Racing: Exciting Azertyuiop looks the alpha bet

Novice chases are popularly supposed to be the bane of punters' lives, as the hazard of a series of obstacles on the way from the start to the finish is magnified by the inexperience of those attempting to cross them. For a horse, to do so is not innate; left to its own devices, it will make every effort to go round an impediment. Rather, jumping is an athletic art that has to be learnt and, happily for all, standards of teaching are now higher than they have ever been. Gone are the days when the beginner was thrust into the maelstrom of a race to learn on the job.

Novice chases are popularly supposed to be the bane of punters' lives, as the hazard of a series of obstacles on the way from the start to the finish is magnified by the inexperience of those attempting to cross them. For a horse, to do so is not innate; left to its own devices, it will make every effort to go round an impediment. Rather, jumping is an athletic art that has to be learnt and, happily for all, standards of teaching are now higher than they have ever been. Gone are the days when the beginner was thrust into the maelstrom of a race to learn on the job.

Burgeoning skills will be fully tested this afternoon in the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase, the season's first significant test for the latest intake of chasers.

The Grade Two contest, over two miles of the Old Course, is one of the stepping stones to the greater glory of the meeting at Prestbury Park in March, giving, as it does, invaluable practice over the track's undulating contours and imposing fences. Last year's winner, Seebald, went on to take second place in the two-mile novices' championship, the Arkle Trophy. His predecessor was denied a run at the Festival because of foot and mouth, but he – Best Mate – made up for that omission in the Gold Cup itself eight months ago.

Today, the field of six likely starters – Colonial Sunset is a doubtful runner – contains aspirants from four of the very best academies. The meeting of Azertyuiop, trained by Paul Nicholls, Fait Le Jojo (Philip Hobbs), Golden Alpha (Martin Pipe) and Stars Out Tonight (Henrietta Knight) should establish the division's initial pecking order.

The clash should give Azertyuiop the chance to show that he is the real deal he looked on his chasing debut at Market Rasen, where he failed to disturb a twig of birch as he sauntered home. The French-bred five-year-old, who owes his name to the letters in the top line of a Gallic keyboard, was a pretty good hurdler last season but his career over the smaller obstacles was only ever an exercise in marking time before taking up his true métier.

Nicholls has paid him a considerable compliment, saying: "He's the best novice chaser I've had through my hands since Flagship Uberalles. His way of jumping has always looked like that of a chaser, round, not flat. He has always looked a natural."

The gelding's owner, John Hales, can appreciate good jumping technique, as Nick Skelton's top-class show-jumper, Arko, is also his. And Azertyuiop has a hard act to follow on the track, as his owner's red-and-yellow silks were borne with conspicuous honour by One Man.

In terms of experience, Golden Alpha is today's A- student. The eight-year-old, who was runner-up in the Festival bumper three years ago, has already run, and won, four times over fences, hardly coming off the bridle against nonentities and leaping with an accuracy that is fine testament to his tutors, principally Jonothan Lower, at Nicholashayne. The miles already under his hooves will help him provide a stern test for his rivals and Pipe is keen for him to extend his education to today's tricky course. "For a horse with the Festival as a long-term aim, to run, and preferably win, round the course is essential," he said.

At Market Rasen, Fait Le Jojo was tracking Azertyuiop and moving comfortably when an error gave his jockey no chance of retaining the partnership, but Hobbs has not shirked the rematch.

Stars Out Tonight was not as good a hurdler as Best Mate, but has so far matched him as a chaser, winning the same Exeter contest on his debut as did his celebrated stablemate.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home