Cheltenham Tips: Kevin Blake's ante-post verdict on the Novice Chases

Horse racing expert Kevin Blake
Kevin likes Il Etait Temps and Monty's Star in the antepost betting

With just three weeks to go before the Cheltenham Festival Kevin Blake discusses the Novice Chases and highlights two runners that appeal in the antepost betting...

  • Il Etait is tempting in the Arkle Chase

  • Monty's Star can shine in Brown Advisory

  • Non-runner money back on all Cheltenham 2024 races

  • Three weeks is all we have to wait for the Cheltenham Festival and excitement levels are rising all the time. There isn't much Festival-relevant form left to play out between now and then, so form students have the vast majority of the evidence in front of them.

    Now, they still have the obvious variable of the ground that is yet to become clear, but an even bigger obstacle to strong opinions on the novice chases is the uncertainty created by having four Graded novice chases at the meeting. In practice, we are unlikely to know with any sort of certainty what the final shape of the races are likely to be until very close to or even after declarations.

    My views on this have been made endlessly, but surely no one can consider it ideal from any perspective bar that of the most powerful trainers, owners and jockeys for there to be so much scope for change and uncertainty due to the inflated programme.

    Anyway, it will be as such for this year at least, so I'll do my best to steer you as best I can with my thoughts on the novice chases.

    Arkle Chase - 12 March

    The Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase is the most straightforward of the Grade 1 novice chases to figure out in terms of likely runners at this stage.

    Marine Nationale heads the market, but he will very much be a Marmite horse. One of the last season's leading novice hurdlers, he was the short-priced favourite for this race before he ever jumped a fence in public and got significantly shorter after he made an impressive chasing debut at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.

    However, his progress was halted in no uncertain terms when disappointing in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

    On that occasion he didn't jump with the same fluency and was disappointingly weak off the bridle after the final fence. His head carriage wasn't particularly attractive and it hinted at the breathing issues that led to him having a wind operation at the end of last season and wearing a tongue tie in both his starts this season might just be catching up with him.

    A sounder surface will help him in this regard should that prevail at Cheltenham, but these concerns are enough to make him an unattractive proposition at his current price.

    The one I like at the prices is the Willie Mullins-trained Il Etait Temps. The six-year-old has made a smooth transition to chasing, making an impressive winning chasing debut at Thurles in November prior to stepping up to Grade 1 company at Limerick's Christmas meeting.

    He was beaten by Gaelic Warrior over the longest trip he has ever tackled there, he ran very well for a long way, just seeming to be out-stayed by a very talented horse.

    Paul Townend celebrates Gold Cup win.jpg

    His connections made a clear conclusion based on that run and reacted by dropping back in trip for the Irish Arkle. That led to him producing a career-best effort to prevail by a neck from Found A Fifty and it can be marked up as he raced off what was a steady pace.

    The level that Il Etait Temps showed at Leopardstown suggests he will be very competitive in the Arkle Challenge Trophy and is likely to be Paul Townend's choice.

    Back Il Etait Temps to win the 2024 Arkle

    Bet here

    Turners' and Brown Advisory - 13 and 14 March

    Things become much more murky when one delves into the Turners' Novices' Chase and the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, mostly due to the presence of Fact To File.

    The seven-year-old has looked to be one of if not the best novice chaser seen this season. His jumping has improved with racing and despite only having one rival to beat in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival, he still managed to put up an impressive performance that came out very well on the clock.

    More so than anything else, it was the enthusiasm he showed for jumping that caught the eye as he had showed a notable tendency to shorten into his fences earlier in the season.

    In my opinion, Fact To File should go for the Turners' Novices' Chase as he looks to be getting sharper with each run over fences and the shorter trip will play into that sharpness. However, he looks to be very much in the mix for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, so that creates a great amount of uncertainty around both races. A good thing then that, from today, Betfair is non-runner money back on all antepost betting at the Cheltenham Festival.

    There is one that I like for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase that has it as his one and only target and that is the Henry De Bromhead-trained Monty's Star.

    A particularly big physical specimen, he has always looked like one that would be notably better as a chaser. Considering that, he showed plenty of promise as a novice hurdler, winning a Grade 3 novice at Clonmel prior to disappointing in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

    De Bromhead has subsequently said that he feels the run came too soon after a tough race on very testing ground at Clonmel.

    Henry de Bromhead 956.jpg

    This season saw Monty's Star make a promising chasing debut in a strong maiden chase at Fairyhouse in December, jumping particularly well and sticking on well to finish third to Corbetts Cross and Three Card Brag. He improved notably from that run to win a maiden chase at Punchestown later that month, reversing form with Three Card Brag to beat him with plenty to spare.

    Again, his jumping was particularly good, with him showcasing an assured style that made jumping look easy for him.

    Considering that De Bromhead felt Monty's Star left his Cheltenham chance in the mud at Clonmel last year, he has set out to keep Monty's Star fresh and has stated the plan is to go straight to the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase.

    While some might be concerned that lack of chasing experience might be a negative, it isn't a great concern for such an assured jumper. Indeed, De Bromhead gave a very similar preparation to Minella Indo before he went so close to winning the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase in 2020. With a bit of luck, Monty's Star might well be able to go one better this year.

    Back Montys Star to win the 2024 Brown Advisory

    Bet here

    Now Read Cheltenham Festival Novice Hurdles: Kevin Blake's Antepost Verdict


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