Matt Tombs / Tuesday 27th January 2015 / 16:15
The JLT is a relatively new event, (four renewals,) so it’s not easy to draw too many conclusions about the types of horses that do well and badly. My gut feel is that the 2m4f trip does look to suit horses that like intermediate distances. That sounds a statement of the obvious but the Neptune has favoured speed horses and the Ryanair stayers – despite both being over 2m5f. The JLT has been dominated by horses with plenty of experience over fences, often over a long season, and with recent match practice, (which has been a big advantage in the longer established staying novice races at the Festival.)
The only British horse at shorter than 16/1 is Ptit Zig (4/1). He was a high-class hurdler, (14½l 6th in the Champion Hurdle and rated 157.) He was careful early on in his chasing career but has got more fluent with each run. He’s won a pair of Grade 2s, beating two of the top British novices – Josses Hill at Ascot and Champagne West at Cheltenham. He looks a high class novice but is priced accordingly in what could be a strong renewal. It’d be a concern if the ground was quick, as he looks like he needs a bit of cut.
Splash Of Ginge (16/1) was miles behind Champagne West in November but, switched to handicaps, has looked a different horse. He was going well when tipping up in the December Gold Cup but made amends on New Year’s Day when beating Hunt Ball by 3¼l at Cheltenham, off 145 less Jamie Bargary’s 7lb claim, (2m5f, good to soft). Double Ross won the same handicap off 140 last season for Nigel Twiston-Davies before finishing 2l 3rd in the JLT. This has the makings of a much stronger JLT though and I suspect he just lacks the class to win it.
With Josses Hill (20/1) heading for the Arkle and Champagne West (25/1) going for the RSA, it’s hard to find another realistic British contender. Gods Own (28/1) seems to be better right-handed and his form has tailed off since his Haldon win. If he came back to that he’d have prospects. Close Touch (25/1) is highly regarded by Nicky Henderson and if you forgive his flop last time, could be given a chance.
That said, I think it’s virtually Ptit Zig versus Ireland. With Un De Sceaux’s demolition job in the Irish Arkle, the plans for Willie Mullins’ novices have become a bit clearer and Vautour (3/1) runs in this. He was a top class novice hurdler last season but his novice chase form isn’t easy to assess. He bombed at Christmas, (apparently suffered a muscle problem,) before winning what was effectively a match over 2m3f last time.
I think Real Steel is a good novice so it was probably a classy performance, but I get the feeling he’s not been straightforward to train this season. Up until that Christmas flop, Willie Mullins had continually said he was better than Faugheen when both were over hurdles, and then that he was his number one novice chaser. Un De Sceaux probably exceeded expectations in the Irish Arkle but Mullins was clear afterwards that he was now his number one novice chaser – the vibes on Vautour seem to be cooling. He won’t run again before the Festival and I think he’ll be a similar price on the day, when we’ll have had the chance to read the vibes on his wellbeing.
It’s still not clear if Valseur Lido (7/1) will run in this or the RSA. Willie Mullins suggested the RSA after his win in the 2m4f Drinmore, but that was on the basis the same connections Don Poli would run in the 4 miler. The exchanges suggest Willie might have had a rethink and that Valseur Lido will run here. He was really impressive in the Drinmore and I think this is his trip at this stage. He puts his credentials on the line in the Flogas, (2m5f Grade 1 at Leopardstown on February 8th – formerly the Moriarty.) If he was a definite runner in the JLT I’d be tempted, but assuming Vautour and Ptit Zig line up, I doubt he’ll shorten that much unless he’s ultra-impressive in the Flogas. He also looks to enjoy plenty of give underfoot. All that means he’s another I wouldn’t want to back at this stage.
Gilgamboa (10/1) was demolished by Un De Sceaux in the Irish Arkle on Sunday, his jumping becoming a bit ragged when taken out of his comfort zone. AP McCoy sensibly didn’t give him a hard race there and I think he’ll be much better suited by 2m4f. I think he could still be a Grade 1 horse and it might just have been that he was beaten by a future great in Un De Sceaux, but it was hardly the ideal prep. He does seem to like really bad ground and if it came up testing for the JLT I could see myself backing him on the day.
I’m a big fan of Le Vent D’Antan (20/1) and was impressed with his runaway win at Leopardstown over 2m3f at Christmas on testing ground he wouldn’t have liked. Balbir Du Mathan rather let that form down at Fairyhouse recently but I think Le Vent D’Antan will be a Grade 1 novice this spring. However, I think he’s a stayer and the RSA is the right race. He’s due to take Valseur Lido on in the Flogas and we’ll know more about him after that. He’s been a fragile type and I’m holding fire.
There looks huge depth to the Irish challenge and there are 3 at fancy prices that I give chances to. I was impressed with Shanahans Turn (33/1) in his first two chases and his beating of Wounded Warrior looks good now. He disappointed in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown won by Don Poli, but looked too keen there, (not for the first time.) A drop in trip might really suit him and I can see him running well in the JLT – he’s another possibility for Flogas.
The problem is that the same connections’ Smashing (33/1) looks a contender as well. He was too keen and made a mistake at the last when a decent 10½l 3rd to Don Poli on his chasing debut and was 12l 2nd to Un De Sceaux at Fairyhouse, (arguably giving him more to do than Clarcam or Gilgamboa, albeit it wasn’t very much.) He then thrashed the useful mare Upsie by 33l at Gowran over 2m2f. He has an Arkle entry and Shanahans Turn has an RSA entry – I wouldn’t like to call which races they’ll contest and they’re both horses I’ll look at again when NRNB is available. In Smashing’s case it might make sense to wait until Festival week, as he needs a fair bit of cut in the ground.
Given the hype after his beginners win at Fairyhouse, which saw him favourite in some books for this, it’s amazing that The Tullow Tank is now a 33/1 chance. He was under the weather when flopping in the Drinmore and I wasn’t surprised the step up to 3m on testing ground didn’t suit when well beaten by Don Poli at Christmas. He might be better going right handed but 2m4f looks as far as he wants to go and it’s too early to write him off.
At this stage I want to back Apache Stronghold, (16/1). He had an interrupted season as a novice hurdler but came back in the spring to split Vautour and Lieutenant Colonel in the 2m4f Grade 1 at Punchestown. He was 8l 2nd to Valseur Lido, (who received 1lb,) in a vintage Drinmore, (2m4f, yielding to soft,) but that doesn’t tell the story as he looked to get distracted by Real Steel jumping miles to his left and he followed suit, surrendering lots of ground, (mistake 2 out not helping). He then looked a non-stayer when 3l 2nd to Don Poli, (who received 1lb,) in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown, (soft to heavy).
He might get 3m later in his career but the RSA doesn’t look his race at the Festival as that’s a really attritional test - I’m convinced the JLT is the right target for him. He was entered for the Irish Arkle but Noel Meade said he thought the trip would be too sharp so he heads for a rematch with Valseur Lido over 2m5f in the Flogas. Apache Stronghold jumps well, loves good ground and I can see him improving past Valseur Lido on a sound surface at Cheltenham. The likes of Vautour and Ptit Zig will be formidable opponents, but I think Apache Stronghold is good enough to put it up to them and he’s much too big a price.
1pt Apache Stronghold to win the JLT Novices Chase @ 16/1