In part 2 of our Cheltenham Preview we look at the Novice Chases at the Cheltenham Festival and hope we have identified a few decent bets.
Douvan who the Supreme Novices hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival heads the market for this race and his form can hardly be knocked having had 3 runs over fences and the closest any horse has got was when Rogue Trader finished 9 ½ lengths behind in 2nd with Douvan not coming out of 2nd gear. He then easily won the Grade 1 Novice Chase beating Sizing John who had previously won twice over fences and 2nd in the Supreme Novices at Cheltenham. Douvan then scared off may of his rivals in the Irish Arkle when beating his 2 rivals comfortably. If we were being really picky, we could say that only one horse has come out and won since being beaten by Douvan and that was Rogue Trader in a handicap off a mark of 123.
2nd in the betting is L’Ami Serge who was sent off the 2nd favourite for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham in which Douvan won. L’Ami Serge didn’t get a clear run that having been hampered by Seedling falling and then again when Some Plan fell back into him when he was struggling. It also came to light that he had been suffering from a trapped epiglottis which has since been fixed. Since then he has had 2 runs over fences where he comfortably beat Doctor Harper by 27 lengths on his first over fences at Plumpton (he is in line for a bonus should he now win at the Festival) before he beat Run Runctions Run at Wetherby. Doctor Harper who he beat on his first chase has since finished 2nd to Garde La Victoire (5 lengths behind) before winning and is now favourite for a few of the Novice handicaps at the festival. When L’Ami Serge won his 2nd chase, back in 3rd was Central Flame and he has finished a close 2nd in a handicap off a mark of 130. L’Ami Serge is by King’s Theatre and so going chasing was always going to suit (Chase strike rate 17.05% compared to 14.75 over hurdles) and Good to soft going should also suit (18% strike rate on good to soft compared to 15% on heavy and soft which he has been running on).
Vaniteux is the 2nd Nicky Henderson horse who could play a big part in the Arkle this year. Having finished 3rd in the Supreme Novices hurdle behind Vautour he was kept over hurdles where he wasn’t quite up to the Grade 1 events where after finishing 2nd to Garde La Victoire (giving him 3lb), 2nd to The New One and 2nd to Rock on Ruby he disappointed at both Cheltenham and Aintree behind Faugheen and Jezki. This year he was sent chasing and being by Voix Du Nord this was again likely to suit (28.65% chase strike rate compared to 17.95% over hurdles) and started out impressively beating Qewy by 19 lengths. He was then turned over by a head at Kempton when a slow jump at the last cost him when beaten by Ar Mad (previous winner of the Racing Post Henry VII Novice at Sandown) and then got back to winning ways when accounting for Arzal, Fox Norton and Shaneshill. He should run a big race at Cheltenham and Nicky Henderson has a strong hand against Douvan.
Ar Mad who previously beat Vaniteux at Kempton is next in the betting however having been beaten at Plumpton on chase debut, Gary Moore is convinced that going right handed doesn’t suit and he’s not guaranteed to run here. That said his form since then looks strong with a comfortable win at Sandown when beating Bristol De Mai (won 3 times since) and Vaniteux at Kempton (won as mentioned above since). It may be that he skips Cheltenham and is sent to Punchestown, if he does run at Cheltenham then he has to be considered.
Garde La Victoire has won all 3 of his chases to date having been a good hurdler however his wins haven’t been as impressive as some of his rivals. He beat Bristol De Mai by 7 lengths on chase debut (Bristol since been beaten by 10 lengths by Ar Mad), he then beat Fox Norton by 2 ½ lengths (Fox Norton since been beaten by Vaniteux by 13 ¼ lengths) and then he beat Doctor Harper by 5 lengths (Doctor Harper had previously been beaten by 27 lengths by L’Ami Serge). Whilst the distances may be slightly harsh as he has looked relatively comfortable in winning these races, he also looks to need to improve to beat the likes of L’Ami Serge and Douvan.
The Game Changer has had 8 runs over fences already and is one of the most experienced over fences that is likely to line up and he will need to use this to his advantage. With 6 victories over fences to his name he is obviously a good chaser but wins over Sizing Platinum and Rule The World are not really strong bits of form (Rule The World has been beaten on his last 12 chase runs). The Game Changer will need to improve to get involved in the finish whilst his only previous visit to Cheltenham came when 9th in the County Hurdle which wouldn’t be good enough to get close here.
