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Tuesday saw the third batch of race entries for March’s 2023 Cheltenham Festival released with the novice chases taking centre stage.
With a number of the main entries having engagements in more than one race it seems a good time to look at the novices who have been out so far this season and others who may be yet to appear.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Jonbon has been highly touted since making an impressive debut in a Dromahane point-to-point back in November 2020. The half-brother to Douvan was subsequently purchased for £570,000 by owner JP McManus and he’s so far lived up to expectations suffering just the one defeat when runner-up to Constitution Hill in last years Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The seven-year-old has gone unbeaten in two starts over fences including in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase over just short of two miles at Sandown at the start of last month.
Of all the leading fancies his target with regards the Festival seems to be pretty much determined with the Arkle Trophy his only entry at the meeting to date.
While there’s nothing wrong with a 22 length defeat to Constitution Hill it’s of note that Jonbon lacks experience of a truly undulating track.
That’s unlikely to change pre-Festival with the Kingkmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick nominated this week as the likely location for his prep run.
Jonbon can be backed at a best price of 11/8 for the Arkle Trophy and with the likes of Dystart Dynamo, Appreciate It, El Fabiolo and Sir Gerhard Ireland’s top handler Willie Mullins looks to have his usual strong hand in the novice races at the Festival.
Of the four Grade 1 novice chases held so far in Ireland this campaign half of them have gone the way of the Willie Mullins stable.
However it’s notable that none of those mentioned previously feature among those Grade 1 scorers with Saint Roi picking up a top level success when seeing off his four rivals in the Brand New Racing Post App Novice Chase over 2m1f at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Ridden from off the pace that day the now eight-year-old had previously attempted to make all when chasing home Fil Dor, behind him at Leopardstown in a beginners’ chase at Navan in November.
Found out at the top level over hurdles the current betting suggests that connections may choose to keep him at home with something like Fairyhouse’s Gold Cup Novice Chase over Easter possibly on the agenda.
The second of the Mullins-trained Grade 1 winning novice chasers of this season, Gaillard du Mesnil is unusual in as much as he is a second season novice.
Placed in Grade 1 races at both Leopardstown and Cheltenham last year he also delivered a placed effort over 3m5f in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.
The son of Saint des Saints clearly stays well and impressed when delivering a victory in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase over three miles in December.
The grey looks likely to be stepped back up in trip given he is currently ante-post favourite for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and even a repeat bid for the Irish Grand National wouldn’t surprise.
The other two Grade 1 novice chases have gone the way of the Gordon Elliott stable.
Mighty Potter won at the top level over hurdles in the spring and he followed up an impressive beginners chase triumph at Down Royal in early November with a success in the 2m4f Drinmore Novice Chase on rain-softened going at Fairyhouse a month later.
The six-year-old features towards the head of the betting for the Turners Novices’ Chase and looks likely to head toward that contest.
Gerri Colombe is unbeaten in six starts to date and notably the geldings impressive four-and-a-quarter-length victory in the Grade 1 Guinness Faugheen Novice Chase over an extended two-miles-three-furlongs at Limerick in December was his first in Graded company.
Gerri Colombe has yet to tackle a sound surface but Elliott mentioned a step up in distance for the National Hunt Chase may be on the cards following that Limerick triumph.
Appreciate It is lightly-raced for one his age but with eight wins from 11 starts it’s hard to argue with his record and he took his record over fences to two wins from four starts when successful in a novice chase over two miles at Naas.
Whether he’ll head to Cheltenham is another matter but it’s interesting that he has been given two Cheltenham entries.
The Mullins-trained Sir Gerhard is perhaps the most interesting chasing prospect having won twice at the top level over hurdles last year. He has proven form at Cheltenham having taken the Ballymore in March and while unraced over fences connections must surely be tempted to get a run into him and target March rather than wait for Punchestown, a meeting that has played host to his two defeats in an eight race career to date.
The dark horse is perhaps James du Berlais, another Mullins representative. He developed into a top class hurdler in France as a three and four-year-old but has made just the three starts since switching to Ireland during the 2020/21 season.
An impressive Fairyhouse winner over 2m5f at the start of this month he was returning from a long absence that day and he holds plenty of Grade 1 entries over a variety of distances in the coming months.
Outside of Jonbon there are a few interesting UK novices with Stage Star set to go to Haydock this weekend, weather permitting having impressed in winning at Plumpton at the start of the month.
The seven-year-old suffered a defeat at the hands of Sebastopol in a Grade 2 at Newbury in November with that one looking likely to head to Aintree.
The Real Whacker holds plenty of Cheltenham engagements following a victory in a Grade 2 at the track at the start of the month. That win in the Dipper marked a big career best effort and it will be interesting to see if he can back that up at the spring Festivals.
Thyme Hill triumphed in the Grade 1 Kauto Star at Kempton last month. Kempton is a very different test to Cheltenham but he has performed well at the Gloucestershire venue in hurdle races in the past and must have a live chance if connections head to the Brown Advisory while Kempton runner-up McFabulous, who had beaten Thyme Hill at Newbury in November is another who may represent the UK at Cheltenham.