As Nic Doggett alluded to in last week’s review of Timeform’s top novice hurdlers in training, we produce a weekly list of our ‘Top Hundred’ horses, much like the Official Chart, really, though much to the relief of everyone at our Halifax HQ, there’s no place for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
When it comes to the current top novice chasers, however, we’re sadly resigned to a game of “spot the participant”, as several big guns have been ruled out of the Festival for one reason or another, including Le Richebourg (156p), who was taken out for the rest of the season through injury by his trainer Joseph O’Brien.
He’s joined on the sidelines by fellow one-time Arkle hope Dynamite Dollars (153), as well as the French raider Master Dino (155), who looked set for a tilt at the JLT before suffering an injury, and Winter Escape (155), whose connections have opted to swerve Gloucestershire entirely.
One novice who is set to take his chance though is Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work (157p), who holds the title of Timeform’s leading novice chaser. It isn’t too difficult to see why, considering he’s made a perfect start to his chasing career in three starts to date, and his trainer has hinted that the RSA is his likely destination (also entered in the JLT and the National Hunt Chase).
He’s the current 9/4 favourite and will take all of the beating, though Nicky Henderson’s Santini (153p) and Paul Nicholls’ Topofthegame (152p) will be hopeful of causing an upset.
We’ve gotten rather used to having a standout star in the Arkle in recent years, though the absence of Le Richebourg this time around means that this year’s renewal looks wide open. Willie Mullins has the top two on Timeform ratings as he looks to win this for the fourth time in five years, in the form of Cilaos Emery (155p), though he’s a big injury doubt, and Duc des Genievres (153p).
The latter took apart the field to get off the mark in a beginners’ chase at Gowran last month with a decidedly smart effort, and will set the standard on the back of that if his stablemate does indeed miss out.
Lalor (152p) disappointed slightly at Sandown in January but would have claims if bouncing back to the form of his debut success at Cheltenham in November, but the most interesting runner could prove to last month’s Kingmaker winner Glen Forsa (152p), who drubbed Kalashnikov (146) by 19 lengths that day, and could yet improve again. Meanwhile, Gary Moore’s Knocknanuss (152) is an attractive price from an each-way perspective at around the 12/1 mark.
This year’s National Hunt Chase is a particularly fascinating renewal, as it features protagonists in Ballyward (153p) and OK Corral (150p) who wouldn’t look out of place in the aforementioned RSA. The former won over fences at the second attempt at Naas in January, form which is working out extremely well, and he has bundles of stamina, while this seems to have been the plan for OK Corral for a while, considering he had leading amateur Derek O’Connor on his back when winning at Warwick in January (this race is for amateur riders only), and both have leading claims.
Colin Tizzard’s Mister Malarky (145p) is another worthy of a mention having won the Reynoldstown at Ascot last month, and he too has bundles of stamina in the tank.
Meanwhile, in Thursday’s JLT, the 2017 Triumph Hurdle winner Defi du Seuil (153p) will be the likely standard setter with Delta Work seemingly RSA-bound. He looks set for a third clash with Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation (151p) with the score currently standing at one apiece, while the Willie Mullins pair of Real Steel (150p) and Camelia de Cotte (143p) would be interesting if taking their chance.