Cheltenham Festival 2021: Novice Chases entries
We look at entries for the three Grade 1 novices’ chases at the Festival – the Arkle Novices’ Chase, Festival Novices’ Chase and Marsh Novices’ Chase – plus the National Hunt Novices’ Chase
Arkle Novices’ Chase – Tuesday 16 March
Hot favourite for the two-mile Arkle Novices’ Chase is Shishkin, winner of the Grade 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festiva last season. The Marie Donnelly-owned seven-year-old has looked imperious on his two outings over fences this season, most recently sauntering to a 13-length victory in the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on 27 December.
Shishkin’s trainer Nicky Henderson is the most successful handler in the history of the contest with six victories – Remittance Man (1991), Travado (1993), Tiutchev (2000), Sprinter Sacre (2012), Simonsig (2013) and Altior (2017).
His two other entries are Allart, a Grade 2 winner on his chasing debut at Ascot last month, and Fusil Raffles, who has scored twice at Cheltenham already this season in novices’ chases at the Showcase an International meetings.
Ireland has landed the Arkle Novices’ Chase on 21 occasions, including in five of the last six years. Leading Irish-trained contenders include Energumene from Willie Mullins’ yard, a lightly-raced seven-year-old but hugely impressive in winning both his chase starts.
Mullins’ six entries, the most of any trainer, also includes Grade 1 Leopardstown scorer Franco de Port, the unexposed Unexcepted as well as Klassical Dream, winner of the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in 2019. Mullins is responsible for four of the last six winners of the contest – Un de Sceaux (2015), Douvan (2016), Footpad (2018) and Duc de Genievres (2019).
Other leading contenders include Allmankind representing Dan Skelton, third in last season’s Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle and winner of both his starts over fences, including the Grade 1 Planteur at Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in December.
Trainer Jamie Snowden has two entries in Ga Law and Thebannerkingrebel. A Listed winner over hurdles, Thebannerkingrebel began the current campaign by finishing sixth in the Welsh Champion Hurdle before making a winning start over fences at Plumpton.
Ga Law landed his first three starts over fences, including the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Warwick, before taking third in the G1 Planteur at Chapel Stud Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in December.
Lambourn-based Snowden said: “Ga Law is in great order and the plan was to always give him a break after running at Sandown in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase.
“I was delighted with his performance in that event, but he did shape as if he wanted to go back up in trip and so that looks the plan for the rest of the season.
His next run will be in the Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton in February. That is a step back up in trip and we are looking forward to seeing him back in action.
“We have entered him in the Arkle, Marsh and the three-miler at the Cheltenham Festival. I think we will see how get on at Kempton first, but I am leaning towards either the Marsh or the three-miler.
“The Arkle would probably be the outsider of the three at the moment, just because I think he needs to go back up in trip and probably the Marsh is the slight favourite.
“A lot can still happen, so we will just take things week by week and see how he gets on at Kempton. The Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree is also another race I think could really suit him too.
“These Cheltenham races close early so we have made the entries and we will see how he is in the coming weeks.
“Thebannerkingrebel is on for a £40,000 bonus at the Cheltenham Festival if he can win a race there having landed a contest at Plumpton earlier this season.
“He did take quite a bad fall back at the track last time so we’ll take our time with him and we might enter him in a number of races at Cheltenham over both hurdles and fences.”
Festival Novices’ Chase – Wednesday 17 March
Staged over an extended three miles, there are 53 entries for the Festival Novices’ Chase.
Irish raiders account for 22 them, including the current clear favourite Monkfish, one of four entries for Willie Mullins. The seven-year-old is already a winner at the Festival, having taken the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2020.
He has won both his starts over fences in great style, mostly recently securing a Grade 1 contest at Leopardstown over Christmas. The Mullins quartet also includes Colreevy, a Grade 1 scorer at Limerick on 26 December.
Another leading Irish challenger is Latest Exhibition, for Paul Nolan, the neck runner-up to Monkfish at Cheltenham and also second to the same rival at Leopardstown last time out.
The pick of the British challengers at this stage looks to include Next Destination (Paul Nicholls), successful in Grade 2 company on both his chase starts, and The Big Breakaway (Colin Tizzard), a winner on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in November and runner-up in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Marsh Novices’ Chase – Thursday 18 March
The final Grade 1 novices’ chase is the Marsh Novices’ Chase, which takes place over the intermediate distance of two and a half miles on day three, when the action moves to the New Course. There are 47 entries in 2021, including 19 from Ireland and one from France.
Although he also holds entries in both the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase and Festival Novices’ Chase, the Marsh Novices’ Chase is believed to be the target for the remarkable Envoi Allen (Gordon Elliott), who has won all of his 11 starts to date. Owned by Cheveley Park Stud, the seven-year-old is already a dual Festival winner having taken the Grade 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2019 and the G1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2021.
He has looked equally formidable having been switched to fences this year, with his three victories capped by G1 success in the Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse in November.
Willie Mullins has also given the Marsh Novices’ Chase as an option for Energumene, while Nicky Henderson has entered Allart for this race as well as the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase.
The Marsh Novices’ Chase is one of five Cheltenham options for Chatham Street Lad (Michael Winters), who already has a big Cheltenham success on his CV this season having swept aside seasoned opposition to take the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at the International in December.
Shan Blue (Dan Skelton) lifted the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over three miles at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and interestingly the Marsh Novices’ Chase is his sole Festival entry so far.
French entry Saint Turgeon (Davide Satalia) has shown some very decent form in his homeland, with his best effort this season coming when third in the G1 Prix Renaud du Vivier at Auteuil in November.
National Hunt Novices’ Chase – Tuesday 16 March
The Grade 2 National Hunt Novices’ Chase takes place over three miles and six furlongs.
There are 59 entries this year, including 20 from Ireland. Irish trainer Gordon Elliott has landed the contest four times, including with the legendary dual Randox Grand National hero Tiger Roll in 2017 and last year with Ravenhill. He has the most entries of any trainer this year, seven, which are headed by Galvin.
Owned by Ronnie Bartlett, the seven-year-old Galvin is a second season novice and ended the 2019/20 campaign by finishing runner-up to Imperial Aura in the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival.
He is undefeated in four starts this season and relished the step up in distance when impressively winning a novices’ chase over an extended three miles at Cheltenham in October on his most recent appearance.
A fascinating entry is Royale Pagaille, for Venetia Williams, who also holds entries in the Festival Novices’ Chase as well as the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Another experienced novice, he could not have been more impressive in winning both chase starts this season at Haydock Park and Kempton Park.
The National Hunt Novices’ Chase is one of the few Festival races to have eluded Nicky Henderson but the reigning champion trainer has a live contender this year in Dickie Diver, owned by JP McManus and fourth in the 2019 Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. He shaped well when second on his chasing debut at Newbury last month.
Jamie Snowden has two entries in this contest in the shape of Kiltealy Briggs, who was third at Ascot behind Allart in Grade 2 company last time out, and Thomas Macdonagh, who got off the mark over fences at Catterick earlier this month.
The trainer continued: “Cheltenham plans are up in the air for Kiltealy Briggs at the moment.
“We are not really leaning anywhere with him, but he is in good form and the plan was to run him in the Altcar Novices’ Chase at Haydock on Saturday but I think that meeting could succumb to the weather.
“That race was probably going to tell us where we stand with him, so we will see what happens there first.
“The National Hunt Chase is possible for Thomas Macdonagh. He won well at Catterick last time out and he could also be one for a handicap at Cheltenham.”
♦CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2021
We look at the headline entries