Oddschecker / Friday 4th March 2016 / 08:56
Nigel Twiston-Davies knows a thing or two about what is required to train a Cheltenham Festival winner and he appears very excited about the credentials of Bristol De Mai in the JLT Novices' Chase.
The five-year-old hasn't been out of the first two in six starts over fences this season and heads for Cheltenham on the back of a career-best performance as he took the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown in early February.
That race was billed as a clash with Nick Williams' promising Tea For Three but it was Bristol De Mai in the hands of Daryl Jacob that came readily clear to land the spoils.
Based just down the road from Cheltenham at Naunton, Twiston-Davies is hugely popular come festival time and Bristol De Mai would certainly prove a hit amongst the locals if he can prevail.
The trainer felt the step-up to two-and-a-half miles at Kempton had brought more out of his gelding and it is no surprise to see Bristol De Mai topping the market for the opening contest on day three of Cheltenham 2016.
One of the horses to have got the better of Bristol De Mai this season is the Philip Hobbs-trained Garde La Victoire.
Unbeaten in three starts over fences, Garde La Victoire has raced exclusively at two-miles up until now. His trainer will wait until the last minute before deciding on a festival target, with the JLT and the Racing Post Arkle remaining open to him.
The prospect of taking on Douvan over two-miles is unappealing for most, and Hobbs believes two-and-a-half-miles is well within the compass of Garde La Victoire. That being the case, his six-length defeat of Bristol De Mai at Uttoxeter in October reads well.
As with any novice event at the festival, last year's record-breaking trainer Willie Mullins has options to consider. The Gigginstown House-owned Outlander is another potential contender for this contest, boasting a perfect track record over fences.
He is three from three over the larger obstacles and, like Bristol De Mai, earned a Grade One win on his latest start. Bryan Cooper's mount was about to engage in a battle with Pont Alexandre when that rival blundered his chance away at the final flight at Leopardstown.
Outlander's credentials are clear but, given the regard in which he has always been held, the lightly-raced Pont Alexandre would be intriguing should he make this line-up. Mullins has landed this race twice in the last four years and it is impossible to forget the spine-tingling performance of Vautour last March, so whatever the Closutton maestro elects to send out on March 17 will be worthy of note.
Jonjo O'Neill's More Of That is a two-time winner over fences with a strong record at Cheltenham. The former World Hurdle winner, however, looks destined for the RSA Chase over three miles.
Gordon Elliott, meanwhile, has not ruled out the JLT for No More Heroes, one of the most promising novices in Ireland this season. The Co Meath handler seemingly is wary of the challenge that will be presented by More Of That and could be swayed by the chance to avoid that rival.
The one thing that seems certain for the JLT is that Twiston-Davies and Bristol De Mai will be there. As ever with the bullish trainer, he is not likely to be talking down his chances of success between now and post time.