2019 December Novices’ Chase tips – Who will prevail in Doncaster’s Saturday showpiece?

Jon Vine takes a look through the runners in an excellent renewal of the December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster and provides readers with his selections.

For many readers, Doncaster will forever be synonymous with flat racing, having staged the St Leger since that famous Classic was created in 1776. There are, however, several excellent races held at this venue throughout the National Hunt season and Saturday marks one of the biggest days in Doncaster’s jumps calendar.

The feature race of the afternoon is undoubtedly the December Novices’ Chase, a Grade Two contest which has been won by some classy horses down the years. Sam Spinner (7/4 Ladbrokes) leads the way in the betting for Saturday’s renewal, having begun his chasing career with two comfortable wins. I, however, feel the favourite could be vulnerable.

Yes, Jedd O’Keefe’s charge battled bravely after looking beat to win on his chasing debut, and proved he needed at least three miles when defeating Ardlethen the last day. Despite those victories, I don’t think Sam Spinner is any better over fences than he is over hurdles – a view the handicapper clearly shares – and there are certainly two or three really progressive chasers stacked up behind the market leader.

If he were to lose on Saturday, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sam Spinner back over hurdles come the New Year, with a view to a third crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle in March.

Sam Spinner could be a vulnerable favourite on Saturday.

Although he impressed on a number of occasions over hurdles, it was clear even then that chasing was going to be Windsor Avenue’s (2/1 Ladbrokes) game. Brian Ellison’s charge bolted up on his first look at fences, beating Western Ryder and a subsequent 11-length winner by over 20 lengths. Windsor Avenue then made it two-from-two in similarly impressive style at Carlisle, making all under a winner’s penalty to beat Ballymoy by a convincing margin.

Next up is Diablo De Rouhet (5/1 William Hill), who’s improved remarkably since making the move to Nicky Henderson’s stable in the spring. Nico De Boinville’s mount cruised to a comfortable win on his stable debut over fences, before being narrowly headed by a runner who simply preferred the summer ground at Bangor in August. Diablo De Rouhet bounced back with an excellent victory over subsequent wide-margin winner, Clondaw Anchor at Uttoxeter, before warming up for a tilt at a Grade prize with a comfortable triumph in a Handicap Hurdle at Newbury.

Kim Bailey claimed this prize with Rocky’s Treasure 12 months ago, but it would be a shock to me if Imperial Aura (7/1 William Hill) was good enough to help his trainer retain the trophy. Following a decent third on his reappearance over hurdles, Bailey’s charge then carried odds of 1/25 into his chasing debut at Fakenham. The favourite came home on his own, as the two rivals he faced failed to complete, but his jumping was sketchy at times and Imperial Aura will be under much more scrutiny on Saturday.

Stoney Mountain (13/2 William Hill) is one of two entrants who could make their chasing debut in this Grade Two. In a performance reminiscent of Paisley Park’s triumph the year previous, Henry Daly’s mount surged home with a dazzling late blast to win the Grade Three Handicap Hurdle on Betfair Chase day. Stoney Mountain has always looked a raw chaser in the making and he has to be greatly respected, despite a lack of experience over the larger obstacles.

Another newcomer to watch closely is Aye Right (20/1 Paddy Power), who ended last season with a strong triumph over Before Midnight in a three-mile handicap at Ayr. Harriet Graham’s burgeoning stable star has looked better than ever since his return, winning another handicap before an impressive weight-carrying second at Carlisle, and Aye Right has the potential to run much better than his current price suggests.

Rounding off the field is the most experienced chaser in the field, Solomon Grey (20/1 Paddy Power). Dan Skelton has pitched his charge in with some classy horses in recent runs, finishing well off the pace in the Rising Stars at Wincanton and some 60-lengths behind Cyrname and Altior at Ascot. On paper, this seems an easier assignment, but I still don’t expect Solomon Grey to be that competitive over a three-mile trip which seems unlikely to suit.

As I mentioned previously, I’m completely comfortable siding against Sam Spinner. The most pressing question remains, who to take him on with?

I think Stoney Mountain will shape up into a useful novice chaser, but I’d rather side with a runner who’s already jumped fences in competition in a Grade Two of this quality. Diablo De Rouhet has to be respected too. Yet, it’s WINDSOR AVENUE who makes the loudest case for selection.

Brian Ellison’s charge has hardly made a mistake on his first couple of runs over fences. Windsor Avenue was barely tested on debut, but the form of that race has been boosted. Ballymoy – a 147-rated chaser in his own right – then pulled upsides Brian Hughes’ mount on the approach to the second-last at Carlisle. Yet, the penalty-carrying leader pulled effortlessly away from his rival with some fantastic leaps down the home stretch, winning easily by 12 lengths.

Windsor Avenue flies over a fence during one of his wins this season.

I truly believe that Windsor Avenue is a Grade One-quality novice chaser. Soft ground is perfect and switching to a left-handed track won’t be an issue. The only slight unknown is the trip, having only won over two-and-a-half so far, but Windsor Avenue is a former pointer who looks to have a fantastic engine. His future may actually lie over three miles.

This is going to be a cracking race and I’m confident Windsor Avenue will come away from Doncaster with his 100% record over fences intact.