Ante-Post Preview of the JLT Novices' Chase and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – The newly named JLT Novices’ Chase (formerly known as the Jewson Novices’ Chase) opens the third day of the Cheltenham Festival. This race is run over 2m4f on the Cheltenham New Course and represents the perfect stepping stone for horses looking to go on to contest either the Ryanair or the Gold Cup later in their careers.
The market is currently headed by a group of top quality horses. Nicky Henderson’s Oscar Whisky (8/1 Ladbrokes) is a top class hurdler, winning five Grade 1 races, who has started his career over fences very well. Despite losing on debut to the very handy Taquin De Seuil, he bounced back from this defeat and went on to win a further two contests. His most recent victory came in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices Chase at Cheltenham, where he was able to turn the tables on his early season conqueror and fend off the strong AP McCoy drive. He is clearly a horse with a lot of potential and his record at Cheltenham is very formidable, yet he’s not my idea of the winner at this stage.
Closely matched on form, Taquin De Seuil (8/1 BetVictor) is likely to feature in this race after a comprehenisve victory at Haydock in bottomless ground. In terms of his claims for the win, he holds as good a chance as Oscar Whisky. Both head-to-head contests between these two horses have been fiercely contested and have given very close finishes. Similarly to Oscar Whisky, this horse has the potential to be a great chaser but faces strong opposition.
Funnily enough, my preference is with WONDERFUL CHARM (7/1 Stan James), a horse previously beaten by Oscar Whisky over fences. This Paul Nicholls’ inmate has jumped superbly well in the main and was an easy winner over (another Nicky Henderson runner) Bears Affair on chasing debut, winning by a sum of eight lengths. This was followed by a victory in two Grade 2 races before he faced Oscar Whisky in his last outing. Although Oscar Whisky proved victorious, it was a valiant effort from the Nicholls’ runner considering he had to concede 8lbs and only lost by half a length. The stronger pace offered in a big field race will definitely play to this horses' strengths and if Wonderful Charm can settle well, his jumping is a major asset.
Another near the head of the market is the Irish raider, Champagne Fever (7/1 Betfred). Most people thought the Arkle Trophy would be this horses’ ultimate target but, after a poor performance last time out, it seems his trainer and connections are likely to step this horse up in trip. I’ve always thought that Champagne Fever was never a two mile horse, as I said in my Arkle preview. However, I don’t even think that this race will suit him either. The way Champagne Fever won the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2013 was very workmanlike and I feel that the horse is begging for 3m and should by aimed at the RSA Chase instead. As displayed in the Supreme, he is a strong battler and has the traits needed to excel over 3m.
Morning Assembly (16/1 Stan James) represents Pat Fahy in the race and is another with claims. A winner of two of his three races this season, last time in the Topaz Novice Chase over 3m the distance clearly got the better of the horse and this trip should suit far more. Despite his good record this season, his runs in Ireland haven’t particularly impressed me and I readily prefer others.
Finally, Harry Fry could be represented by his French import Vukovar (10/1 Betfred). Although he has only had two runs so far this season, he built on his defeat to Mr Mole by crushing the Nicky Henderson trained Open Hearted by twenty lengths. Clearly this is a smart import, yet it is difficult to fully quantify his form and it would be a big ask for a horse who has only run twice in this country to then go on to win the JLT Novices’ Chase.
This looks like a highly competitive renewal with plenty of this season’s novices showing good form and holding strong claims. On the balance of what has been achieved to date, my selection has to be WONDERFUL CHARM. Im confident that the horse will continue to improve and should arrive at the Festival fully tuned up.
WONDERFUL CHARM (WIN) (7/1 Stan James)
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