Sizing John is next in and his form since going hurdling or chasing reads 12132112 with all of his defeats coming in races in which Douvan has contested. Having won twice over fences since finishing 3rd at the Cheltenham Festival in the Supreme Novices and 2nd in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, he then went on to run in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown where he was well beaten by Douvan again. Having finished 3rd at Cheltenham last year he has proved he can handle the likely fast pace at the festival and being by Midnight Legend he is likely to be better over fences (20% strike rate over fences compared to 12.05% over hurdles) he may well get closer to Douvan this year and that could well be good enough to get a place and he could now be overpriced at 25/1.
Douvan could certainly be the one to beat however with L’Ami Serge impressing over fences having looked a chaser in the making and with his trapped epiglottis being sorted he should be able to give Douvan a better race this year especially with a clear run. Vaniteux and Ar Mad are closely matched and could go well but look to be playing for a place whilst Sizing John looks overpriced.
No More Heroes was a strong fancy of ours for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle last year but he was hampered coming into the last and this may well have cost him the victory. He has since been sent chasing and again this was always likely to suit with Presenting progeny having a 9.4% strike over hurdles compared to a 12.4% strike rate over fences and he has proven this so, with impressive victories over 2m4f before being stepped up in distance to win over 3 miles at Leopardstown. He jumped really well and was never in trouble in any of his races and he looks to be a big player in the RSA Chase. His win 2 runs ago in the Drinmore was impressive and previous winners of that race include Valseur Lido and Don Cossack whilst his most recent victory at Leopardstown was in a race previously won by Bostons Angel, Back in Focus, Carlingford Lough and Don Poli. Connections have said he will now go straight to the festival.
More of That looks to be the biggest danger to No More Heroes in this race. Having won the World Hurdle in 2014 he was then disappointing in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on his return at the end of 2014. It was then found he wasn’t right and he didn’t run again until returning over fences in November 2015 where he beat As De Mee by 2 ½ lengths. As De Mee hasn’t really franked that form with 3 defeats since. More of That came back to Cheltenham again when running in a Novice chase with 2 other rivals. He comfortably beat Sametegal that day however that was to be expected as he wasn’t up to More of That’s level over hurdles and has only won once over fences in 4 attempts. More of That has an unbeaten record from 4 races at Cheltenham and he may be a better horse at Cheltenham and could well challenge No More Heroes.
Blaklion is 3rd in the betting for the RSA Chase but he was pulled up at Cheltenham last year in the race that No More Heroes finished 3rd and has only won twice from 5 attempts over fences. He could only finish 4th on chase debut behind Cocktails At Dawn which As De Mee was in front (beaten by More of That) and has also been beaten by Seeyouatmidnight at Cheltenham. He won nicely last time out at Wetherby but wasn’t really beating any Cheltenham Festival hopefuls and would need to improve to get involved here. Being by Kayf Tara would also be a concern as they have a moderate 8.8% strike rate at Cheltenham.
Seeyouatmidnight is next in the betting for this race despite having beaten Blaklion last time out and this was his 2nd win from 3 attempts over fences. After only finishing 3rd on chase debut over 2m4f he was stepped up to 2m7f at Kelso where he reversed the form with Silsol. He then dropped back in distance at Cheltenham where he made all beating Blaklion with the pair well clear of 3rd. He looks the type to want 3 miles+ and could well run a big race should they run him here however his form looks a bit behind that of More of That and No More Heroes and a run in the 4m race has also been mentioned and this longer race should really suit and being by Midnight Legend should stay. Midnight Prayer won the 4m race at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014 and he too was by Midnight Legend.
Outlander looks to be the number 1 hope for Willie Mullins in this race and he’s as big as 16/1 however he certainly looks to be the 2nd string for Gigginstown. Outlander has had 3 runs over fences and has won them all when beating Free Expression, Avant Tout and Monksland. Free Expression has been beaten by Outlander twice (by 1 ½ lengths and 8 ¾ lengths) and by No More Heroes (by 11 lengths). Monksland has been beaten by No More Heroes twice (by 2 ½ lengths and 27 lengths) and by Outlander (by 2 ¾ lengths). Outlander will probably run well but is unlikely to be able to cope with No More Heroes.
Black Hercules was well beaten last season when favourite for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle and has since run twice over fences where he has looked much better. His chase debut has been franked with 2nd that day Sambremont winning easily since whilst his most recent win came when comfortably beating Definitely Red who despite finishing 2 ½ lengths behind was always facing a losing battle and Black Hercules won nicely. Definitely Red then finished 2nd to Blaklion but pushed him much harder. Black Hercules could well be overpriced particularly in comparison to Blaklion however he also has the 4m race as an option. At 20/1 however he may be worth chancing in this.
