Mullins dominates novice entry
Entries have been released for the three Grade One novices' chases run at the Cheltenham Festival and for the J T McNamara National Hunt Chase.
Altior (with Min background) winning the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Unbeaten chasers Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson who has enjoyed five Arkle winners, and Min (Willie Mullins IRE) are on course for mouth-watering clash in the £175,000 Racing Post Arkle Novices' Chase (33 entries) on Tuesday March 14.
The pair met in the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, with Altior running out a convincing seven-length winner over his rival.
Mullins, who has captured the last two renewals with Un De Sceaux and Douvan, also has 2016 Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle victor Yorkhill and prolific mare Listen Dear among his eight entries. Identity Thief, sixth in last year's Stan James Champion Hurdle,is one of five entries for fellow Irish handler Henry de Bromhead.
Paul Nicholls has entered Le Prezien and Politologue, both Grade Two winners over fences this season, while Malcolm Jefferson is also doubly represented by Cloudy Dream and recent Grade Two victor Waiting Patiently.
Ante-post favourite Belshill (Mullins) tops 55 entries, the highest level since 2010, for the £175,000 RSA Novices' Chase over three miles. A Grade One winner over hurdles last season, Bellshill made it two from two over fences with a smooth success over stablemate Haymount in a Grade Two contest at Limerick on Boxing Day.
The 26 Irish-trained contenders for the RSA Novices' Chase also include last year's Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle runner-up Alpha Des Obeaux (Mouse Morris) and Grade One winner Coney Island (Eddie Harty).
Coney Island impressed in winning the Drinmore Novice Chase over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse in December and lost nothing in defeat when going down by a half-length to Our Duke in the three-mile Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. The JP McManus-owned six-year-old also has an entry in the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half miles
Harty said: "Coney Island had a break after his run at Christmas. He is back now and we are looking forward to March.
"I thought it was a very good run at Leopardstown. He might have been found out by the three miles on the day, but I could not have been happier. I certainly wouldn't swap him for anything.
"I think distances of the JLT and RSA come alike to him to be honest. He has got the pace for two and a half and I think, in the right circumstances, three miles is not a problem either. I am quite happy to go either way.
"It is not like he is a dour stayer or just all speed. He seems to have a bit of both and, because of that, it makes sense to wait until nearer the time before deciding his target.
"Whether he has another run before Cheltenham, I am not sure. We will just play it by ear."
Other high-profile names in the RSA Novices' Chase include recent Warwick scorer American (Harry Fry) and Might Bite (Henderson), who fell at the last with the Grade One Kauto Star Novices' Chase at his mercy.
Yorkhill, as short as 6/4 with some bookmakers, headlines a record 66 entries for the £150,000 JLT Novices' Chase. The seven-year-old has won his two chase starts in good style and already boasts winning form at The Festival, having defeated Yanworth in last season's Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
There are a record 31 Irish-trained contenders for the JLT Novices' Chase, with 11 hailing from the stable of Mullins. The Mullins' entries also include G1-winning hurdler Bleu Et Rouge, who did well to win on his chasing debut at Leoapardstown over Christmas, 2013 Weatherbys Champion Bumper victor Briar Hill and lightly-raced American Tom.
Henderson's nine entries, the most of any British trainer, are headed by Buveur D'Air who was third to Altior and Min in the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Last year's Stand James Champion Hurdle fifth Top Notch and Whisper, who is a dual winner over fences at Cheltenham this season, are also engaged for the Lambourn handler.
Nicholls has a six-strong team featuring Grade Two chase winner Clan Des Obeaux, Frodon, who captured the Grade Three Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at The International in December, and 2015 Coral Cup hero Aux Ptits Soins.
The four-mile £120,000 J T McNamara National Hunt Chase, named in the memory of the former leading amateur rider who passed away in July and the longest race of The Festival, is proving an excellent pointer to the future. Last year's race featured Native River, Vicente, Vieux Lion Rouge, Noble Endevor, Definitly Red and Shantou Flyer who have landed valuable handicaps in the meantime.
Among the 71 entries for the 2017 renewal are the Rebecca Curtis-trained pair of Aurillac and Bigbadjohn, exciting French import Calett Mad (Nigel Twiston-Davies), 2015 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle victor Martello Tower (Margaret Mullins IRE) and Singlefarmpayment (Tom George).
All four races have boosted prize money this year.
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