The Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase is the second race on the opening day of the Festival and is considered the Champion Chase for novices. Generally fields for the Arkle are smaller than most Festival races but that doesn’t stop it from being a very real test for novices, who must run, travel and jump faster than they ever have before. Unsurprisingly, with such an examination offered, the race has a good record of producing future stars, with the likes of Flagship Uberalles, Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop, Well Chief and Voy Por Ustedes all tasting success. Open to 5yo’s and upwards, run over a two mile trip and worth £150,000, let’s take a look through the main contenders of this years field.
Firstly, I am not a person who takes much interest in trends but even the most naïve of gamblers must know you can’t preview the Cheltenham Festival without outlining the key trends associated with each race. With that in mind:
French bred horses have won 7 out of the last 15 races, yet have represented less than 25% of the competitors.
Only 1 favourite has won since 1992, yet since Waterloo Boy won in 1989 at 20/1, the biggest winning SP has been 11/1.
Again since Waterloo Boy’s victory aged 8, only one other horse above 7 has emerged victorious, Moscow Flyer in 2002.
21 of the last 22 winners had finished first or second in a all completed chase starts.
An interesting field look set to line up this year, including a Supreme Novices’ winner, last years fast finishing Supreme Novices’ third and a former Champion Hurdle favourite.
Captain Cee Bee
Germany (USA) – Elea Victoria (IRE) (Sharp Victor (USA)
Notes: Looked a class act when making it three form three over hurdles by beating Binocular to land the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but pulled up a month later at Aintree after picking up an injury that saw him sidelined through out the following season. Showed his talent still remained despite a switch to chasing when returning to win a beginners chase and then traveling all over Sizing Europe with Osana well beaten in behind when tipping up over the final fence at Leopardstown. Confidence recovered with an easy victory since, though a mistake at the final fence again might have put doubts into the heads of a few followers. Heavy support recently makes him clear favourite and without doubt the one to beat.
Pistolet Bleu (IRE) – Jennie Dun (IRE) (Mandalus (UK)
Henry De Bromhead
Notes: A one time Champion Hurdle favourite, his inability to stay two miles was exposed at the highest level, but after defeat to Solwhit in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, his attentions have switched to chasing. Back at Punchestown he made a bloodless debut over the bigger obstacles and returned in October to rout Harchibald and others in a Grade 3. Similar story in November upped in Grade again but may well have had to settle for the runners up position had Captain Cee Bee not fallen at the final fence in the Grade 1 Bord Na Mona. Like his hurdling career, he will no doubt have a host of followers but I’m not one of them and there are a couple of other entrants I prefer.
Second Empire (IRE) – Back To Roost (IRE) (Presenting (UK)
Notes: A lightly raced horse with 4 wins from 8 starts in all sphere’s, he has only once finished unplaced, when a sh-hd fourth on hurdling debut. Third at big odds in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle he has now turned to chasing and opened with an easy success in a Warwick novice chase. He only beat four rivals that day who haven’t done much since but he did jump and travel very well. He went on to record a second success in early December, winning the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase where again he jumped impeccably, beating Crack Away Jack and Tchico Polos. Plans to head straight to the festival from there have been upheld, Sizing Europe similar, and although you have to go back a fair few years to find an Arkle winner without a prep race in the same year, he clearly runs well fresh and fitness shouldn’t be an issue. Somersby deserves his place towards the top of the market and has big claims.
Cadoudal (FR) – Libertina (FR) (Balsamo (FR)
Notes: Looked a likely runner in the RSA but runs over two miles on Saturday and if running well, could have his target switched to the Arkle. Can’t argue with his French form, and an impressive winner at Kempton in December. He jumped really well that day but a drop from three miles to two, to run against some of the horses likely to line up in this field, must be seen as a negative. Clearly talented but despite what he does at the weekend and how he does it, I would prefer his chances in the RSA Chase than in here.
King’s Theatre (IRE) – Disallowed (IRE) (Distinctly North (USA)
Notes: Decent enough hurdler but a touch shy of the top level. Has won both a beginners and a novices’ chase with relative ease while jumping well, but nothing much to the opposition of either race. Possible place claims but hard to see him beat some of the classier horses above and not of interest at current odds.
Norwich (IRE) – Hot Line (IRE) (Riverhead (USA)
Notes: Lightly raced horse with just 7 runs which have yielded 4 wins. Never highly tried over hurdles before switched to chasing, when winning his debut at Navan cosily. Strongly fancied for the Arkle at Leopardstown but beaten by An Cathaoir Mor, who’s expected to re-oppose, but he’s surely De Bromhead’s second string and hard to fancy Sports Line with that in mind.
Sassanian (USA) – Rosa Carola (FR) (Rose Laurel (IRE)
Notes: Lightly raced over hurdles but gave the impression he was more than useful. Destroyed a small field at Exeter on chase debut and a comfortable success followed at Cheltenham in November. Shock defeat since in a three runner race at long odds on, where he jumped right and more importantly, jumped badly. That is a serious worry, as he will not have such an easy time up in front in this, and so he’s hard to fancy.
In my opinion Sizing Europe would have been beaten by Captain Cee Bee and it’s hard to ignore just how well he was going at the time of his fall. In fact, it is hard to oppose him at all, but the price has continued to drop from around the 25/1’s some people snaffled up to around 7/2 currently and although I think he is the one to beat, I prefer the profile of SOMERSBY. I think he is the better jumper, is clearly talented and looks a real top chaser in the making. For me he is the one to be on but a cheeky reverse forecast bet might also be worthwhile.