Neill Mullholand’s charge was put to the sword by Yanworth over 2m4f at Cheltenham in January but the way he stayed on strongly heading to the final flight before the winner had too many gears for him, suggested that a step up to 3m for this winning point-to-pointer was in order. That Cheltenham race has been a good guide to the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle with three winners completing the double and he was previously seriously impressive when winning at the Paddy Power Gold Cup Meeting in November.
You couldn’t blame connections if they elected to dodge Douvan in the Arkle Chase having seen his rear end the four times they have met. If he heads to the JLT Chase instead where last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third would have leading claims. Like virtually all of Henry de Bromhead’s novice chasers his jumping is a strong card and that was in evidence when winning his first two chase starts at Punchestown over 2m where he also shaped like a step up in trip wouldn’t go amiss. Forget his less-inspiring run at Leopardstown behind Douvan on heavy ground on his final start, he will be seen to much better effect on spring ground.
He will be a huge trends buster if successful in the Cheltenham Gold Cup having failed to register a Grade 1 success so far. While well beaten in lesser-quality renewal last season – he has been transformed by a wind operation and the switch to front-running tactics that saw him bag a Hennessy Gold Cup by a wide margin at Newbury and then the Gold Cup trial at Cheltenham in January in emphatic fashion. By far and away his best (and probably only) hope is that jockey Wayne Hutchinson will be ultra-aggressive on him this time – unlike when they got the tactics all wrong and held him up in the King George VI Chase. Should attempt – Coneygree 12 months ago – to get his rivals out of their rhythm and comfort zone by making it difficult to recover from any loss of ground from even a minor mistake. Despite conventional wisdom, front runners have fared well in the Gold Cup over the last 35 years.
May end up being the shortest priced of the British-trained runners for the National Hunt Chase on day one where the Irish hold a very strong hand. The ‘Four Miler’ as it is known has reportedly been the plan ever since he was beaten four lengths into second by Tea For Two in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. His previous run was a wide-margin victory in a Grade 2 at Doncaster. That form that was then franked when the runner-up, Coologue, went on to finish second in the competitive Sky Bet Chase against experienced handicappers.
He might be the pick of the Irish contenders that are searching for their first winner of the Pertemps Handicap Final since 2006. Only beaten a length into fourth in the Coral Cup last season, we know that he can handle the hurly-burly of a big-field handicap at the Festival. Went on to prove himself at this trip by beating Call The Cops, who won the Final last year, at Aintree the following month. He qualified at Musselburgh when finishing third only beaten 4½ lengths behind the ante-post favourite, Cup Final, leaving the impression that there was much more to come in the spring.
The Young Master
Neil Mulholland used the Cleeve Hurdle last year as a prep race for stablemate The Druid’s Nephew before he won the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase last season, as have two other recent winners of this day one prize. In January The Young Master followed Thistlecrack around at a safe distance (sixth of seven) on heavy ground he hated, after previously being withdrawn on the morning of a heavy-ground Hennessy Gold Cup. That January run was a prep for something, but he was also bought by the Cheltenham racecourse chairman, Robert Waley-Cohen, a few months back. Expect to see Mr Sam Waley-Cohen on board in something soon.
Has become the forgotten horse of the JLT Novices’ Chase (his only Grade 1 Festival entry) having disappointed in heavy ground in the Dipper Chase when his stable were out of sorts. But Dan Skelton found a problem with him so that run can be ignored. With that rectified, he is a big player judged on his impressive win in a Grade 2 at Newbury in November when he jumped and galloped his rivals into the ground. Was looked after as a novice hurdler by not being sent to last season’s Festival despite winning a recognised Grade 2 Neptune trial. His supporters will be hoping their patience can pay off.
Gordon Elliott’s runner was second in his two attempts in Grade 1 races this season so there’s a suspicion that he could just fall short in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. But he didn’t get the rub of the green when runner-up to Long Dog in a relatively slowly-run race and then was outstayed by Bleu Et Rouge over 2m 2f when tried in a hood for the first time. That helped him settle better so the hope is that he will be seen to best effect in a fast-run race over 2m. He looks to have plenty of gears and should be there or thereabouts.
The Gigginstown House Stud runner has been forgotten about since finishing a 12 lengths’ second to Bellshill in a Grade 2 at Navan in December. But having had a wind operation in the interim, he could be an interesting novice hurdler for the spring Festivals having been the best bumper horse of last season in many people’s eyes where he won 3-3. Is so highly rated the owners have taken the softly-softly option with him – as they did with Don Cossack at the same stage of his career. With two weeks to go, he still has a stack of entries at the Cheltenham Festival.
The opposition to Douvan is thinning out rapidly following the long odds-on defeat of L’Ami Serge, the season-ending injuries to Ar Mad and Violet Dancer’s demise. Vaniteux, however, has a solid each-way alternative look about him as he is a good jumper, has shown he likes Cheltenham by placing in four of his five starts at the course (the exception being in the Champion Hurdle), represents a stable that have won the Arkle Chase five times. He took the Lightning Chase at Doncaster in good fashion last time out despite hitting the front too early, a bit like he did at Kempton when Ar Mad hauled him back.