Maghull Novices’ Chase

The Maghull Novices’ Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase run over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 176 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to novice steeplechasers – that is, horses that start the season without a win over regulation fences – aged five years and upwards.

The Maghull Novices’ Chase was inaugurated in 1954 and is named after the nearby town of Maghull in Sefton, Merseyside. The race was promoted from Listed to Grade 2 status in 1991 and from Grade 2 to Grade 1 status in 1995. The field typically features horses that contested the two-mile novice steeplechasing championship race at the Cheltenham Festival, the Arkle Challenge Trophy. Shiskin, for example, won both races in 2021. Looking ahead to the 2023 renewal, which is due off at 3.00pm on Grand National Day, Saturday, April 9, the likes of Jonbon and Sir Gerhard – both Grade 1-winning novice hurdlers with winning point-to-point form – may well emerge as leading contenders in due course.

It is also worth noting that reigning champion trainer Paul Nicholls is the most successful handler in the history of the Maghull Novices’ Chase with seven winners. Nicholls saddled Flagship Uberalles (1999), Armaturk (2002), Le Roi Miguel (2003), Twist Magic (2007), Tataniano (2010), San Benedeto (2017) and Diego Du Charmil (2018). Connections of Monmiral have made no secret of the fact that the 5-year-old Saint Des Saints gelding was bought to go steeplechasing and he remains one to bear in mind. Other notable winners down the years include Night Nurse (1979), Pearlyman (1986), Well Chief (2004), Sprinter Sacre (2012) and Douvan (2016), to name but a handful.

Ruby Walsh

Ruby Walsh took the world of National Hunt racing by surprise when, immediately after winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy in May, 2019, he announced his retirement. In his 24-year career, Walsh rode over 2,500 winners, including 59 at the Cheltenham Festival – 23 ahead of his nearest pursuer, Barry Geraghty – and for several years had the pick of rides from Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, both champion trainers on their respective sides of the Irish Sea. Indeed, Willie Mullins, who has been Irish Champion National Hunt Trainer every season since 2007/08, described Walsh as ‘the daddy of them all’.

In fact, it was for County Carlow-based handler that Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Alexander Banquet in the Champion Bumper, as an 18-year-old amateur rider in 1998. He turned professional at the start of the following season and, in the next 18 years, was leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival 11 times, including five consecutive years between 2013 and 2017. In 2009, Walsh set a record by riding seven winners over the four days and equalled that record in 2016, by which time he had left his role as stable jockey to Paul Nicholls after over a decade commuting between Britain and Ireland.

Of the four main ‘championship’ races run at the Cheltenham Festival, Walsh won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice on Kauto Star, trained by Nicholls, the Champion Hurdle four times, on Hurricane Fly (twice), Faugheen and Annie Power, all trained by Mullins, the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times, on Azertyuiop and Master Minded (twice), both trained by Nicholls, and the Stayers’ Hurdle five times on Big Buck’s (four times), trained by Nicholls, and Nichols Canyon, trained by Mullins. Elsewhere on the Festival programme, he also won the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle eight times on Quevega (six times), Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux.

December Novices’ Chase

As the title implies, the December Novices’ Chase is a Grade 2 novices’ steeplechase run over 2 miles, 7 furlongs and 214 yards at Doncaster in December. Open to horses aged four years and upwards, the race is slightly unusual insofar as it was inaugurated, at Lingfield Park, in 1988 before being transferred to Doncaster as recently as 2014.

In its original incarnation, the December Novices’ Chase achieved Grade 2 status in 1998, making it the only National Hunt race to be staged at the Surrey venue to do so. In 2012 and 2013, the race was run as the RSA Novices’ Trial Chase, although no winner before, during or since has won the Broadway Novices’ Chase, a.k.a. the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and, formerly, the RSA Chase, at the Cheltenham Festival.

Reigning champion trainer Paul Nicholls saddled the winner of the final running at Lingfield, Black Thunder (2013), and the winner of the first running at Doncaster, Virak (2014), together with Present Man (2016) and Threeunderthrufive (2021). Nicholls’ total of four winners makes him the most successful trainer in the history of the December Novices’ Chase.

At the time of writing, the 2022 renewal of the December Novices’ Chase, scheduled for Christmas Jumper Raceday, on Saturday, December 10, is less than a month away. Ante-post prices are not yet available but, if recent trends are to be believed, punters might do well to concentrate on horses aged six or seven years, who are officially rated 138, or higher, and have run at least twice during the current season. Paul Nicholls, who has 39% strike rate with his steeplechasers, so far, in the 2022/23 season, is reportedly ‘really strong’ in the novice chaser division, so anything he sends to Doncaster is worth close inspection.

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