After watching Oscar Whisky win a Grade One over big obstacles at the first attempt by nine lengths, champion trainer Nicky Henderson would be forgiven for feeling perplexed that the nine-year-old drifted in the betting for the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The former high-class hurdler, who finished six and a quarter lengths behind Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, drifted from 8/1 to a top-price 10/1 with Ladbrokes for his likely Cheltenham assignment after seeing off modest opposition at 1/6 odds in the Scilly Isles Chase.
Although Oscar Whisky’s jumping was far from fluent and 16/1 runner-up Manyriverstocross stayed with him until the last fence was jumped, Barry Geraghty’s mount showed his class by burning off Alan King’s horse in the run in.
Considering that was his fourth run over fences, of which he has won three, and taking into account the heavy going at the Surrey track, punters may well rue abandoning Henderson’s prolific inmate.
Of the five shorter-priced fancies for the JLT Novices’ Chase at the festival, Oscar Whisky has already beaten Wonderful Dream and Taquin Du Seuil, who are priced up at 6/1 and 7/1 respectively, in consecutive races around the Prestbury Park fences this season. 7/1 shot Champagne Fever looks much more likely to go in the Arkle, which was also thought to be 8/1 shot Felix Yonger’s likely festival assignment before the Willie Mullins eight-year-old’s nine-length loss to Trifolium in a recent Grade One chase at Leopardstown.
Harry Fry’s Vukovar may have romped home at Newbury in his second start since coming over from France, but the five-year-old is yet to even race in graded company, never mind win, so the 8/1 on offer about him in the JLT holds little appeal. Henderson’s contender has won six times around Cheltenham, placed twice at the festival in Grade One events and won the Aintree Hurdle in 2011 and 2012 over the same 2m 4f distance he’ll be faced with this spring.
At 10/1 odds, the improving chaser rates a cracking prospect to get into the each-way money at worst during the Gloucestershire track’s showpiece week.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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