No More Heroes should run a big race here and is the rightful favourite whilst the likes of Seeyouatmidnight and Black Hercules would run well if they went here instead of the 4m race however both would also run very big races in that race.
JLT Novices Chase
Killultagh Vic is the favourite for this race having won twice over fences to date. He won at the Cheltenham Festival last year in the Martin Pipe Conditionals Hurdle before winning the Grade 1 Novice hurdle over 3 miles at Punchestown where he beat Thistlecrack, Shaneshill and No More Heroes. Since going chasing he won on debut over 2m beating Arctic Skipper by 15 lengths and then beat Blair Perrone over 2m3f despite making a horrendous mistake at the last which prompted the commentator to say ‘he can’t come back from that’ but as we all know he did. Blair Perrone has stepped up to 3 miles since and was a well beaten 5th behind Outlander. With the JLT run over 2m5f you would expect Killultagh Vic to stay this far and Cheltenham Festival winning form is encouraging however whether he has quite taken on Grade 1 opposition is another question.
Bristol De Mai has won 4 times over fences and been beaten twice by Garde La Victoire and Ar Mad both of whom are likely to run in the Arkle. Both these defeats came over 2m and this big strong horse may well simply need this distance to come into his own. He may well need further in time as Alpha Des Obeaux has proven over hurdles but this should be a good stepping stone and his form looks strong. His most recent win came at Sandown when beating As De Mee (beaten just 2 ½ lengths by More of That) and Tea for Two (winner of the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton). Bristol looks to hold all the right credentials for this race and some could say he should be favourite.
Outlander has an entry in this race and although this should suit, he could be running in the RSA Chase as Willie Mullins main hope. Outlander has finished 2nd over 3m to Martello Tower (Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner) and he would be staying on well if he were to run here.
Shaneshill has run twice at the Cheltenham Festival and finished 2nd in the Champion Bumper and then 2nd in the Supreme Novices Hurdle behind Douvan. His first 2 chase efforts were good when beating Walk To Freedom and then Sizing Codelco who’s previous chase form had included 2nd’s to Clarcam and Zabana. He then went to Doncaster and ran on good going over 2miles and this didn’t appear to suit this horse who looks like he needs further and is now more than likely to run in this race at the Festival. With Cheltenham Festival form and this distance looking ideal he now looks a decent price.
Sizing John similar to Outlander also has another entry and is more likely to run in the Arkle where although he will have a lot to do to finally beat Douvan he may well still be good enough to place.
Activial was a classy hurdler having finished 3rd in the Ladbroke Hurdle, 3rd in the Betfair Hurdle and 3rd in the Coral Cup before running twice in France in Grade 2 and Grade 1 events. He was then sent chasing and started out in a Grade 2 event where when Maximiser fell he was left in front, he himself then made a horrendous blunder and probably did well to still finish 2nd to Three Musketeers. This form wasn’t really franked when Three Musketeers was only 5th to Seeyouatmidnight at Cheltenham. Having finished 2nd, Activial then went to Exeter and on very heavy going was a good winner beating Oscar Sunset by 16 lengths. Oscar Sunset had also finished 2nd to Tea For Two at Exeter and he had gone on to win the Kauto Star Novice Chase. Oscar Sunset has also gone on to win himself at Chepstow and Activial. There may be more to come from Activial and he could be an interesting outsider here.
All of the next few in L’Ami Serge, More of That and Garde La Victoire are unlikely to run here and it the next in the betting is Zabana. Zabana was well backed before his last run for this race but was a bit disappointing. Having finished 2nd to Aux Ptits Soins in the Coral Cup narrowly beating Activial he went on to finish 9th at Punchestown behind Jezki. Sent chasing this season he started his chase career with a victory over Blair Perrone and Tell Us More. He was then sent off just 4/1 for the Flogas Novice Chase but disappointed with both his performance and his jumping however connections have cited the heavy going for this. Being by Halling he should improve for better going and this could help him bounce back at the Cheltenham Festival but whether he is good enough to beat those at the head of the market.
Killultagh Vic is favourite for this race but whether he has quite the same strength to his form as Bristol De Mai is questionable. Bristol De Mai looks to have the right qualities for this race and his form over 2m3f-2m5f is very strong. Shaneshill may have been beaten at Doncaster however surely the step up in distance should suit more and his Cheltenham form should stand him in good stead.
