Cheltenham: Valseur Lido over Vautour in JLT as Mullins charges on

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The JLT Novices’ Chase is only four years old, but so far the favourite is yet to land one. While that may be bad news for Vautour, who heads the betting for Thursday’s opening race, the competitiveness of the field means there is no shortage of alternatives.

Beyond the Rich Ricci-owned Supreme Novices’ Hurdle champion, who is a 2/1 chance, three other entrants could possibly claim favouritism for the JLT on another day.

Ptit Zig, Valseur Lido and Apache Stronghold all make strong cases for selection over the 2m4f New Course gallop and, along with the Willie Mullins favourite, their chances are explored below:

Vautour – 2/1

Followed up his hugely impressive win in the Supreme by beating Apache Stronghold in his hurdling finale by 3½l.

He has won two of his three starts over the larger obstacles since but finished second in the only one of those to carry any real quality and hasn’t been tested at this trip over fences.

Then there’s the favourites curse.

Ptit Zig – 7/2

Paul Nicholls hasn’t saddled a placed horse in this since it stated, let alone a winner. His chances of changing that with this six-year-old hit a snag when it’s considered that his only run in Grade 1 company saw him fall last time out.

Valseur Lido – 5/1

Has traded blows with Apache Stronghold in a pair of Grade 1s in and around this trip in last two starts.

Lost the latest by just half a length, but an 8l win prior to that suggests he has the beating of Noel Meade’s gelding. Running for the in-form Mullins yard boosts his chances too.

Apache Stronghold – 5/1

Yet to finish outside the top two in four runs since being sent chasing at the start of the season.

The seven-year-old has contested more Grade 1 chases than any of his rival trio and has performed notably in each despite competitive fields (was second to impressive RSA winner Don Poli the time before last).

An inability to find extra in the closing stages often costs him and could see him take no better than silver here.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

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