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JLT Novices' Chase (Grade 1)
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.
It will come as no surprise that our tip for the 2017 JLT Novices’ Chase is the very talented Yorkhill for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. The 2016 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner looks more than up to the job in this and will take some pegging back.
Beating Yanworth on that occasion despite some a troubled passage at stages on the way around, he backed up that success when winning the Mersey Novices Hurdle at Aintree comfortably with Le Prezien in second. His run in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestowwn two weeks later is likely best ignored, as it was clearly a step too far after his excursions at Cheltenham and Aintree. Over fences, he has run twice and dismissed his opponents with contempt on both occasions. His latest win was particularly impressive, winning on the bridle at Leopardstown with Jett in second. Granted, he jumped left on occasion, but he should be much better suited to Cheltenham this time around and he remains with scope for progress over fences.
Ground versatile and guaranteed to stay, he’s the perfect mix of speed and stamina for a race such as this. He will take some stopping and looks the likely winner as Mullins looks to win his third consecutive JLT Novices’ Hurdle.
There have only been six runnings of the JLT Novices’ Chase so far; below 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 six runnings to go on of this two mile four furlong Novice Chase, there has been only one multiple winner – Willie Mullins in 2012 (Sir Des Champs), 2015 (Vautour) and 2016 (Black Hercules). He will 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 two runnings won by Irish jockeys – Bryan Cooper and Davy Russell. They will both 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 track means that it is not surprising that all six winners 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 is the trend here, with all rated 140+ over hurdles and three winning Graded Novices’ hurdles.
Despite being one of the newer races at the expanded Festival, it has proven popular with the trainers as it suits those lacking enough speed for the two mile Arkle Trophy or enough stamina for the three mile RSA Chase. However, with so few novice chases over this trip taking place prior to Cheltenham, it always makes for an interesting race. Six renewals so far have seen the Irish raiders dominate this race, with Willie Mullins winning three times and Tony Martin and Paul Nolan each winning once.
Winner of the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 Festival, the JLT appears to be the natural stepping stone for the very classy Yorkhill. Sent off 1/8 favourite for that two mile 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 from his exploits over the smaller obstacles. While he showed by winning a two mile Punchestown bumper that he does not lack a turn of pace, he is also an Irish three mile point-to-point winner so his stamina is of no concern for a race like this. Ruby Walsh commented, “he would win the Arkle with his mouth open” immediately after this Neptune Novices’ Hurdle win. However, given 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. He jumped out left again at Leopardstown in a Grade 3 contest, but should be suited better by going round Cheltenham. The manner in which he dismissed those rivals on the bridle was mightily impressive and he does look a formidable force. He looks the likeliest winner of this, as his natural talent is just a class above some of these.
Although not immediately striking as the type to do well over fences, Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch has now won four of his five starts over fences and is looking the real deal. Defeated by Charbel on chasing debut at Uttoxeter, he was far from disgraced in that run and he duly obliged at odds of 1/8 on his next start at Warwick with a facile success. Beating Roman De Senam with ease on his third chasing start, jumping well and travelling brilliantly throughout, he was starting to show signs that he was a smart chaser in the making and he recorded another success at Ascot in December, perhaps not as impressively as expected though. Any doubts about him were quickly quashed however when he won the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February, impressively putting his rivals away with a devastating turn of foot on the run in to score by a growing five lengths. Suited by Cheltenham, he is clearly a progressive type of fences and looks very likely to serve it up to Yorkhill in this. He has certainly proved he is a better jumper than that rival, at this stage at least and that could prove crucial in a race where the pace is likely to be high with there being an abundance of potential front runners in the contest. At a best priced 11/2, he certainly provides value against the well backed favourite and isn’t one to take lightly as Henderson tries to end the Mullins dominance of this race.
Lightly raced as a whole, Disko has been rapidly improving over fences this season and recorded his first Grade 1 success when winning the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown on his fourth chasing start. Showing potential on all three previous runs, he made most after jumping well throughout and when Sean Flanagan asked him to kick for home between the final two fences, he duly obliged and comfortably won by two lengths. It’s hard to not see that effort as impressive and it put him straight into the picture for the race, installed as the 7/1 third favourite. A bold jumping and strongly travelling six year old by Martaline, he remains with huge amounts of potential over these obstacles and with only nine rules starts under his belt, much better can be expected yet from this grey. On ratings, he only has a pound to find with Yorkhill which shows you just how much of a threat he is in the contest and shouldn’t be underestimated as he is a very lively danger for Noel Meade and Gigginstown House Stud.
Most impressive on his first two runs over fences, 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 four lengths. That was only his second chasing run so far, and Paul Nicholls’s six-year-old still remains with plenty of potential. Nicholls himself confirmed this in an interview following that Ascot race: “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“. Suffering his first defeat at Haydock in a Grade 2 at Haydock, he was far too keen early that day and there was no disgrace in being beaten by another rival with lots of potential. He does clearly need to prove that he is suited to Prestbury Park though, failing to impress on both occasions over hurdles, though this is very much a different scenario. He also does not seem to be at his best on good ground, which would be a concern considering those would be likely conditions come March. Regardless of these question marks though, he is an exciting prospect and should be suited to the thorough stamina test that Cheltenham offers over fences and, if handed a soft lead, then a best priced 8/1 could be severely underestimating his potential.
Winner of the 2016 Imperial Cup at Sandown, Flying Angel hasn’t been the easiest to follow thus far over fences but shouldn’t be given up upon just yet. He made the best possible start over fences when winning at Perth in September, jumping well and comfortably dispatching his rivals as expected. From there things weren’t quite as simple on his next two runs, falling at Chepstow in October when looking beaten and pulling up here over C&D in November when never looking comfortable. He did however get back to near his best when winning the Kingmaker Chase at Warwick in February, gamely running on strongly under pressure to forge clear on the run in to win by four lengths. If matching that performance again in this he’d have to be given solid each way claims, as going up in trip should suit on that evidence. He still remains with potential over these obstacles and shouldn’t be discounted at this stage.
The Paul Nolan charge Noble Prince picked up the first edition of this race back in 2011 when a Grade 2 and sponsored by Jewson. The seven-year-old finished four lengths clear of 7/2 favourite Wishfull Thinking.
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 Russell 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 back on top again, leading Taquin Du Seuil to the winner’s 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 two 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 third 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 with Black Hercules in 2016. He 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