There have been some vintage editions of the Supreme Novices’ in recent years, with Altior, Douvan and Vautour having won the last three runnings, but it will be a surprise if the 2017 edition proves a strong renewal. There were several notable absentees—including Neon Wolf, Moon Racer and Movewiththetimes—as well as some of the more fancied runners, primarily Bunk off Early and Crack Mome, not coming up to scratch. That said, Labaik (h165§ from h146§) was a worthy winner on the day, beating the placed pair Melon (h158p from h140P) and River Wylde (h149 from h143p) fair and square, though his tendency not to start makes it difficult to be totally positive about his prospects. The race was run at a muddling gallop, and developed only after three out, with several not looking at home faced with such a test of speed, including the eventual fourth Ballandy (h145 from h143p).
The Neptune Novices’ featured a better field in terms of physique and probably potential than for the Supreme and the finish was fought out by two cracking prospects, with Willoughby Court (h152p from h148p) just edging it after Neon Wolf (h153p from h149p) pecked at the last. Willoughby Court was given the perfect ride by David Bass, controlling things in front and kicking on after three out, and Neon Wolf has been given a slightly higher rating after just being beaten on the nod. Neon Wolf is the most gorgeous looker and if he doesn't make a top novice over fences next season, it will be a major surprise. Messire des Obeaux (h148 from h143) proved better than ever in third, needing no excuses. Like the front two, he’s clearly an interesting prospect for next season, whether kept to hurdles or sent over fences.
The second running of the Mares’ Novices’ (Dawn Run) once again attracted a big field, and was competitive on ratings too for all that there were inevitably a few making up the numbers. Like Limini, who won it for the same connections in 2016, this year’s heroine Let's Dance (h144p) is a smart, progressive mare and she’ll merit respect if she goes up against the boys at Aintree or Punchestown.
A well-contested edition of the Triumph Hurdle was run at no more than a fair pace, taking shape only from two out, and it's hard to rate the race as even an average renewal in form terms, though the winner Defi du Seuil (h151p from h149p) would probably have been even more clear-cut a victor off a better pace. Defi du Seuilwas widely quoted for the 2018 Champion Hurdle afterwards, but he makes very limited appeal on that score, the list of Triumph Hurdle winners this century to make an impact in the Champion beginning and just about ending with Katchit.
The Albert Bartlett looked a good renewal beforehand, but it proved a rather unsatisfactory race, run at a muddling pace and not testing stamina to the same extent that it usually does. Several of the more likely contenders were either inconvenienced or made crucial mistakes, and the form is possibly not going to prove the most reliable and the winner, Penhill (h152 from h141), is not necessarily the best prospect in the field. Constantine Bay (h149p from h137p) did well to finish fourth and could be ideal for the NH Chase this time next season.
A falsely-run Arkle merely masked the superiority of Altior (c167p from c168p) rather than proved his undoing, and he was already set to take the measure of pace-setting Charbel (c156p from c151+) when that one's fall two out left the door wide open. As such, the bare form—also held down by the c141-rated Ordinary World, who took third behind Cloudy Dream (c153 from c146)—looks a little below that achieved in recent years by the likes of Un de Sceaux and Douvan, not to mention the winner's brilliant stablemate Sprinter Sacre.
The first running of the National Hunt Chase as a Grade 2 saw the principals run to a smart level, though it was an unsatisfactory race, with the field pottering along for much of the way. They were still well grouped with plenty still to be asked for their effort going to three out, and the race did not test stamina so much as ought to have been the case, which means the form has a slightly suspect look to it. Tiger Roll (c152§ from c141§) gave Gordon Elliott his third success in the race, and like the trainer’s 2015 victor Cause of Causes, he had an unlikely pedigree for a four-mile chase.
Tully East (c148p from c138+) was tight in the market for the Close Brothers Novices’ and improved in line with a switch to a handicap chase, well suited by the demands of such a big-field affair, as his fourth in last year's Martin Pipe might have indicated. He won readily with the emphasis on speed at this trip, and he'd have no trouble dropping back in trip for the Red Rum at Aintree.
A remarkable RSA saw another trailblazing performance from Might Bite (c166 from c158) in a Grade 1, on this occasion his quirkiness all but getting the better of him (a son of Scorpion after all), squandering a 10-length lead before the loose Marinero coming through to give him a lead late on, after which he ran on well enough to snatch victory from his patiently-ridden stablemate Whisper (c156 from c152p). The winner’s effort was on a par with the best winning performances this century, which ranks him alongside Bobs Worth and Denman among others, though a more straightforward Might Bite would have produced an outstanding performance for the race, having set a strong pace and jumped well in the main.
Aside from 2015 when Vautour was a brilliant winner, the JLT has tended to fall below the other Cheltenham Grade 1 novice chases, not only with less history and prestige but also a lower standard of winner. The latest was one of the stronger renewals, however, with Yorkhill (c160p from c156p), Top Notch (c158 from c150p) and Disko (c154) dominant in both the betting and the race itself, the first-named coming through smoothly from last place in a race where they didn't go a strong pace. Yorkhill has the potential to go to the very top in this sphere and will be hard to beat if heading for the Manifesto at Aintree.