There’s one week to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2017 and here’s a review of the Novices Handicap Chase on Day 1.

Foxtail Hill 8/1 (140)Was getting chunks of weight from Saphir Du Rheu when scoring at Cheltenham last time. However, that was still a very useful performance from a novice against experienced opposition and he is clearly very progressive. He jumped left all the way round at Kempton previously and still won with a tonne in hand. He looks the ideal type for the race as he is straight forward, jumps extremely well and will just get on with the job out in front. He is one to take very seriously for local trainer Nigel Twiston Davies and will be very difficult to peg back if allowed to dictate.

Value At Risk 10/1 (138) – Couldn’t back it with counterfeit money. A very well regarded animal and achieved a good deal over hurdles but lost his way some time ago and simply isn’t a very good jumper. He is one from four over the larger obstacles having fallen twice and beat absolutely nothing in a four runner race the last day at Doncaster. I cannot understand why he is so prominent in the betting as his chance doesn’t even compare to Foxtail Hill who brings a better level of form and significantly better jumping ability to the table.

Gold Present 16/1 (137) – He was disappointing at Kempton on Boxing Day which JP and I attended, but prior to that and subsequently he put in useful performances. He ran a big race last time out at Kempton when chasing home the 150+ rated Frodon in receipt of just 1lb. He was also very impressive on his chasing debut at Doncaster. If we forgive him the run over Christmas then he holds every chance here if stepping up again on his most recent performance. He will have learnt a lot last time out when he wandered around in the closing stages but jumped well throughout.

Two Taffs 16/1 (137) – Has flattered to deceive too many times for my liking. He ran a decent second behind a smart type at Kempton on Boxing Day but he isn’t one who I would want on my side in this type of race. Everything needs to fall right for him to get his head in front and I’m far more inclined to be with a more progressive type that has actually managed to win over the larger obstacles.

Romain De Senam 10/1 (137) – If we wind the clock back 12 months then he has the outstanding piece of form in the race having finished a close second in the Fred Winter, a race which has worked out very well with Diego Du Charmil, Coo Star Sivola and Missy Tata having progressed nicely and Campeador having threatened to hack up over in Ireland before falling at the last again. If he can translate that level of form to chasing in this race then he is the one to beat. We haven’t seen enough this season to suggest that is likely but I just have a gut feeling that Paul Nicholls will bring him right on the day and the step up in trip could bring about significant improvement given the way he flew up the hill last season. He could be the big danger to Foxtail Hill turning for home if staying within striking distance.

Brother Tedd 14/1 (136) – Looks very well treated on his best hurdles form having been rated 155 at his peak over the smaller obstacles. However, he hasn’t won any of his four chase starts and it has to be a concern that he simply isn’t as good over fences. He also hasn’t won a race for the best part of 18 months and must defy at absence of nearly 100 days.

Squouateur 14/1 (135) – Cannot have this one for love nor money. Five starts over fences and has been beaten on each occasion. Was well fancied for the Martin Pipe last season but ran flat and/or got outpaced. Has a bucket load to prove and hard to justify its position towards the head of the market.

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Although 20 runners will line up here it will be a very compressed handicap with little between top and bottom weight making the assignment more straight forward in terms of picking the winner. For me there are two horses with standout claims above the others. Foxtail Hill was extremely impressive when beating more experienced rivals such as Saphir Du Rheu at Cheltenham last time. He jumps superbly and will be front rank from the start affords the advantages of not needing luck in running and avoiding any mistakes from his fellow novices. From what we have seen it will take a really smart one to peg him back and if he is allowed to dictate the race at his own pace then he is going to take the world of beating. Romain De Senam will likely give him most to think about in the closing stages if he can stay within striking distance. There is nobody better than Paul Nicholls to prepare a novice chaser for the festival and his Fred Winter form from last season’s festival looks very decent.