Cheltenham Preview: Novice Chase Contenders

February 16, 2018 News

IT is under four weeks until the start of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, so it is time to start focusing on some of the key contenders for the big races.
Each week we will be looking at one of the major divisions and first up it is the novice chases. Here we speak to some of the connections of leading hopes for the Arkle, JLT and RSA.

Trainer Harry Whittington on Saint Calvados
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How are things with Saint Calvados after his impressive win in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase?
He’s in good form and has been bucking on the gallops. I couldn’t be more pleased with him.

What do you think are his main attributes?
He has two – his jumping and the speed he shows. To be able to jump as accurately as he does at the speed he does is quite frightening.

Who do you think is his main rival at Cheltenham?
I try not to focus too much on the others, although I have a huge amount of respect for the main market leaders. I have a gut feeling Petit Mouchoir might be the one to step up and be the biggest danger. Even after the mistakes he made, and after such a long time off, he still managed to finish the race well and it was a good performance at Leopardstown.

What would winning the Arkle feel like?
I’ve been speaking to some people about it this week and I couldn’t think how to describe it. Then Mick Fitzgerald’s famous line from after the National that winning was ‘better than sex’ was the best way I could describe it!

Racing manager Jason Maguire on Willoughby Court
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How has Willoughby Court been since his run at Cheltenham last month?
Everyone’s very happy with him. He jumped well at Cheltenham last time and he was giving weight to Yanworth so he was entitled to be beaten, I suppose. We were a little disappointed he wasn’t closer but he was perhaps a touch flat and Ben Pauling’s horses are in better form now.

What do you think his main attributes are?
I think he’s a very slick jumper when he’s at his best. He learned an awful lot from Huntington when we think he got a bit of stage fright. He was brilliant at Newbury the time after that and he’s always been very good at home.

Who do you think is his main rival at Cheltenham?
Anything the Irish send over. Monalee was very good at Leopardstown during the Dublin Racing Festival. If he dropped back in trip I’d say he’d be a big danger to everyone.

What would winning the JLT feel like?
It would be unbelievable. The Cheltenham Festival is huge and winning there is what we’re in the game for. It means a lot for people to win there and we were lucky to have Willoughby Court win last year for us. To go there with another good chance is very exciting.

Trainer Patrick Kelly on Presenting Percy
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How are things with Presenting Percy?
He’s very well. He’s just been ticking over since Gowran and I’m very happy with him.

What do you think his main attributes are?
His temperament would be his number one asset. He’s a very relaxed horse in his work and he just does whatever you ask him to. He never overexerts himself and his a grand horse to train or have anything to do with. That’s what makes him special.

Who do you think is his main rival at Cheltenham?
I’m not worry about the opposition. The only thing that I would worry about is the ground in Cheltenham. He would want nice, quickish ground to be at his best so I hope it’s like that.

What would winning the RSA feel like?
It would be very special. The Cheltenham Festival is the Olympics of horseracing and it gets no bigger than having a winner there. It’s a really special feeling to win. Just to compete is fantastic, but to win that’s just out of this world.