John Oaksey National Hunt Chase
First run at Cheltenham in 1911, this historic race is no place for weak novices. Four miles around one of the toughest jump courses in the world, certainly sorts the men from the boys…..
What happened in 2013?
Back In Focus, thought of in many circles as a Grand National horse of the future, justified market support to get punters off to a flier in the first race of the second day.
Readily available at 3/1 in the morning, many tipping lines hammered into Willie Mullins’ charge come the off and duly delivered the goods at a starting price of 9/4. However, it was far from plain sailing for favourite backers as the horse needed every yard of the four miles to nail a gallant front running effort from the equally as progressive Tofino Bay.
As with all renewals of this race, there were mixed abilities throughout the field in this long-distance novice chase, which was named in the honour of racing legend John Oaksey. Some horses were just running as a day out for connections, but the front two looked classy sorts and wouldn’t have been out of place running in the RSA Chase.
Back In Focus was a Grade One winner coming into the contest, unbeaten over fences and had Willie Mullins in his corner, so the market support was inevitable. Things didn’t look good on ground that would have been a tad lively for him with six fences to jump as he made a big error.
Tofino Bay and Highland Lodge (who faded to finish down the field) strode on with three fences to jump as it looked a match race between the pair. However, Back In Focus is all stamina and thrived as the race entered slogging territory.
Under Mullins, he kept on galloping and although Tofino Bay looked to have the race won coming over the last, the winner pulled out that little bit extra to get his head in front and win by half a length. Both look very capable staying chasers and will make their mark at the top level this season if staying sound.
The strength of the form was held up by the third Godsmejudge, who finished a very well beaten 19 lengths behind the front two but showed his talent by subsequently running out a very classy winner of the Scottish Grand National on his next start, despite only being a novice.
2014 Major Players
Like most novice Festival races, it almost impossible to have a confident prediction about who will line up on the day. Please feel free to return here nearer the race for a lowdown on all the big challengers.
Betting advice: strong race trends
Since the BHA dispensed with the penalty aspect of this race in 2011, the gruelling novice chase has been a friend of the punters, producing three consecutive well-backed favourites (Chicago Grey 5/1, Teaforthree 5/1 and Back In Focus 9/4).
Much like all other staying chases at the Festival, previous experience of tackling Cheltenham’s lung-busting track is a huge advantage when undertaking this challenge.
Four of the last seven winners had all had a run at Cheltenham before coming back to win at the Festival.
One trainer springs to mind when assessing this contest, Jonjo O’Neill, his record is pretty stunning for such a hard race to win. Since 2002, O’Neill has won the race four times and seems to always target his classy staying chasers at this race rather than the RSA.
None really standout as key, but It’s best to keep an eye on a novice chase at Cheltenham’s November meeting over an extended three miles as both Teaforthree and Chicago Grey featured before coming back to win five months later.
Bookmakers have yet to price up this market as there is little point in doing so as its nigh-on impossible to plan which horses will undertake this challenge.