Will another star emerge from novice chase won by Native River and Thistlecrack?


Ladbrokes John Francome Novices' Chase | Grade 2 | 2m7f | 4yo+ | RUK

We are sometimes guilty of talking too glibly about horses having tough acts to follow, but that's not the case when it comes to the winner of the novice being run for the first time in recognition of former champion jockey John Francome.

The 2m7f Grade 2, traditionally registered as the Worcester Novices' Chase and transferred to Newbury in 2000, might not have quite the long-term history of the track's Berkshire Novices' Chase, but it always takes plenty of winning and for the last two years has gone to two genuine stars of the sport.

Two years ago Native River beat Definitly Red here on his way to Grade 1 novice success at Aintree and even more celebrated victories in last season's Hennessy Gold Cup and Coral Welsh Grand National.

Last year it was the launchpad for Thistlecrack's brilliant and near unprecedented novice success in the 32Red King George VI Chase, a race the 1992 Worcester Novices' Chase winner Barton Bank had also won.

Today's winner is more likely to go for the Grade 1 novice option at Kempton than to follow in the footsteps of Thistlecrack, but wherever he goes, he is one worth following.

Black Corton is very much the one to beat, and success here for his conditional rider Bryony Frost, who keeps the ride despite being unable to claim, would provide an obvious boost before she takes on 20 rivals on Present Man in the fiercely competitive Ladbroke Trophy – not that Frost is short of confidence.

Frost has already won five times on the six-year-old, including at Cheltenham on ground that was expected to be much softer than ideal, and trainer Paul Nicholls describes him as "a revelation".

He said: "I was going to go straight to Kempton but he seems really well, it's a valuable prize, conditions suit him and he is not badly in with a penalty. He thrives on racing.

"Some very good horses have won this and everything he has done has astonished me. He beat two very good horses last time and seems to be improving. He is rated 155 which I think is higher than Denman was at the end of his novice chasing career."

Small fields are the norm here, and Black Corton faces only four rivals, but none should be underestimated.

Sir Ivan failed to win in five chases last season but has turned a corner. Harry Fry said: "Sir Ivan had a frustrating spell of things with him last season but he has now won two on the bounce. Hopefully he can keep progressing but he will need to in this. We felt while he was a novice to have go at this rather than the following handicap."

Fountains Windfall gained his recent novice win at Southwell, but it looked strong form and the longer trip will suit. He has a chance as have Wait For Me, a winner despite jumping poorly on his chase debut and then a faller despite jumping better at Chepstow, and Elegant Escape.

Wait For Me took a crunching fall that day but Philip Hobbs reports he was "absolutely fine" afterwards.

"He's done plenty of schooling since and has jumped well, as he did at Chepstow until he came down. Realistically he needs to find a bit, but he should run well," Hobbs added. 

Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin, is making no comparisons with either Thistlecrack or Native River but pointed out: "Elegant Escape has run two solid seconds, first of all in a race that has worked out well and then at Exeter against a smart opponent. We are confident the track will suit him and he's hopefully progressing."