National Hunt Challenge
Black Hercules is the favourite for this race after his front running win at Warwick where he outstayed Definitely Red. Willie Mullins doesn’t look to have the strongest of teams for the RSA Chase whilst Graham Wylie doesn’t have any and whilst they have won this race before with Back in Focus they did have Boston Bob representing them in the RSA Chase this year. With no guarantee that Black Hercules will run in this race, his price looks on the skinny side. Should he run here in the weaker race then you would imagine he would go very close here.
Roi Des Francs finished 3rd last year in the Martin Pipe Conditionals Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival before disappointing at Aintree and Punchestown when running in Grade 1 company. He was sent chasing this year and started out finishing 2nd to Monksland at Gowran Park over 2m4f in a race that has worked out reasonably well however appearing to lack Grade 1 class with the winner being beaten by No More Heroes twice and Outlander. With this in mind and the fact that Gigginstown have a strong hand in the RSA with No More Heroes looking the one to beat, it would be no surprise to see Roi Des Francs run in this 4m race. Being by Poliglote means he is related to Don Poli who looks a lazy horse who has had the Grand National mentioned a few times and this long distance should help Roi Des Francs and he should run well.
Southfield Royale hasn’t had many runs in his career but is a Grade 2 winner at Doncaster where he beat Coologue. This win and then being beaten by Tea for Two at Kempton probably means he isn’t up to Grade 1 company and running in this easier looking 4m race should suit. Having recently had The Young Master bought into by the Waley-Cohen’s it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if Sam was booked to ride here. Being by Presenting he is related to some tough staying chasers including Denman, Weapons Amnesty, War of Attrition, On His Own and Ballabriggs and the distance shouldn’t be an issue. Just short of top class this race looks ideal.
Rule The World looks a very frustrating horse over fences having failed to win in 12 attempts but has finished 2nd 7 times. His hurdles form was very good with 5 wins and 3 2nds from just 11 runs and it’s a surprise to see he hasn’t got his nose in front over fences. Having finished 2nd in an Irish National already he has proven that he does have the stamina required to run well in this race whilst he has also finished 2nd to The New One at the Cheltenham Festival in the Neptune Novices Hurdle to show that he should handle the course. We think he will run a good race but wouldn’t be confident that he would put it all in at the finish.
Native River was an improving hurdler last year and this culminated in a 9th place finish in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Sent over fences this season he could only finish 3rd on chase debut behind Cocktails at Dawn before getting off the mark at the 2nd attempt when comfortably winning over 3m at Exeter. After winning again on his next start at Newbury he was then only 3rd to Tea For Two (behind Southfield Royale) in the Kauto Star Novices Chase and then 3rd again behind Blaklion at Wetherby. With the RSA therefore looking beyond his reach it looks a wise move to run in this race instead and hope this strong looking sort can grind his way into the race.
Local Show was only rated 125 over hurdles but has looked a much better horse over fences having won his 2 chases to date. Starting out at Newbury over just shy of 3 miles he readily accounted for Wuff before improving on this when again winning at Kempton in a much better race. Beating Onenightinvienna (entered for the Grand National) and Closing Ceremony (rated 146 over hurdles). Having outbattled a horse who connections feel want further then this distance should be more to his liking and being related to O’Faolins Boy and Teaforthree should stand him in good stead here.
Sambremont was beaten on his first 2 starts including by Black Hercules who beat him in a ‘hack canter’ (Ruby Walsh’s words) before winning himself at Fairyhouse very comfortably and the Irish National has been suggested. With this in mind the 4 mile race at Cheltenham could well suit and being related to the likes of Djakadam and Quito De La Roque you would think he should stay that far. He looks to have a live chance in this race although would struggle to reverse the form with Black Hercules should they both turn up however Black Hercules should run in the RSA Chase.
Shantou Flyer has probably proven that he is not Grade 1 company having been beaten a few times over fences already including last time out when thumped by No More Heroes. With this in mind and with Shantou progeny generally running well over distance races this looks a better option than the RSA Chase. He came over to Cheltenham back in October and whilst the field he beat were not of the highest quality he showed his true stamina and stayed on well up the hill to win. He looks a nice type however whether he could beat the likes of Black Hercules, Seeyouatmidnight or Roi Des Francs should any run in here is debateable.
If Black Hercules or Seeyouatmidnight ran here then both would have very good chances however the former is worth at a shot at the RSA Chase. Seeyouatmidnight looks all about stamina and this race looks ideal whilst Roi Des Francs looks one of those at the head of the market who looks certain that he is going to run in this race. Local Show and Southfield Royale could be interesting runners should they line up.
Our next blog we will be looking at the Mares Hurdle, Champion Hurdle and World Hurdle.
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