JLT Novices’ Chase Tips – Day 3 – Cheltenham 2015
JLT Novices' Chase
The opening race on day three of the Cheltenham Festival brings together an exciting clash between Vautour (2/1) and Ptit Zig (7/2) in the JLT Novices’ Chase over 2m4f (1.30).
Victory For Vautour?
Vautour has been at the head of the betting for some time now, and despite losing his second outing over fences when 17l behind Clarcam in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas (2m1f, soft), he returned to the same venue to put in a much crisper round of jumping in taking Grade 2 honours (2m3f, soft).
Willie Mullins was very pleased with his 6yo that day and suggested there should be more to come, which wouldn’t be a surprise at a venue where he won last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2m, good to soft). His subsequent Grade 1 hurdles win over 2m4f at Punchestown also adds confidence to him getting the trip on Thursday, and this classy sort ticks all the boxes.
Standing in Vautour’s way is Paul Nicholls’, Ptit Zig (7/2), who was 4-4 over fences before falling at Ascot last month (2m5f, soft). Prior to that surprising fall, Nicholls’ 6yo mopped up two Grade 2’s at Ascot and Cheltenham (2m3f & 2m5f) by 9l and 6l respectively. However, his fall last time may have put a few doubts in his head, let alone punters, and while he has the class, he cannot get away with any errors on Thursday.
Nicholls also has the 6yo, Irish Saint (14/1), who is 3-5 over chases having bagged a couple of Grade 2’s at Ascot (2m5f, good to soft) and Kempton (2m4f, soft) last month. There is a suspicion that is his grade, though, as either side of those wins came two defeats in Grade 1’s (finished second and third).
Strong Irish Challenge
But, back to the main protagonists, with Noel Meade’s, Apache Stronghold (5/1), a threat to the big two in the betting.
Although beaten in a couple of Grade 1’s at the end of 2014, this 7yo upped his game to finally bag one at the highest level in beating Valseur Lido 1/2l at Leopardstown (2m5f, yielding). However, his jumping wasn’t convincing that day, and he will have to sharpen up in that area if troubling the big two.
As for Valseur Lido (5/1), then he actually beat Apache Stronghold 8l when they clashed at Fairyhouse in November (2m4f, soft), and looked as though it was going to be the same when looming up alongside at Leopardstown last time. However, he was just beaten on the run-in on that occasion, but arguably boasts a better jumping technique than Apache Stronghold, which could see the 6yo back on top at Cheltenham.
But, back to Willie Mullins, who also has an interesting runner priced at 16/1 in Vroum Vroum Mag, a Grade 3/Grade 2 winner the last twice, who is gradually climbing the ladder. This 6yo jumps and stays well, handles quicker ground and may surprise a few people at each-way odds.
However, if trends are your thing, it may be worth noting that in four renewals of this fairly new race, three went to 7yo’s, an age-group represented by a couple of well priced runners in Splash Of Ginge (14/1) and The Tullow Tank (20/1).
Willie Mullins won this event with Sir Des Champs in 2012 and holds a good chance of landing it again with Vautour, who has hardly put a foot wrong and will relish conditions having won at last year’s festival. His odds of 2/1 could look big come Thursday afternoon.