Jumps Season - At The Races

Novice Chasers

    Graham Dench reflects on the highlights of another memorable National Hunt season.
  • Features

The most exciting novice chase performance of Cheltenham week was arguably came 48 hours before the Festival started, when the highly regarded Chacun Pour Soi was in a different league to ten opponents in a beginners’ chase at Naas and came home a mile clear.

The form in itself would not compare to that shown by the Grade 1 winners later in the week, but the promise was immense and Chacun Pour Soi duly delivered upon it in the 2m Ryanair Novices’ Chase at Punchestown, where he had the clear measure of not just one Cheltenham winner, but two, beating the JLT Novices’ Chase and Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil even more convincingly than the four-and-a-quarter length margin suggests, with Racing Post Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres a remote third. 

With Voix Du Reve, another Grade 1 winner, further back in fourth this is novice chase form of the highest order, and Chacun Pour Soi ought to give Altior and Cyrname plenty to think about if he stands training.

Two miles was perhaps on the sharp side for Defi Du Seuil, who over an intermediate trip had the better of subsequent Aintree winner Lostintranslation both at Cheltenham and in the earlier Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown, form that received a massive boost when Lostintranslation stepped up to three miles and beat the RSA Chase winner Topofthegame by six lengths in the Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase.

Aintree would not have been the ideal track for the giant Topofthegame, who had looked a future Gold Cup winner when beating market rivals Santini and Delta Work in a strong renewal at Cheltenham, so Paul Nicholls was by no means disheartened by defeat for the seven-year-old, who remains a novice technically until November 1.

He will be trained to peak first this winter in the Ladbrokes Trophy, and hopes are high at Ditcheat that he might be the stable’s first Gold Cup winner since Kauto Star. 

Yards away in the Aintree winners’ enclosure the enthusiasm of Colin Tizzard was infectious. With the curtain coming down on the era of Cue Card, Native River and Thistlecrack, Tizzard views Lostintranslation as just the replacement he has been waiting for.

Those are big shoes to fill, but don’t bet against Lostintranslation filling them.

The easiest novice chase winner at Cheltenham was A Plus Tard, and while his success came off ‘only’ 144 in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap his 16-length success under Rachael Blackmore looked championship level form.

A Plus Tard was no match for the shade unlucky RSA third Delta Work when stepping up in distance in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown, but in fading into third he might have found the trip stretching him that day, and in any case the Gordon Elliott-trained winner is high class and was landing his third Grade 1 novice of the season.

The Arkle had been run without some-time ante-post favourite Le Richebourg, the Joseph O’Brien-trained dual Grade 1 winner who was ruled out by injury just a fortnight before the race, and also Dynamite Dollars, the Paul Nicholls-trained leading fancy who was also on the injured list. Both will hopefully be back.

Kalashnikov departed before the Arkle got going in earnest, but he bounced back to win in gutsy fashion at Aintree in the Devenish Manifesto Chase, where he beat the splendid mare Le Bague Au Roi.

La Bague Au Roi is better over 3m and is being aimed at the King George. It’s worth remembering that on Boxing Day last year she beat Topofthegame in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, over the same course and distance.

Aintree was her first defeat, and she won another major prize at Leopardstown in between. 

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