The second race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the Arkle Chase is often run at a fast and furious end-to-end gallop where clean jumping is paramount to success.
With a total of twelve fences to clear, the race is open to horses aged five and upwards and is run on the old course at Cheltenham.
Won last year by one of the most impressive chasers I’ve ever seen in Sprinter Sacre, this year’s billing has plenty to live up to match such a performance we witnessed last March, however Nicky Henderson appears to have another exciting recruit in the shape of this year’s favourite Simonsig who has looked imperious on his two fencing starts thus far.
A few key stats to keep in mind when evaluating the race;
12/12 – returned at odds of 9/1 or below.
12/12 – had run no more than five times over the larger obstacles.
11/12 – finished in the first two in all completed chase starts.
11/12 – were rated above 142 over hurdles prior to going chasing.
With just two horses aged 8 or above winning this race since 2000, it has paid to side with younger horses. The two horses aged 8 were no ordinary horses though, with Moscow Flyer (2002) and Sizing Europe (2010) both taking this race – a quick glance through the field and I struggle to see anything of that quality from the older guard.
Fair Mix (IRE) (13.0f) — Dusty Too (Terimon (12.0f))
Notes: Probably a wise thing to start with the favourite and the clear class angle within the race. From the same stable as last year’s winner Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig has looked every inch as impressive prior to tackling Cheltenham and goes to the Festival a worthy favourite. He has a combined winning distance over fences of 84 lengths, and thrashed Hinterland by 35L at Kempton when last seen (giving him 11lb in weight also). If you take into account Captain Conan only beat Hinterland by 3.5L (giving 6lb) Simonsig is worth every inch of his 160 rating, if not more; that is of course you believe Captain Conan is a genuine 152-rated chaser. I think the faster pace of the Arkle will suit him, he has been to Cheltenham and done it before (winner of the Neptune in 2012) and is likely to get a lead into the race from Overturn. I really can’t see him getting beaten barring an accident in all honesty.
Arvico (FR) — Daraka (FR) (Akarad (FR ) (10.8f))
Notes: Hails from the powerful Willie Mullins outfit, he represents the best chase form from across the water and looked to have the race at his mercy when falling on his most recent start. He appears to only have one way of running (gung-ho from the front) and that could set up a pace duel with Overturn who likes to be deployed in the same way. He has proven stamina having won over two and a half miles in the Drinmore Novice Chase and the quicker ground won’t be a problem, but does have to overcome that age stat, and heading into a race like the Arkle after a recent fall isn’t an ideal preparation in my opinion. I think he’d be better suited to the Jewson to be honest, and that would be the route I’d opt for if in charge of his running plans, but sadly I’m not.
Barathea (IRE) (9.7f) — Kristal Bridge (Kris (9.9f))
Notes: A very likeable sort from the Donald McCain stable who has proven he can turn his hand to pretty much anything thrown at him over the years. A good staying handicapper on the flat having won both the Northumberland Plate and Chester Cup he proved equally high-class over hurdles winning a Coral Hurdle and Fighting Fifth before his best result of all coming second in last year’s Champion Hurdle. I had wondered at the start of the year whether he would take to chasing but his three starts to date have seen three completely dominant front-running displays, with quick and clean economical jumping en-route to punishing his opposition by 14, 25, and 29 lengths. The way he disposed of Tetlami last time out was impressive, and his jumping was absolutely faultless. I think his chance depends on if Arvika Ligeonniere lines-up in the race as they could well cut each other’s throats in front, handing it on a silver platter to Simonsig – that said Overturn is a high-class recruit and is not to be underestimated.
Beneficial (14.3f) — Supreme Breda (IRE) (Supreme Leader (12.4f))
Notes: Shouldn’t be overlooked on the back of that performance in winning the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last time. He won with authority in a good time, and whilst it is questionable if he’d of gotten anywhere near Arvika Ligeonniere had that one not fallen, it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss him on the basis of that. He travelled well throughout the contest and Oscars Well was waving the white flag before crashing through the last. He has grade 1 winning form over hurdles last season and despite not lasting the trip at Newbury ran Harry Topper to within 1.5L over three miles back in November – and given that one thrashed some fair 140 rated horses today that was a creditable effort looking back. The likely fast-pace of this race will suit this horse who travels extremely well throughout his races, and should bring his extra stamina into play up the hill and I could see him running on into a place at large odds (40-1 currently).
Balko (FR) — Merciki (FR) (Villez (USA) )
Notes: Questions marks over whether he is going to run at the Cheltenham Festival now after taking a slithering fall at Warwick the weekend. He looked to have the race at his mercy when still on the bridle, but a costly mistake put Daryl Jacob on the deck and head into a championship race off the back of that is a concern. Paul Nicholls has hinted in the press that they may skip The Festival with him after that and it could well be the wisest thing to do, given that being only a five-year-old he has time on his side.
Oscars Well started off his campaign well but has looked held in his recent attempts in graded company. He doesn’t look like he’ll be as good over fences as he was over hurdles and he needs to brush up his jumping to have any sort of chance in a race of this stature.
Majala had a very hard race in the Kingmaker at Warwick the weekend and would have been beaten by Fago so couldn’t realistically see him being anywhere near good enough to win this.
Captain Conan and Aupcharlie both look to be heading for the Jewson, along with Module and there doesn’t look like being an awful lot else from the remainder of the field.
I think a lot of this race is going to come down to tactics and whether Arvika Ligeonniere will line up, and whether he and Overturn will take each other on at a breakneck pace at the head of affairs.
Whatever way I look at it though the manner of how SIMONSIG travels through his races they are going to be sitting ducks for him at the top of the hill, and his ability to stay further at pace (highlighted by his win in the Neptune Novices Hurdle last year) will stand him in good stead here.
He is a high-class recruit and could turn out to be one of the very few realistic dangers to stable-mate Sprinter Sacre in time providing they are not kept apart and I really couldn’t advise taking him on with anything here despite his prohibitive odds.
Of the remainder I can genuinely see a big run from the Tony Martin trained Benefficient who has done nothing wrong so far, and his high cruising speed and ability to stay further will also give him a chance of hitting the frame when many have cried enough – he would be my each-way alternative at around 40-1.
That’s what I think? What do you think?