The Arkle Chase is the second race on Champion Day (Tuesday) at the Cheltenham Festival. The grey aeroplane Simonsig made it back-to-back victories for trainer Nicky Henderson last year having won it the previous year with the excellent Sprinter Sacre.
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. The contest is usually run at a furious end-to-end gallop where efficient clean jumping is often paramount to success.
Just two horses aged 8 and above have won this race since 2000, and they were no ordinary sorts in the shape of Moscow Flyer (2002) and Sizing Europe (2010), so you cannot rule out previous Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby, who despite his advancing age suggesting he’ll have a job to win this, was a high-class operator over hurdles.
A few key stats to keep in mind when evaluating the race;
13/13 – returned at odds of 9/1 or below.
13/13 – had run no more than five times over the larger obstacles.
12/13 – finished in the first two in all completed chase starts.
12/13 – were rated above 142 over hurdles prior to going chasing.
Stowaway — Forever Bubbles (IRE) (Roselier (FR) (16.0f))
Notes: Hasn’t really set the world alight since going over fences, and was beaten when making a momentum halting mistake when third behind Defy Logic in the Racing Post Novice’s Chase at Leopardstown. On all known form over fences you’d have to wonder if he’s going to be as good a chaser as hurdler, but his course form at Cheltenham really has to be considered. A winner of the Champion Bumper in 2012, he followed up with an excellent victory in a high-class Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year. Prior to that he was beaten in two races in Ireland but really improved back at his favourite track. If he recaptures that level of ability over fences, then he’ll win this or at least go very close.
Goldneyev (USA) (9.6f) — Opium Des Mottes (FR) (April Night (FR) (9.9f))
Notes: Has established himself as a very quick and accurate jumper over fences since switching to that sphere after a promising campaign over hurdles prior to a lay-off through injury. No match for Felix Yonger on his second start over fences, he reversed that form in no uncertain terms when the pair met in the Irish Arkle at the end of January. He is a high-class recruit on bottomless ground and is certainly one of the leading lights for Ireland ahead of this big race – he is proving quite a popular choice amongst the racing media, and should the ground come up soft at The Festival next month you’d have to keep him close on your side.
Poliglote (10.6f) — Queen Place (FR) (Diamond Prospect (USA) (8.0f))
Notes: A second season chaser from the Paul Nicholls yard, he is best when kept fresh and thus hasn’t been seen since a gritty all out win in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown back in December. He has no doubt improved since his first term chasing, and is held in high regard at Ditcheat, an example of this being he was almost entered in the Tingle Creek Chase once Sprinter Sacre was declared a non-runner. He has a habit of making the odd mistake throughout his fencing, evidence of which can be seen on his most recent start at Sandown when making a couple of juddering mistakes, and as such these could prove very costly in a race which holds no prisoners.
Rock On Ruby
Oscar (IRE) (12.6f) — Stony View (IRE) (Tirol (8.6f))
Notes: A high-class hurdler in his day, and winner of the Champion Hurdle in 2012, is fairly late going chasing at the age of 9, and has only had two uncompetitive tune-up’s against inferior opposition to date over fences. He’ll head straight to Cheltenham now and it still remains to be seen just how good over fences he is. He jumps well, and has proven adept at correcting himself when getting it wrong and he could be even better when allowed a strong pace to run at. Quite whether he’ll live up to his ability over hurdles over these larger obstacles remains open to question, but I fear there could be one or two in here that possess more class than him over fences.
Dubawi (IRE) (9.4f) — Nova Cyngi (USA) (Kris S (USA) (11.3f))
Notes: A high-class hurdling recruit for Paul Nicholls as both a juvenile, and as a Novice and although he was rated in the mid-150’s over the smaller obstacles he never really set the world alight, and ultimately disappointed in his run in the hotly contested Supreme Novices Hurdle last year. He has looked like he’s found his vocation since going over fences, and has impressed in each outing to date, especially on his most recent appearance when second to Module in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. Attempting to give away 3lb to Module, who had earlier in the season been narrowly denied in the Haldon Gold Cup on the same terms with Somersby, this form looks rock solid for a Novice, and his demolition of Grandouet at Kempton also sticks in the memory. Whilst there is no doubt Hinterland is a high-class sort over fences, Dodging Bullets looks the top contender for Team Ditcheat and he heads into the big race with a massive chance.
