2014 JLT Novices' Chase Preview, Trends, Tips
The JLT Novices' Chase (formerly Jewson) will be run for just the fourth time, having been incepted in 2011. Clearly, then, trends are of limited utility. However, with top class chaser Sir Des Champs already on the roll of honour, the signs are that this event is deserving of its newly-elevated Grade 1 status.
It is run over the intermediate distance of two and a half miles.
2014 JLT Novices' Chase Trends
There is little to go so far, with just three runnings in the book, but a couple of things already spring out. Firstly, like the RSA Chase, it's been dominated by seven-year-olds so far. Seven of the nine podium positions have been claimed by this age group (78%) from just seventeen runners (50%).
The Irish have outperformed their numerical representation, with all three winners thus far (100%), from just ten runners (29%). Whilst it is foolish to get too carried away by these data, it is certainly not foolish to consider the Irish form in some detail, especially given the 20/1 success of Benefficient in the race last year.
Interestingly, all three had at least three chase races going into the JLT, and each had won or finished second in two Grade 1 or 2 races. 20/1 Benefficient actually won a Grade 1 on his previous start!
Felix Yonger, though an eight year old, makes plenty of appeal on the basis of these skeletal trends.
2014 JLT Novices' Chase Preview
Willie Mullins' Felix Yonger is the ante-post favourite for this race, and it is easy to see why. Good enough as a hurdler to finish second in the 2012 Neptune, he then missed a year due to injury. Now eight, he's a 'logical seven-year-old' with that absence in mind.
Unbeaten in his first three chases, including a Grade 2 where he trumped the leading Irish novice chaser this season, Defy Logic (injured, misses the Festival), he was expected to extend that sequence at Limerick on his penultimate outing.
Stablemate The Paparazzi Kid, something of a Limerick course specialist (3/3), lowered Felix's colours that, and he was beaten nine lengths on heavy ground by Trifolium in the Irish Arkle, a Grade 1, last time.
That form reads very well, especially when you consider his form on yielding or better ground reads 102111 - the 02 being unplaced in the Champion Bumper as a 66/1 shot, and second in the Neptune as mentioned.
Compare that to his form on softer - 2211522 - and this scribe is left with the impression that Felix Yonger's class has got him close that many times. His form with the best Irish novice chasers gives him every chance in this, and his track and trip form is an important bonus. 5/1 looks at least fair. I'd imagine he'll be a good bit shorter on the day.
The best of British come next, with Wonderful Charm and Oscar Whisky heading up the home offence. Wonderful Charm is trained by Paul Nicholls, Oscar Whisky by Nicky Henderson, and there is little between these two old adversaries, both equine and human! Indeed, last time out, Wonderful Charm failed by half a length to pass Oscar Whisky in a Cheltenham novice chase. The former was conceding eight pounds to the latter however, and comes out a good bit better on the ratings.
The negative for me, as in pretty much all cases, is that Wonderful Charm has been off the track for 90 days. It's tough to defy a three month layoff against tip top oppo.
Oscar Whisky has raced twice since meeting Wonderful Charm, winning both times in very small fields. First, he overcame Taquin de Seuil by three-quarters of a length; and then he saw off Manyriverstocross in workmanlike fashion. Whilst he's not been flashy in his four run novice chase career thus far, he has been effective.
At nine years old though, and with seventeen hurdle runs to his name, I've had an ongoing niggle about his jumping. Specifically, it seems to me that long-time hurdlers who convert to chasing make a different 'shape' at the fences. That, clearly, can be troublesome, and I have a similar reservation about Rock On Ruby in the Arkle.
Both Oscar and Ruby are obviously very talented animals, and it is far from inconceivable that they could both win their respective races. But, at the prices, and with the fencing niggle - as well as their age - I'm siding against the pair.
Vukovar and Taquin de Seuil are 8/1 chances, and it is probably fair to say that both would appreciate some dig in the ground. Vukovar was an expensive acquisition from France for the excellent Harry Fry. In two British efforts to date, he was beaten by the enigmatic Mr Mole on good to soft before waltzing away from Open Hearted over a longer trip and on softer ground.
Open Hearted is a decent marker, having been rated 145 at the time of that defeat, and Vukovar's demolition, albeit in receipt of a stone, was impressive. He too has not run since Christmas, though, and even though I have enormous respect for young Harry Fry and young Vukovar, there are enough reservations - time off, inexperience after two chases, ground preference - to overlook him here.
Taquin de Seuil did have an earlier verdict over Oscar Whisky, also at Cheltenham, and on good ground. That was a decent performance given his predilection for deeper underfoot, and he may have benefited from a less battle ready rival that day. I think the market has it spot on, with Oscar Whisky likely to come out on top between the pair if both jump round.
We then head into double figure prices, with Sizing Gold and Djakadam 12/1 pokes. All of Sizing Gold's form to date has been on soft or heavy, and good ground at Cheltenham would be a worry in that context. Although the trip should be ideal for this son of Flemensfirth, he's inexperienced with just a couple of chase runs thus far, and he fails to catch the eye from a value perspective.
Djakadam is equally inexperienced, but ran a scorcher to see off Bright New Dawn by four lengths in Grade 2 company on only his second chase run. He's a five year old, like inaugural winner Noble Prince, and though all his form is on soft or heavy ground, his action suggests he might actually improve for terra firmer. He looks a very dangerous 'floater' if he shows up here.
There's little to excite me in the remainder of the entries, with the possible exception of Double Ross, a wildly experienced eight year old with bags of course form. Trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies, he's had six spins around the Cheltenham circuit, all at intermediate distances and, though he has thirty lengths to find with Felix Yonger on 2012 Neptune form, he's improved a stone as a chaser compared to his official hurdle rating.
His chase form at Prestbury Park reads 112, all in Grade 3 handicap chases, and this boy is battle-hardened. He was only beaten a length and a bit by Wishfull Thinking last time, both carrying over eleven stone, and that's proper handicap form. If it becomes a street fight, Double Ross has more moves than most.
2014 JLT Novices' Chase Tips
Felix Yonger looks a strong favourite here, and I really like his chance. He's already achieved more on ratings than any of the three previous JLT winners did in claiming this prize, and he looks to have conditions perfectly in his favour.
The worry about Wonderful Charm's absence puts me off his chance, despite the fact that he's probably had legitimate reasons - waiting for better ground - for that. He may well come out best of the British, though at the prices I prefer Double Ross as an each way play.
The real wild card is Djakadam and, if he turns up and jumps as well as he has, he could improve past all of them. He looks a potential future Gold Cup winner, and reminds me a little of Sir Des Champs.
JLT Novices' Chase Selection:
Felix Yonger 5/1 Seanie Mac (Non Runner Money Back)
JLT Novices' Chase each way alternatives:
Djakadam 12/1 SkyBet (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)
Double Ross 14/1 SkyBet (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)