Yorkhill must overcome rivals and own foibles to score
JLT Novices' Chase (Grade 1) | New course | 5yo+ | 2m3f198y | RUK/ITV
The big question about the talented-but-quirky Yorkhill is whether the primary danger to his chances of adding the JLT to last year's Neptune win are his rivals here or his own foibles.
The Willie Mullins-trained favourite travelled with purpose and aggression 12 months ago as he saw off Yanworth over hurdles and has a flawless two-from-two record over fences, albeit without yet being asked a serious question as a chaser. Clearly, he sets the standard in this JLT.
Worryingly, though, this monstrously talented animal has shown a quirkiness that will set Ruby Walsh one of the week's more challenging riding assignments.
Most obviously, Yorkhill has a tendency to jump left, albeit on a left-turning track like Cheltenham that could prove more problematic for rivals thinking about sneaking up his inside, but he can be a tricky and hard-to-settle horse and during a recent schooling session at Leopardstown, he looked less-than-fluent for the opening mile or so, before warming up and finishing the exercise in great fashion.
While concerns over Yorkhill's jumping and temperament are legitimate enough, it would be wrong to think he need only produce a clean round to land Mullins and Walsh a third consecutive JLT Novices' Chase, with at least three of his rivals having clear claims in opposition.
Nicky Henderson saddles Top Notch, who has won four on the trot including an imperious performance in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles last time out, while Paul Nicholls has Politologue, one of the champion trainer's best hopes this week. Noel Meade, meanwhile, brings Disko over from Ireland after back-to-back Grade 1 wins at Leopardstown.
Connections of Top Notch stand to bank £60,000 if they win this, having qualified for the bonus by winning a novice chase at Plumpton in November.
Irish in command
Ireland has dominated this race in its short history, winning all bar one of the six renewals, with Willie Mullins taking three of the five Irish wins.
What they say
Noel Meade, trainer of Disko
He has travelled over really well and I think he's in great form. I genuinely could not be happier with him. The big problem is Yorkhill. He looks the real deal and his form looks rock-solid. I actually thought there were more positives than negatives to be taken from his schooling session at Leopardstown. But Disko is in terrific nick and I would like to think he's got a chance. He will love the ground.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Flying Angel
It was a good win at Warwick on his last run and hopefully a bit further will help him, so I'm looking forward to it. We've no worries about the drying ground as the extra distance should make up for it.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Kilcrea Vale and Top Notch
Neither have done anything wrong. Top Notch has been a revelation again. He's just the most likeable of horses and you can set your watch by him. He's Mr Reliable and has been great all year. I thought he was terrific at Sandown, and while this ground might be quick enough I think he's versatile enough to cope. Kilcrea Vale travels and jumps. He enjoys it and he's good at it, although ideally he would have run in the novice handicap, for which he was 2lb too high.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Politologue
He's had a good season, winning three, and we're looking forward to him running. Hopefully the ground will be okay. He's run on soft all winter but I think he might just appreciate it. The biggest thing for me is that he just keeps the lid on himself as he can get a bit wound up beforehand, so I just hope the occasion doesn't get to him - that's my one concern.
Ruby Walsh, rider of Yorkhill
He was a good winner of the Neptune at this meeting last year and, while he jumps left-handed, it is a left-handed track, and won’t be an issue. He takes a bit of riding, but that’s part of my job. He's a very good horse.