Doyen (IRE) (9.7f) — Skew (Niniski (USA) (12.8f))
Notes: Returned from a brief hiatus in which many of his stable encumbered when Alan King closed down his Barbury Castle yard over the New Year period, with an strong-staying performance at Doncaster when powering past Arnaud just after the last fences to win pulling right away. No great shakes over hurdles, he has really improved for the larger obstacles and has looked a force to be reckoned with on all three of his chasing starts to date. Has had a tendency to jump right at the odd fence in his races which wouldn’t be ideal, but based on what I’ve seen thus far he has to be regarded as a leading contender in this contest.
Balder Succes got back to winning ways with an impressive effort at Warwick on his most recent start, and wouldn’t be without chances in this should the ground be soft. However he is reportedly being aimed with Punchestown in mind, and is likely to miss this race in favour of Ireland.
Another likely to skip the Arkle is Felix Yonger who is a possible to be going over the longer trip of the JLT Novice’s Chase. He will improve for better ground and would be a horse with serious chances should the ground dry up for Festival week, in whichever contest he lines up in.
Defy Logic would have been a major player in this based on his victory at Leopardstown two starts ago, but sadly he broke a blood vessel when beaten behind Trifolium in the Irish Arkle, and has been ruled out for the season.
Mozoltov made a very eye-catching debut over fences and was expected to take plenty of beating on his next start in the Irish Arkle, but proved no match for Trifolium, and looks more likely to head for the JLT Novice’s Chase should he turn up at The Festival.
Grandouet was a high-class horses over hurdles, and was expected to make a seamless transition into the chasing game, and in many books was an antepost favourite for this race. Unseating on his debut, he ran Hinterland close on better ground at Sandown next time before getting broken by Dodging Bullets at Kempton when last seen. Better ground would give him claims in this at prices, but he needs to improve his jumping – personally don’t think he’s good enough.
This is shaping up to be one of the most competitive Arkle Chase’s in recent memory, after a couple of Henderson cake-walks in recent seasons. Champagne Fever heads the market for the powerful outfit of Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci, and cannot be discounted based on his Cheltenham form alone. He hasn’t quite looked up to the level of a couple of his rivals in this over fences, but it wouldn’t be a surprise were he to improve. At the prices he cannot be backed, but I fully expect him to be in the shake-up.
Another contender from Ireland in Trifolium impressed plenty on social media with his runaway success in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown at the end of January. Should the ground remain on the slow side you’d have to think he’ll go mightily close, but I personally think he’ll find a couple too hot for him to handle.
Hinterland has proven best when fresh, and he’ll head to The Festival off a break. He was too good for Grandouet when the pair met at Sandown, and should in theory confirm form with that rival once again, however his tendency to clunk the odd fence could prove costly and the stable appear to have a more solid option in the shape of DODGING BULLETS.
The Paul Nicholls trained son of Dubawi was always held in high-regard by the Ditcheat handler, and developed into a high-class hurdler albeit not quite on the top table of Rock On Ruby and Grandouet, and has improved further since the switch to fences. His form so far pencils him in as the one to beat, and a reproduction of that excellent second at Newbury will put him bang there in this contest.
Rock On Ruby could be the potential fly in the ointment having jogged round in a couple of egg-and-spoon races, and his hurdle form will make him tough to beat. He still has the element of the unknown about him, and has to be respected.
Should the ground dry up and Felix Yonger be rerouted to the Arkle, he would have to be seriously considered, but I think the closest threat to Dodging Bullets comes from the Alan King trained Valdez who has really improved for the switch to fences. Quite whether he has the class of some of these I remain unsure about, but you can’t knock the way he goes about things and from what I’ve seen so far you have to give him plenty of respect.