Having produced a line of top staying chasers in recent years, including Native River who finished second last year and is now favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup over four miles is one of the most significant novice chase races on the calendar and this could well be the best quality renewal of the race to date.
At the top of the market and trading at odds between 4/1 and 5/1, Noel Meade’s A Genie In A Bottle is the clear favourite on the back of a hugely promising season over fences to date.
He followed up an eye-catching beginners’ chase win over three miles in December with a solid second in a Grade 3 contest over the same distance last time out. He looks every inch a quality stayer in the making, but he is a short price.
At 7/1 with Boylesports, the Joseph O’Brien trained and JP McManus owned Edwulf is a really interesting Cheltenham free bet.
O’Brien’s name wasn’t technically on the license when Ivanovich Gorbatov won the Triumph Hurdle last year, but we all know he was responsible for the training of that horse and the young and highly talented trainer looks to have a great chance of saddling up his first official Cheltenham Festival winner this year.
Edwulf is a fine chestnut chaser that has been steadily improving this term and for all the world looks as though thorough tests of stamina will bring out the best in him going forward. He has unseated before and fell on his penultimate start, but surrounding those two mishaps is a wealth of promising form.
Last time out at Navan, Edwulf – an eight-year-old son of Kayf Tara – ran a brilliant race to win a competitive heavy ground handicap over a seemingly inadequate two mile four furlong trip. He jumped really well, gradually improving his position as the race unfolded and after producing two huge jumps in the home straight, he powered clear of his rivals.
Carrying 11st 10lb that day he was giving a lot of weight away to the others on very testing ground, but he responded in the style of a classy horse.