Valseur Lido will take all the beating in the JLT
Next up in our Ante-Post betting previews is the JLT Novices’ Chase due to be run on St. Patricks’ Thursday – the opening race in fact – where the card is headlined by the World Hurdle.
Only 32 entries to get through here. Thirteen of those are Irish-trained and while outnumbered by the British, Ireland appear to hold most of the aces if the market is to be believed.
Yet another Willie Mullins horse heads the field, Vautour, but the Irish Champion trainer also houses the race’s third in line in Valseur Lido. Even at this stage it looks a four horse race and we may have a field in the single figures with a strong shout of a point on the board form Ireland in the BetBright Cup!
JLT Novices’ Chase Preview
We’ll start with the race favourite and last season’s impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, Vautour. Willie Mullin’s expensive French purpose wasted little time in repaying connections after a brilliant debut hurdling season which saw him go unbeaten in five races including three Grade 1s.
A big, strong, no-nonsense type of individual he was better equipped than most to make the headlines in 2013/14. Despite chasing looking like it would bring out the best in him he still had a fair physical advantage over most novice hurdlers last campaign and no doubt it helped in his success.
A quote from Willie Mullins where he stated the son of Robin Des Champs had “muscles bulging out everywhere” really took our attention and it will be interesting to see if that physical advantage he had has now dwindled.
The Rich Ricci-owned gelding kicked off his chasing career in good style at Navan showing a good aptitude to jump without being razor slick. The fact he was granted an easy lead and not asked to battle means the bare form is probably overrated, but he did have a subsequent Grade 1 winner in Clarcam back in second.
Over Christmas his season would take a turn for the worst when asked to race on extremely heavy ground at Leopardstown in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. Sent off a 1/4 favourite he blotted his copybook under Paul Townend when a bad mistake was seen five out.
It was as serious error and it clearly knocked the wind out of his sails as he could only finish second behind the horse he easily beat last time out, Clarcam. An eight lengths win was turned into a 17 lengths defeat meaning the form is not trustworthy; the mistake clearly knocked him badly and, it was exasperated by the heavy ground.
Thankfully the six-year-old would get his season back on track at Leopardstown in the Grade 2 Killiney Novice Chase. It was only a three runner race and once more Vautour got an easy lead. Under Ruby Walsh he made no mistake this time, but again, the form is questionable.
It’s hard to weigh-up this season’s Vautour. The one competitive race he had he didn’t show his best after a bad mistake. His jumping is fine without taking the eye, but it’s been hard for him to impress – and hard for us to judge it accurately – given the uncompetitive races he has competed in. Willie Mullins’s charge is not as appealing this time round, but it’s very hard to forget his obliteration of last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle field.
Second favourite for the JLT is Paul Nicholls’s improving chaser Ptit Zig. Like the market leader he is also a six-year-old and, was even considered good enough to run in last season’s Champion Hurdle behind Jezki. There he would finish six of nine runners and while he didn’t trouble the judge he ran well for a long way.
Given his official rating of 157 over hurdles if the son of Great Pretender took to jumping larger obstacles he was always going to be a force this season. The good news for his fans is he has adapted as we’ve seen on countless times throughout the campaign.
Paul Nicholls would start his charge off in two low-key affairs at Exeter and Warwick where two easy victories were gained. The opening pair of efforts suggested he had taken to jumping nicely although we did detect him angling to his right at a number of fences.
A step-up in class would come next time out at Ascot in the Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase. Ptit Zig would meet one of the season’s most anticipated novice chaser in Josses Hill who was making his debut. Ptit Zig’s greater experience would count for plenty as he ran out a hugely impressive winner.
To the eye it was sensational, but it must be remembered Josses Hill was having his first start of the year while never looking a natural in his new discipline. The fact he was quite keen means Ptit Zig is probably flattered by the bare form, but the Ditcheat inmate looked good.
A sighter for the JLT came at Cheltenham New Year’s Day fixture in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Steeple Chase. While Ptit Zig’s jumping had been sound on the run-up to this race mistakes were seen here, especially when racing over the far side of the track.
It wouldn’t stop the Sam Twiston-Davies ridden horse from impressing once again, however. Despite coming off the bridle turning for home and appearing in trouble Ptit Zig’s jockey looked cool, not throwing everything at his mount.
Once jumping the last the pair ran on strongly putting six lengths back to a useful horse in Champagne West. While the runner-up is a nice horse he isn’t a Grade 1 competitor. Yes, Ptit Zig was well on top at the end, but the second had been keen for most of the race and finished quite tired.
Finishing was an art that eluded Ptit Zig on his next start as connections took the bold move to run him in open company at Ascot in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase. The plan backfired, though, as Ptit Zig fell at the ninth. It was a real shame given he jumped superbly beforehand.
He now comes to Cheltenham on the back of a fall and that is never ideal. It remains to be seen if it has affected his confidence. Pre-Ascot spill, he had looked worthy of his place near the head of the market; he still does, but it is a worry coming to the cauldron of Cheltenham.
There is little between the Irish pair of Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido based on their Grade 1 Flogas Novice Steeplechase. This was the second meeting between the two this season after the Drinmore Novice Chase run back in November. The score now stands at one-one with Apache Stronghold holding the momentum.
