Apache Stronghold can land JLT under masterful Carberry

Bill Esdaile
Follow Bill
Noel Meade’s runner (right) can take the opener

STILL a relatively new race at the Cheltenham Festival, the JLT Novices’ Chase (1.30pm) is for those horses who need further than the two miles of the Arkle and less than the three and a bit miles of the RSA Chase.

No horse fits that profile better than Noel Meade’s APACHE STRONGHOLD who was outstayed by yesterday’s RSA Chase winner Don Poli in the Topaz at Christmas.

He relished the step back in trip when out-battling Valseur Lido, another of today’s rivals, in the Flogas Chase last month. He was given a peach of a ride by Paul Carberry who is reunited with the seven-year-old this afternoon.

There is unlikely to be much between the pair this afternoon and I can certainly understand why Valseur Lido supporters expect him to reverse the form with Apache Stronghold now that he has race fitness on his side. However, my selection didn’t jump or travel as well as he can, yet still managed to win.

If Willie Mullins is to land this contest it is likely to be with last year’s emphatic Supreme Novices’ winner Vautour. The six-year-old appeared a star in the making during a successful debut over fences in November, but hasn’t looked the same after a surprise reversal at heavy-odds on Boxing Day.

Connections have confessed that he doesn’t seem quite in the same spirits as 12 months ago but have hinted that a return to form is not far away.

The money that has arrived in recent days would indicate that the ‘real’ Vautour may well line up tomorrow and, if that’s the case, the others could be chasing his shadows.

Yet I’m not prepared to take 2/1 or less about a horse who hasn’t been in the very best of form and is arguably running over the wrong trip.

The Pertemps Final (2.05) hasn’t been a lucky race for the Irish, but the vibes coming from the Emerald Isle are that Tony Martin’s Edeymi is incredibly well-handicapped for today’s race.

He probably is on a very fair mark, and he has strong Festival form as he was second in the 2012 Fred Winter, but he’s short enough at 7/1 with Betway.

Call The Cops was hugely impressive last time at Doncaster and if he’s in the same form he will be difficult to beat. That race wasn’t long ago, though, and this could come too soon.

Brother Brian is interesting for Hughie Morrison, as he beat Call The Cops on his last start at Kempton back in December, and is potentially very well weighted. He is interesting at 12/1 with Paddy Power, but I’m going to go with Alan King’s THE TOURARD MAN at 25/1 with the same firm.

Although he is a nine-year-old, he has only had eight career starts and is a very gutsy animal. Stamina will be no problem and he has a lovely racing weight.

Last year Spring Heeled gave Ireland their first win in the Kim Muir (4.40pm) since 1983 and I think they can make it back-to-back successes with Ted Walsh’s CHAMPAGNE JAMES, ridden by his daughter Katie.

The seven-year-old has run some eye-catching races this season without winning and he is very unexposed. It looked as though he was going to run in the novices’ handicap chase on the first day, but his trainer has opted for this stiffer test of stamina.

Katie Walsh is a top class amateur jockey and Champagne James looks like a good each-way bet at 10/1 with Betway.

I also like the look of Colin Tizzard’s two runners, Masters Hill and GRAND VISION, with slight preference for the latter as he is 16/1 with Paddy Power compared with his stablemate who is 12/1.

Grand Vision was third in the Albert Bartlett three years ago and he looks to be on a fair mark over fences. He produced an excellent performance at Warwick last time, leading almost the whole way before Sego Success ran him down.

It is a wide open renewal but these two should give you a good run for your money.

■ Pointers…
APACHE STRONGHOLD 1.30pm Cheltenham
THE TOURARD MAN e/w 2.05pm Cheltenham
CHAMPAGNE JAMES e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham
GRAND VISION e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham