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Oscar Whisky primed for JLT Novices’ assignment at the Festival

Two-time Aintree Hurdle winner Oscar Whisky’s connections gave a clear indication this month that the gelding will run in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival, and after reversing form with Taquin Du Seuil last time out he looks outstanding value at 9/1 on Cheltenham Thursday.

The nine-year-old – whose three runs over the bigger obstacles so far have all been around Prestbury Park – failed to boss his Chase debut last November, a bizarre race impeded by a slow pace and the spoiling presence of The Cockney Mackem.

Despite giving 5lb to the favourite, Taquin Du Seuil got up a neck in front of Henderson’s inmate, but Oscar Whisky roared back a month later by beating Wonderful Charm over the same obstacles.

Although the runner-up conceded 8lb that day, Oscar Whisky’s performance suggested there was more improvement to come and so it proved in the Dipper Novices Chase on New Year’s Day when, back on level weights with his debut vanquisher, Barry Geraghty cadged him over the fences for a three-quarters of a length win in the mud.

Before the race, owner Dai Walters stated his belief that the horse would go in the two and a half mile JLT Novices Chase – formerly the Jewson – at the Festival and Henderson repeated that assertion in the winners’ enclosure.

The Seven Barrows handler has also entered Oscar Whisky in the Arkle, which he can be backed to win at 12/1, but he last raced under 2m4f in an all-weather run-out almost two years and 10 races ago.

It’s difficult to see the 53-year-old dropping him back in trip now after two promising Chase runs over 2m 5f, especially seen as the four horses ahead of him in the JLT betting look vulnerable to an Oscar Whisky challenge.

Willie Mullins pair Champagne Fever and Felix Yonger are both shorter-priced pokes for the Arkle than they are for the JLT – in which they are 6/1 and 8/1 respectively – and the former lost some lustre when well beaten by Defy Logic at Leopardstown last time out.

Paul Nicholls could point to the weight disparity to account for Wonderful Charm’s loss at Cheltenham, but few would doubt Oscar Whiskey’s class given his past record over smaller obstacles and he clearly came on significantly between his first and second Chase wins.

At 6/1 co-favourite odds, Nicholls’ novice chaser looks far too skinny as his three wins over fences came in far less exalted company, with the six-year-old sent off at 11/8 or shorter each time.

Another rematch with Taquin Du Seuil – who’s joint-third favourite in the JLT at 8/1 – may be next up for Oscar Whisky at Sandown at the start of February, where punters will get another chance to measure Henderson’s charge’s progress.

A Cheltenham Festival win may be missing from Oscar Whiskey’s impressive CV, but he’s won half of his 12 races at the Gloucestershire track, came third in the 2011 Champion Hurdle and the 9/1 about him looks great value given the expected field.