The make-up of the four novice chase races at this year’s Festival became slightly clearer today after the latest round of entries were announced for the Arkle, RSA, JLT and National Hunt Chases.
Numbers are good - with a record 89 entered in the National Hunt Chase, a near-record 64 in the JLT and 37 and 50 standing their ground in the Arkle and RSA respectively. Quality is also high, particularly amongst the Irish contingent who hold the bookmakers’ favourite in all four renewals.
The man the bookmakers are fearing most is, without doubt, Willie Mullins. And amongst his battalion of so-called bankers is the mighty Douvan, who at 4/7 for the Arkle, will be included in many punters’ ante-post accas. The fact that only 37 horses remain in Douvan’s race compared with 64 in the JLT is perhaps more down to trainers running scared than the suitability of their horses to the extra half-mile of the Thursday contest.
That’s not to say that Mullins doesn’t have a strong contender in the JLT. Following Ruby Walsh’s dramatic last fence recovery to win the ironically-named ‘Money Back on Fallers at Coral Novice Chase’, Killultagh Vic shot to favouritism for the 2 1/2 miler and is now no bigger than 3/1 to land the spoils. He’s hardly a banker, but is likely to be included in some of the more optimistic Mullins multiples.
When it comes to Shaneshill, the County Carlow-handler is certainly keeping his options open. The runner-up to Douvan in last year’s Supreme and a winner of his two starts over fences, he holds entries in all four novice chases but is expected to run in either the Arkle or the JLT. It looks likely that owner Graeme Wylie will face the choice to either try and reverse the form with the irrepresible Douvan or take on Killultagh Vic who gave a 9 length beating to his horse over hurdles last April. Tricky.
Another trainer hedging his bets is five-time Arkle Trophy winner, Nicky Henderson. Both L’Ami Serge and Vanituex are doubly entered in the Arkle and JLT with their next runs likely to determine which Festival race they’ll target. Vaniteux is set to run in the Lightning Novices Chase at Doncaster on Saturday - his third novice chase over the minimum distance of 2 miles. L’Ami Serge, on the other hand, was upped to 2 miles 3 furlongs for his last outing at Wetherby where he jumped well and won eased down. Having been beaten into fourth by Douvan in last year’s Supreme, could the connections of L’Ami Serge be veering towards the JLT? At 12/1 for the JLT compared with 7/1 for the Arkle, I know which price I’d rather be taking.
Unusually, the market for the RSA Chase is not dominated by the Irish Champion Trainer but the favourite does come from the Emerald Isle. No More Heroes from the Gordon Elliott stable is twice a Grade 1 winner this season and he looks the form pick at this stage ahead of the 2014 World Hurdle winner, More Of That, who has made a promising start over fences with two Cheltenham victories to his name already this term. It is double-figure prices the rest so there’s potentially a bit of each-way value to be had if you want to delve deep enough.
If delving deep is your thing, then the 4 mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders is the race for you. But after trawling through the 89 entries (35 of which are from Ireland including 13 from Willie Mullins) you’ll likely come down on the side of the favourite, Black Hercules. He’s trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Danny Mullins. It can’t be beaten, can it?