After looking at the main Grade 1 races in the previous blog, I will take a look at the Grade 1 Novice races, both hurdle and chase, starting with those on the opening day of the Festival.
The opening race on Tuesday is the Supreme Novices Hurdle over an extended 2-miles, and this race is always hotly contested with the roll of previous winners including Vautour, Douvan, Altior, Shishkin, and Constitution Hill - and that's just from the past 10 years. The current odds-on fav is last years "Champion Bumper" winner, Facile Vega trained by Willie Mullins who seems to have a stranglehold on the race. He also has Impaire Et Passe who could easily be the fav without Facile Vega; Gaelic Warrior who was 2nd in last years Juvenile Handicap; and Il Etait Temps who was easily beaten by Facile Vega on 27Dec and is a decent yardstick for the fav. On the face of it, Facile Vega is a worthy fav at this stage: but odds-on? We could see some horses making very rapid improvement - and remember, Cue Card was an 8-length winner of the Champion Bumper but ran 4th in the "Supreme" when 7/4 fav. I'm looking at something that may be worth taking a punt on, and one that looks interesting is Inthepocket trained by Henry de Bromhead: unbeaten in 3 races, he won with a lot in-hand LTO over 2m4f and whatever race he goes for at the Festival, take note.
The Arkle Novice Chase is a spectacular event when there is more than a handful of runners, and this year we could have a decent sized field. Again, we have a worthy fav in Jonbon who, so far, looks a high-class novice chaser. The Irish challenge is currently headed by Appreciate It (winner of the "Supreme" in 2021), but he really does need to step-up on his chase debut performance NTO. I'm more interested in El Fabiolo who chased home Jonbon at Aintree where he was beaten just a neck. El Fabiolo easily beat the capable Colonel Mustard, who was 3rd in the County Hurdle won by State Man with First Street in 2nd - he looks the type who could be a 160+ chaser. Mullins also has Dysart Dynamo, but he had a facile win on his chase debut, and - as with Appreciate It and El Fabiolo - we need to see him jump in a proper race. What I cannot believe is why punters are not shouting from the rooftops the ability of Mighty Potter: his win at Fairyhouse on 4th Dec was absolutely top-drawer novice chasing. Yes, it was 2m4f, but he would not be the 1st winner of the Arkle to have won over 2m4f before taking this. Sure, he will most likely go for the "Turners" over 2m4f on the Thursday of the Festival, but such is his ability it would be no surprise to me to see him run in the Arkle, one of the Grade 1 races at the Festival that Gordon Elliott is yet to win (he's won the Turners twice: Samcro in 2020 and Shattered Love in 2018). Mullins also has the very capable novice Saint Roi, but I think he will have a tilt at the one of the handicaps for his owner JP McManus, something like the "Johnny Henderson" in which "JP" had Andy Dufresne run 2nd off OR155 last March.
The final race of the day is the National Hunt Novices Chase over 3m6f, which is restricted to amateur riders. The short-priced fav is currently Gaillard Du Mesnil who is in his 2nd season as a novice having failed to win in 5 chase runs last season, which included a 3rd place in the 3-mile "Broadway" novice chase won by L'Homme Presse. Unlike L'Homme Presse, I don't think GDM has improved since last March, but he is a very consistent performer. I think he's there to be taken on and there is certainly more than a few in the betting that look capable of a decent challenge: for instance the unbeaten Gerri Colombe trained by Gordon Elliott and one who looks bred for this race and is sure to go well especially if the ground is soft. Elliott also has Chemical Energy, who won at Cheltenham over 3-miles when last seen in October but he only beat 2 others that day, and the horse's he beat ran extremely poorly - it's very difficult to weigh-up that form. Along with the fav for this race, Willie Mullins has 6 other entries, and the one that looks most interesting to me is Minella Cocooner, who was beaten by stablemate Classic Getaway LTO over a 2m4f trip. That was too short for Minella Cocooner at at 20/1 he could be an interesting speculative wager given he ran 2nd in the Albert Bartlett novice hurdle last March over 3-mile. And do not ignore Gentlemansgame who ran a competent chase debut over 2m5f and is another who will improve for the increase in trip.
It is a speculative wager, but I'm taking the 25/1 offered by Paddy Power on MIGHTY POTTER for the Arkle, as if he starts this race he will surely go off the 2nd or 3rd fav. In the same race I'm taking the 11/2 offered by Bet365 on El FABIOLO, as he is just as talented as Jonbon and will probably shorten in the market considerably should he win at the Dublin Festival in a few weeks time.
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