Given that Willie Mullins completed the clean sweep of the three major novice chases at the last Cheltenham Festival with Un De Sceaux, Vautour and Don Poli, it is only right that optimism is now high surrounding Pont Alexandre for the remainder of the current campaign.
After 998 days off the track, Pont Alexandre returned for a beginners chase at Punchestown and was highly impressive on his fencing debut to win easily by eight lengths.
This was the first time he had been seen since suffering his only career defeat in the 2013 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival when third to The New One.
The vibes are that the eight-year-old is Mullins’ best novice chase prospect this season, but which Festival contest he lines up in remains difficult to predict.
Listening to the betting suggests that the RSA Chase over 3m is the most likely, with Pont Alexandre priced up at 10/1.
Mullins has indicated that the horse will no longer be held up as he was in the Neptune and will instead be allowed to stroll on as he pleases. Comparisons have already been made with Coneygree, who did exactly this for 3m2f in the last Cheltenham Gold Cup when galloping the field into submission.
However, for novice chasers, this strategy is surely better suited to the JLT over 2m4f. An RSA where they blast away from the off would become a real war of attrition and this is arguably not what a horse that has been injured for so long requires.
It is also interesting that Pont Alexandre ran in the Neptune over an intermediate trip and not the Albert Bartlett over 3m when a novice hurdler.
This suggests that Mullins has no concerns over the horse having the necessary speed over the lesser distance and allowing him to gallop from the front in the JLT will prevent the race being set up for those with debateable stamina.
Douvan comes from the same trainer/owner combination of Mullins and Rich Ricci and is the heavy ante-post favourite for the Arkle Chase over 2m.
Given what that horse has shown over hurdles and fences in his career, there will be a temptation for some trainers to assume they can’t win that race and target the JLT instead, expecting a moderate early pace that won’t push stamina limitations too much.
However, an end-to-end gallop from Pont Alexandre would prevent the JLT from turning from a crawl into a sprint, which is what the speedier types would prefer.
Pont Alexandre is 14/1 to win the JLT. The only obvious benefit of going in the RSA based on the last Festival is that the longer race was worth an additional £17,000 for the winner, but money isn’t always everything to the already-wealthy Ricci family.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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