventual second Uxizandre. In a hard fought finish, he just managed to get the best of the 33/1 outsider in the final furlong, while Double Ross chased them home in third place.
2015 saw a phenomenal display from the joint favourite Vautour for Willie Mullins. Sent off the strong 6/4 favourite in the infamous pink Rich Ricci silks, he made all and pulled away from 2 out to leave his rivals trailing in his wake – the second place Apache Stronghold was a full 15 lengths back with second favourite Valseur Lido following closely in 3rd for Gigginstown Stud. Paul Carberry, jockey of the runner up, summed it up perfectly – “Apache Stronghold has run a cracker, but has come up against a machine.”
Willie Mullins notched up his third win in the race already with victory with Black Hercules in 2016. The big stayer stayed on best up the Cheltenham hill to see off the attentions of Bristol De Mai and L’Ami Serge. Ruby Walsh was as calm as a cucumber in the saddle and timed his run to perfection, his usual class evident on the big day.
There are 66 potential JLT Novices’ Chase runners at the initial entry stage:
- A Hare Breath
- All Hell Let Loose
- Alpha Des Obeaux
- American Tom
- Arbre De Vie
- A Toi Phil
- Aux Ptits Soins
- Baily Cloud
- Balko Des Flos
- Ball D’Arc
- Baron Alco
- Bellow Mome
- Bleu Et Rouge
- Briar Hill
- Burtons Well
- Buveur D’Air
- Casse Tete
- Champers On Ice
- Childrens List
- Clan Des Obeaux
- Cloudy Dream
- Coney Island
- Days Of Heaven
- Diamond King
- Different Gravey
- Flying Angel
- General Principle
- Gwencily Berbas
- Hell’s Kitchen
- Ibis Du Rheu
- Identity Thief
- Kilcrea Vale
- Le Prezien
- Mercian Prince
- Might Bite
- Road To Respect
- Rock The Kasbah
- Royal Caviar
- Shantou Village
- Sizing Tennessee
- Some Plan
- Tiger Roll
- Top Notch
- Tully East
- Two Taffs
- Waiting Patiently
- Winner Massagot