JLT NOVICES' CHASE - Cheltenham, Thursday March 17

With half the jumps season done and dusted, January is usually a good time to delve into the markets for the Cheltenham Festival in a bid to eke out some value on races that have yet to capture the betting public’s imagination as well as others. One such race that needs addressing is the JLT Novices’ Chase, as it’s one of the few championship races where there’s no definitive pecking order established by the bookmakers, or confirmed running plans by many trainers.

The connections of BRISTOL DE MAI (best price 16/1), however, have intimated that this race is very much on the agenda for their charge, and as such, he has to be a huge consideration in the ante-post market with this Grade 1 event as the likely target.

A Grade 1 winner already over hurdles, the son of Saddler Maker has transferred that sort of class to the larger obstacles, winning twice and finishing runner-up to arguably the two best British-trained novices in the shape of Garde Le Victoire and Ar Mad. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ inmate had the misfortune to bump into the former on his first start over fences, but then made no mistake at the second time of asking when routing the similarly useful Karezak by a wide margin at Warwick.

Although beaten fair and square by Ar Mad when upped in grade in the Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown on his next outing, it’s this form-line which makes him such an interesting contender away from the 2m category for future engagements. As we all know, the time of that Grade 1 contest at the Esher venue was over five seconds faster than the Tingle Creek run an hour later on the same card, so even accounting for the fact he finishing 10 lengths behind the winner, Bristol De Mai still would have beaten the likes of Sire De Grugy and Special Tiara using the stopwatch as a guide. The form has not only been boosted by Ar Mad himself - who beat Vaniteux at Kempton subsequently - but by fifth-placed Bouvreuil, who lowered the colours of hot-pot Vyta Du Roc at Doncaster next time.

All-in-all, everything looks totally believable about the race and that is why Bristol De Mai looks overpriced for the JLT when you analyse his accomplishments that day. On top of that, we know he stays the trip well courtesy of a resounding success over 2m 4f at Leicester last time out and that he handles pretty much most types of ground. Furthermore, he appears to be a really sound jumper and that solid technique should stand him good stead when the pressure cooker is switched on at championship level.

With his old rivals Ar Mad and Garde Le Victoire likely to stay down the two-mile route, there’s no question that the free-going grey has the best form on offer of the home contingent at this stage and that is why his price of 16/1 currently looks so appealing.

Clearly, Willie Mullins is likely to have a huge say in the argument with the likes of Shaneshill and Killultagh Vic waiting in the wings, but with doubts about so many others in the ante-post lists at time of writing, it makes sense to get involved with the selection before many punters cotton-on to his obvious-looking claims.

Bristol De Mai - 1pt e/w @ 16/1