What are the best bets for the JLT Novices' Chase?
13:30: JLT Novices’ Chase, 2m4f
Last year’s 1-2-3: Vautour (6/4f), Apache stronghold (7/1), Valseur Lido (9/2) – 8 ran.
Vautour absolutely blew us all way with a stunning performance 12 months ago, rewarding favourite backers in the process, but this year’s renewal looks far more open. Punters are also faced with working out which horses will turn up – we might all be best waiting for the day – but the participation of Bristol De Mai is pretty much set in stone and he’d be a worthy favourite. Nigel Twiston-Davies has kept him busy this term and the five-year-old appears to be improving with racing, making it four wins from six chase starts in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February. No match for Ar Mad over two miles earlier this season, he clearly relishes this intermediate trip and his bold jumping could be a real asset if allowed to get into a good rhythm. That’s not a given as he likes to dominate and might not have things all his own way, while he wouldn’t want the ground to dry up too much either. Top price: 9/2 Betfair (NRNB).
Who else is fancied?
Willie Mullins has won two of the five renewals of this contest and he looks to have a fine chance of adding a third with former smart hurdler Outlander, who has won all three of his chase starts this season at around this trip, including a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last month. The worry with him, though, is that his best form is on very soft ground and might find things happening a bit too quick on better ground here – he appeared to badly outpaced on good ground in last season’s Neptune over a furlong further and he definitely stays 3m.
Garde La Victoire won the Greatwood Hurdle here and has done nothing wrong in his four chase starts and, while unimpressive at Ludlow last time, his trainer was quick to put that down to unsuitable heavy ground. He thrashed Bristol De Mai at Uttoxeter in October, albeit over two miles, and raced keenly when landing a Grade 2 novice (2m) at Cheltenham on his next start, so his CV has much to recommend him.
And the rest?
Black Hercules gives Mullins a solid second string having been switched from first the four-miler and then the RSA. He’s a coming off a fall (resulting from an unforced error) in his prep, though, and that’s off-putting. Dan Skelton’s Three Musketeers impressed when getting off the mark over fences at the Newbury Hennessy meeting but needs to put a disappointing effort at Cheltenham last time behind him. Zabana is another coming off a below-par run – a well beaten fourth behind Outlander on heavy – but could improve for a sounder surface. He needs to!
Jockey quote: “I think Three Musketeers can run a big race in the JLT. Like most of our horses he wasn’t right when he ran last time at Cheltenham at the beginning of January, but he’s got a lot of raw ability and will be useful once he knows what he’s doing.” – Harry Skelton.
Best bookie offer?
Sky Bet are refunding stakes on all losing bets in this race as a free bet up to £25, while Paddy Power are refunding bets on the second horse home in the same way.
What’s the verdict?
It’s tempting to side with Bristol De Mai as he’s a class act who is ideally suited to this trip – which can’t be said of Outlander and Garde La Victoire. However, he will be there to be shot at in the closing stages and with the race likely to cut up – only eight ran 12 months ago – there’s scope for an each-way bet against him. For that I’m swayed by the quiet confidence of connections behind THREE MUSKETEERS. A classy sort over hurdles last season, finishing third to Nichols Canyon at Aintree, he showed what he could do over fences when beating Activial (who has done well since) at Newbury in November and can be forgiven a poor showing last time as his stable was out of form.
SELECTION: Three Musketeers each-way @ 12/1 Sky Bet NRNB & money back (win part) if he loses