This son of Milan has long been the apple of his trainer’s eye given the latent ability he showed in bumpers and in his brief novice hurdle career. Apache Stronghold is a big horse with great scope so you could sense how his trainer was itching to get him over fences.
His new career started in good style at Down Royal at the beginning of the campaign. Similar to Vautour’s debut over the larger obstacles Apace Stronghold would get an easy lead out in front before winning via a sound, safe jumping round. It was also worth noting how he lugged to his left in parts of the race.
This trait – lugging left – would ultimately cost the seven-year-old any real chance of winning on his next start in the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse, a right-handed track. Although he’d finish second to Valseur Lido he was duly put in his place by the easy winner going down by eight lengths.
Noel Meade’s horse didn’t jump as well as he can and we feel this may have been down to the right-handed nature of the course. It’s still a little early to be sure, but Apache Stronghold may just be a better horse going left-handed.
The following pair of efforts came at Leopardstown, in two Grade 1s. The left-handed Dublin track appeared to suit the son of Milan better as he really upped his game. In the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase over Christmas he’d be outstayed over three miles by the exciting looking Don Poli after pulling 11 lengths clear of the third.
While we feel he stayed sufficiently and his loss was possibly down to being beaten by a potential staying star connections dropped him in trip for the Flogas Novice Steeplechase, again at Leopardstown.
Over the intermediate distance he would turn his eight lengths beating by Valseur Lido into a half-a-length success. An extra run under his belt and a change of tactics, with Valseur Lido possibly needing the run, (first run since the Drinmore) saw him and Paul Carberry reverse the form.
He is clearly going the right way and comes to Cheltenham in good order. He gets our full respect.
With little separating Valseur Lido and Apache Stronghold it’s pretty clear the former also warrants plenty of attention. He was a horse we really liked over hurdles last season, so much so he was the bet we played in the 2014 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
While he only ran fairly there it was probably more a case of a lack of experience beating him than raw ability. He was thrown into the cut and thrust of a big field fast run race off an extended break and possibly found it all coming a bit too soon.
The trip was also perhaps on the sharp side for him, but given he looked a quality potential chaser fences were always going to bring out the best in him. That’s how it’s played out this season as the six-year-old has really progressed.
On his debut over fences he impressed at Punchestown running out an 11 lengths winner. Those in behind give the form a solid look to it for the grade. It wouldn’t be long before Willie Mullins stepped the son Anzillero up in class, it came just 15 days later.
At Fairyhouse in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase Valseur Lido would make a devastating impression when beating Apace Stronghold by eight lengths. It was a visually striking victory given he gave Apache Stronghold a fair head start before turning for home.
Under Bryan Cooper the pair made that ground up easily despite having been keen early. The Gigginstown House Stud charge then showed great pace and class to quicken away from the rest of the field. It was a taking performance.
For whatever reason we wouldn’t see Valseur Lido for over two months, connections preparing for Cheltenham in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase. Sent off a fancied 5/4 favourite he would be turned over by Apache Stronghold.
While it was disappointing he couldn’t confirm the Drinmore form with the winner, he was beaten by a classy improving horse who had the benefit of race fitness and experience. On softer ground Valseur Lido didn’t jump as well as he could, but travelled into the race nicely and was probably in front sooner than ideal. He was just outstayed late or possibly couldn’t quicken on the tacky ground.
Back on faster terrain over a shorter trip (one furlong) he may well turn the form. There is a lot to like about this young horse.
Best of the Rest
Although we have 32 horses still remaining it looks like a fair few horses will not be taking up their entries. We may have a small field declared.
One, however, who looks likely to take his chance is The Tullow Tank. We were initially excited about this horse given his classy hurdles form last season and he started his year well. But for whatever reason he hasn’t been able to reproduce his smaller obstacles ability to fences.
He just hasn’t looked a natural at times and although his run behind Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido showed he was coming back he can’t be recommended.
The BetBright Verdict
To us here at BetBright it’s a four horse race. Apache Stronghold, Ptit Zig, Valseur Lido and Vautour are the ones to concentrate on. There is very little between the quartet in terms of finding the winner. There is no outstanding jumper in the four and they all have a similar level of ability. With this being the case a value approach will be undertaken.
With that in mind both Vautour and Ptit Zig will be passed over. The former looks particularly skinny based on his chase form. There is an element of the current prices available being based on his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victory last year. While it was a victory of pure class he has yet to replicate that form over fences. With him yet to have a competitive race over the larger obstacles he is best left now.
Ptit Zig comes here on the back of a fall and that is not ideal. His form is of a similar quality to those mentioned above, but it looks slightly weaker. Staying on past tired horses who have pulled hard in their races against him means the raw form flatters him. His knee action and ability to handle faster ground at this level is also a question that needs answering and while he has been good in the jumping department we wonder does his lack the jumping scope of the other market leaders?
There is nothing between Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido, literally nothing, based their last run. With circumstances favouring the former that bit more in the Flogas Novice Chase VALSEUR LIDO will get the nod where we hope faster ground will allow him to use his pace which looked deadly in the Drinmore.
2pts each-way VALSEUR LIDO @ 6/1
The JLT Novices’ Chase goes off at 13.30 on Thursday, March 12th, 2015.