Where will all your novices go? Tell us quick Oh Willlie-Oh?

The entries for the four novice chases at the Cheltenhan Festival were revealed this week and predictably dominated by Willie Mullins.

You’d like to see a schooling session over a mile in Closutton and who knows what the betting picture would be then.

Of the top seven in the Arkle, Closutton houses six of them, two of the top three in the Turners, while in the Brown Advisory he lost one favourite to injury (Minella Cocooner) and immediately had the new favourite (Gaillard Du Mesnil) along with James Du Berlais also well fancied.

This year it begins on Tuesday with Appreciate It, Dysart Dynamo, El Fabiolo, Flame Bearer, James Du Berlais, Saint Roi, Sir Gerhard all entered and well up to Arkle standard.

James Du Berlais and Sir Gerhard join Galliard Du Mesnil, Kilcruit and Ramillies in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, while the Turners has the lot - Appreciate It, Dysart Dynamo, El Fabiolo, Flame Bearer, Gaillard Du Mesnil, James Du Berlais, Kilcruit, Ramillies and the long-absent Sir Gerhard.

The Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase has Gaillard Du Mesnil, James Du Berlais, Kilcruit, Ramillies and Sir Gerhard.

Sir Gerhard – also in the Stayers - is the surprise as it had seemed as though he might miss the Festival through injury and it is coming to the end of January he’ll have to be good on his reappearance next week..

Surprisingly Willie only won one novice chase here last year, Galopin Des Champs obviously being a winner bar a fall. The Dublin Racing Festival will obviously do much to clarify preferred options.

We can surmise a Mullins relay to take home all four races – Dysart Dynamo kicks it off as the most likely number one in the Arkle – he looks the most headstrong and two miles might be best – even if Jonbon has been faultless so far this season. I’d still fear that a horse who fell so heavily last year could crash again.

El Fabiolo might have been flattered to get so close to Jonbon in Aintree but he put in a hugely impressive 19-length fencing debut over two miles at Fairyhouse. He could be the back up against the Henderson star.

Appreciate It is a point-to-point winner and won a two and a half mile bumper. And he is older at nine. His wide margin Naas win was from a 25/1 shot so we learned little. He looks the one who may be suited to the middle distance race.

His biggest rivals there are from the Munir/Suede camp – avoid El Fabiolo and you likely have James Du Berlais here in the Turners, impressive winner over two miles and five at Fairyhouse.

Ridden cold, Saint Roi could be the ‘sleeper’ in the Arkle. Well backed for the Champion Hurdle in 2021, he could be one to take advantage of any wayward jumping from shorter-priced rivals.

Elliott stars

Outside of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter and Joseph O’Brien’s Banbridge are two Irish-trained horses to the fore in the novice markets. They enjoyed contrasting fortunes at the Festival last year. Mighty Potter pulled up in the first race – the Supreme, and Banbridge winning the finale – the Martin Pipe.

Mighty Potter got his Grade 1 hurdle win at Punchestown and was very impressive in his two novice chases and is only six and heads the Turners betting.

Banbridge got Cheltenham chasing experience in November. The two best prices, 25s for the Arkle and 16s for the Turners, look attractive, remembering he needs decent ground but he has over 18 lengths to make up on Mighty Potter from the Drinmore.


The National Hunt Chase is totally dominated by Irish-trained horses. Since 2010, over the 13 years, it has been won by Irish stables on eight occasions - Mullins three, Elliott four. (it should be five with Galvin’s win). They had the one-two last season with Stattler (2/1) beating an Elliott favourite in Run Wild Fred.

Elliott’s Chemical Energy’s (generally 5/1) course win in October was against one finisher but our time expert Andy Bate rated him highly and he has just been overshadowed through being absent while Gerri Colombe beat the Mullins B team in Limerick but as a Grade 1 winner must be more likely to run in the Brown Advisory.

Gaillard Du Mesnil will likely go to the National Hunt Chase, attempting to score after two Grade 1 Festival placings in the last two seasons. His five and a quarter length Brown Advisory third to L’Homme Presse last season should be good enough, though a ‘what will Patrick ride’ could change things and the yard’s easy Thurles three-mile winner Ramilles is in the same ownership.

British challenge

What of the English challenge? Jonbon carries the torch and Nicky Henderson has a fabulous record with short priced quality horses in the Arkle: Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Altior and Shishkin.

Jonbon has every likelihood of following them. He was about to take over and looked to have the measure of Dysart Dynamo before that one fell in the Supreme last season.

It would be selling him short to say he has done nothing wrong this season – he has done everything right and was very impressive in every way when winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase at Sandown.

Haddex Des Obeaux entered the equation last week in winning at Warwick and you would not dismiss a Gary Moore-trained horse as the stable is finding better quality performers each year.

Over further, McFabulous is a Grade 2 winner and the middle distance looks right for him after his defeat to Thyme Hill at Kempton. The 33/1 for the Turners looks big.

Which Thyme Hill will show up, never mind in which race? Impressive at Kempton, novicey at Newbury where he didn’t look a natural jumper. Cheltenham and the pace of the races could put him on the back foot again.

The Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ winner The Real Whacker impressed then and has entries in the two longer distance novices plus the Gold Cup. He’s come a long way since his second to Mahler Mission in the Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster this week last year. He is a general 6/1 for his most likely target, the Brown Advisory. It’s short on the balance of his form – Indigo Breeze gave his a good battle at Cheltenham over an extended three miles in November and there are many better than Indigo Breeze in Closutton.

Novice ante-post betting is arguably more fraught with ground conditions more likely to swing things in favour of different horses and into different races, especially over the longer distances.

I’d much rather wait until closer to the day.