Hercules The Hero In Another Irish JLT
There have only been five renewals of Thursday’s opening race at Cheltenham, the JLT Novices’ Chase (1.30pm), but the Irish have already made it their own by winning all five.
Third JLT For Mullins?
Willie Mullins was on the scoreboard on two of those occasions, and has a couple of chances once more courtesy of Outlander (4/1) and Black Hercules (6/1).
The 8yo, Outlander (4/1), is 3-3 over fences, including a Grade 1 at Leopardstown in February (2m5f), and would seem to have a better chance in this than the RSA Chase over 3m. His career best at Leopardstown shows he is still progressing, and the fact he idled in front that day suggests he has more to come.
Hercules A Strong Contender
The 7yo, Black Hercules meanwhile, was a Grade 1 novice chase winner in January (3m, heavy), and looked the winner at Navan a month later but for falling at the last when 1l clear.
Despite flopping at last year’s festival, Black Hercules was fourth (of 22) in the 2014 Champion Bumper, and clearly handles Cheltenham.
It’s possible he needs 3m to be at his best, suggesting the RSA could be his route.
Mullins also has Douvan entered, but it’s likely he will head to the Arkle, where he is odds-on. He is 6/1 to win the JLT, though one who could run is stablemate, Shaneshill (10/1).
It’s a price that has been well earned via victory in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse earlier this month, though some may argue his 4l runner-up slot to the mighty Douvan at Cheltenham beforehand was a better performance. Even so, Shaneshill’s last two efforts show that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Britain To Halt Irish Reign?
Out to try and break the five-year dominance of the Irish in the JLT is Nigel Twiston-Davies, who unleashes his exciting 5yo, Bristol De Mai – currently heading the market on 3/1.
He is already 4-6 over fences following a busy season to date, including a first Grade 1 at Sandown last month (2m4f, good to soft). He took up his usual role from the front that day to win by 6l, and he’ll be difficult to peg back if allowed an uncontested lead at Cheltenham, a venue he tries for the first time.
JLT or RSA For More Of That?
Britain’s challenge would be further strengthened if Jonjo O’Neill decides to run More Of That in this, rather than the RSA. 2014 winner of the World Hurdle (3m, good) will relish conditions, and arrives 2-2 over fences following a couple of decent novice victories here at Cheltenham. O’Neill has kept More Of That under wraps since that last win in December, and he’ll be fresh and raring to go come race time.
Another who hasn’t been seen for a while is Philip Hobbs’ 7yo, Garde La Victoire (8/1), who is also entered in the Arkle, but would have a live chance if turning up for this. Currently 3-3 over fences, including a Grade 2 over C&D in November (good to soft), this 7yo added another small event in January last time and is a 2m4f winner over hurdles here. He looks a solid each-way proposition.
It may be early days for this race after only five, but 7yo’s are already showing the best record with three victories, and Willie Mullins’ Black Hercules, could add to that. Although a faller last time, he would have schooled at home for this and has always shown plenty of class.
*Prices correct at time of publication