LOOKING at the Cheltenham Festival novice chase entries and trying to work out where horses with a triple entry are likely to run, you have a vague nostalgic feeling for the old days with less options and bigger fields. Although there were 11 runners in the 2022 Arkle, the Turners Novice had just four and the National Hunt Chase just six. It was in danger of almost solo strolls, one dominant trainer playing his cards for the easiest options.
Once upon a time the National Hunt Chase, known as the four-miler, gave stamina-laden young horses who were not just good enough for the RSA, an opportunity for Festival success.
It still had its share of decent performers.
The 2016 renewal stood out in being fought out by a future Gold Cup one-two in Minella Rocco and Native River. And it set Tiger Roll off on the road to the Grand National and fame and glory.
When Tiger won it, the race had a field of 18, similarly the infamous renewal in 2019 had 18 starters. The two furlongs getting chopped off after 2019 made little difference to the public.
But last year it had just the six starters. The winner is again a Gold Cup contender but do you not yearn for those old days when it was a race for a decent ante-post bet?
It became a Grade 2 in 2017 but looking back through the recent history you miss those long distance horses like Tricky Trickster, Poker De Sivola, Chicago Grey, Teaforthreee and Cause Of Causes. There’s not really a race for them now and dropping the two and a half mile novice handicap was a bad move too, in hindsight.
It might be time to change the conditions of the longer distance Grade 2. Keep some of those higher rated horses out. It might actually be a good thing to reduce the quality – with the Turners and the Brown Advisory pulling in the better novices that are around.,
It doesn’t need to be a Grade 2 attracting Grade 1 horses like Gerri Colombe and Gaillard Du Mesnil, even if it is amateur riders in the saddle this time.
The novices’ handicap chase had 20 runners when last run in 2020. A Plus Tard won it so it had quality, Hunt Ball won it so it had fun and interest.
Its trainer roll of honour had great diversity and some good stories. Mark Bradstock, James Fanshawe, Ferdy Murphy, Tom Taaffe, Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs, Ferdy Murphy, Keiran Burke, Nicky Henderson, Jamie Snowden, Rebecca Curtis, Ian Williams, Alan Fleming, Mick Channon, Henry de Bromhead, Kim Bailey. What, no Mullins?
It could be what the Festival needs, a bit of diversity, a bit more of a planned betting angle and a few smaller stables getting involved. Quality is all very well, but not if the races become boring both to enthusiast and the betting public.