The Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase is routinely small but perfectly formed, a race of few runners but among them is usually a champion. In recent years those that have stepped through this portal into greatness include Best Mate, Azertyuiop, Thisthatandtother and Fundamentalist.
Now a rather plump gathering of 10 go to post tomorrow at Cheltenham in an attempt to continue the lineage. As usual, all the big houses are on duty. Nigel Twiston-Davies, who won this 12 months ago with Fundamentalist, now relies on Va Vavoom, while the Somerset three are represented by Albuhera (Paul Nicholls), Chilling Place (Philip Hobbs) and Tamarinbleu (Martin Pipe).
In addition, the lure is so powerful, that three horses travel from Ireland for the contest, including an animal which was fourth in last season's Champion Hurdle. Accordion Etoile (2.05) made his chasing debut at Limerick just over a month ago and though he did not win, the impression he created behind Watson Lake provoked one bookmaker to make him favourite for the Arkle Chase at the Festival of 2006. Downpours hit Cheltenham late yesterday afternoon but Paul Nolan, Accordion Etoile's trainer, said only further rain would jeopardise his charge's participation.
We know that Accordion Etoile can operate at both Prestbury Park and this period in the calendar as he did so on the corresponding card last year in the Greatwood Hurdle. Some grand old warriors turn up for that contest this time around, including Rooster Booster, but the most likely winner is Self Defense (2.40), who was a close second to Day Flight in a Group race on the Flat at Newbury three weeks ago.
Some talented Irish runners stay at home tomorrow, including the most talented of all, Moscow Flyer, the highest-rated horse in Britain and Ireland. Jessica Harrington's gelding embarks on yet another campaign in the Fortria Chasse at Navan, a race he has won for the last two years. Moscow Flyer faces just four equine opponents as the near 12-year-old tries to keep father time, the biggest foe of them all, at bay.Reuse content