Doncaster Racecourse holds one of their most exciting National Hunt meetings on Saturday. They’ve managed to attract a number of top-class contenders for several classy looking events. One in particular that catches the eye is the Lightning Novices’ Chase; a Grade 2 run over two miles.
The race first took place in 1979 when held at Ascot. It moved to its current home at Town Moor in 2010 though has only escaped the grip of the winter weather on four occasions. It’s thus far failed to uncover any serious Arkle Chase contenders, though that could change this year. Tomorrow’s renewal has attracted several classy types, with connections no doubt hopeful of huge performances come Cheltenham in March.
Nicky Henderson has a cracking record at Doncaster in recent times. Since 2011 he has a stunning win rate of 40% from almost a hundred runs. At last year’s meeting he saddled Caracci Apache to win the Albert Bartlett Trial. On Saturday he runs one of his most promising young chasers in Vaniteux.
Currently third in the Arkle market, he was defeated last time at Kempton by Gary Moore’s razor-sharp young chaser Ar Mad. Vaniteux looked the winner coming to the last that day, but gave the fence a little too much air and the race was lost. Nevertheless, he’s proved a natural jumper in his two chase outings and has always been held in high regard by the Lambourn trainer. He has a high cruising speed, but does lack a bit of toe at the business end. He’s sure to go close here, though I fancy he’ll be better suited by Cheltenham’s stiffer finish.
He had Arzal behind him when runner-up at Kempton and Harry Whittington’s fella re-opposes tomorrow. Stunning when winning on chase debut at Newbury, he belted one half way down the back straight at Kempton, and was always playing catch-up from then on. Vaniteux may be a little too classy for him, but I’m by no means certain of that. Whittington has a talented chaser on his hands, and he ought to be in the shake-up. Softer ground would probably help his cause.
The same can be said for Fox Norton, who was beaten by Garde La Victoire last time at Cheltenham. Neil Mulholland’s six-year-old is two from three over fences and is a keen exuberant type. Chances are that he will be allowed to bowl along in front in the hope of drawing the sting out of his opponents. He’s another talented performer, though I fancy he’ll find one or two with a little more zip at the finish.
There’s the likelihood that Willie Mullins will be in attendance, as he seems set to run Shaneshill. Last season’s Supreme Novices’ runner-up has won both his outings over fences and is not short of speed. However, he does lack scope for a chaser, and when asked to jump at speed approaching two out at Naas last time, he made an almighty blunder, and was no less assured at the last. He still recovered to win that day, but it’s likely that one or two of these are capable of putting far more pressure on his jumping.
Several of these look certain to head for the Arkle Chase, assuming they perform well enough here. However, even if Shaneshill were to win tomorrow there’s no certainty that he will head to Cheltenham to take on Douvan. Mullins has such a wealth of talent, and is working pretty hard to keep many of them apart. I’m of the opinion that the JLT still looks a more natural fit for Shaneshill.
Saturday will give further clues, though a definitive answer is unlikely to be forthcoming.