The Arkle Challenge Trophy 2017 brings us a hot favourite in the shape of Altior who has looked even better over fences than he did over hurdles. A winner at the Cheltenham Festival twelve months ago, when taking the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in emphatic style he has barely put a foot wrong over the larger obstacles this campaign.
Much like the two years previous we have a strong odds-on favourite, and Altior will have some heavy billing to live up to with Douvan and Un De Sceaux winning this race in the last couple of seasons, but based on what we’ve seen already he looks more than capable of adding his name onto the roll of honour.
Arkle Challenge Trophy 2017
High Chaparral x Monte Solaro (Key Of Luck)
Notes: Much like Douvan in the Champion Chase on the second day, Altior looks head and shoulders above his opposition here. Imperious success in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown (Grade 1), was followed up by a brace of Grade 2 successes in the Wayward Lad Novices’ and Game Spirit, where he thrashed Fox Norton 13 lengths in the latter. He looks every inch the superstar and defeat is very hard to imagine.
Iffraaj x Eoz (Sadler’s Wells)
Notes: Has the accolade of getting closest to Altior over fences when beaten 6 lengths in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase on his most recent start back in December. He pulled 14 lengths clear of the remainder on the day and has been kept fresh by Kim Bailey who has primed him towards this target, and at this stage looks the biggest danger to the favourite.
Vinnie Roe x Blackwater Babe (Arctic Lord)
Notes: Just the two starts over fences to date and would have won at Leopardstown before crashing out at the last. He had Some Plan beaten at that point and it is difficult to know how much he had left in the tank. Very much a rare unknown from the Willie Mullins camp and looks a fair price to take as an alternative to the favourite, but any chinks in his jumping will be exposed around Cheltenham as we all know.
Arcadio x Gypsy Kelly (Roselier)
Notes: Campaigned over longer distance over fences until his return from a short break at Warwick in February, where he ran his rivals into the ground to win the Grade 2 Kingmaker by 4-and-a-half lengths from Gino Trail. He was holding his rivals all the way to the line that day and was a welcome return to form. Seems better on deeper ground so any dryness heading into next week would be a concern and he just looks to lack the speed to get competitive in an Arkle.
Cloudings x Run Away Dream (Acceglio)
Notes: Holds a couple of other entries during the week but you’d imagine this would be his most likely target based on what we’ve seen so far. Two impressive wins over fences were followed by a second to Buveur D’Air at Haydock, and he filled that role again when attempting to give away 3lb to Forest Bihan at Doncaster on his most recent start. Needs to improve to figure but is a likeable horse.
Forestier x Katell Bihan (Funny Baby)
Notes: A winner of 3 of his 4 starts over fences this campaign, with his only defeat coming at the hands of Waiting Patiently, who himself is unbeaten over fences in three tries. He has run consistently to a level whereby he’d only need to improve 7-8lbs to figure in the placings of the Arkle, and would be a good vibe for the north were he to run with credit.
Winged Love x Lough Hyne (Classic Cliché)
Notes: Has an unbeaten record when standing up over fences, but would have lost that had Royal Caviar stood up at the last in the Irish Arkle last time out. Clearly has ability and was going well when falling here in November, and can be expected to fight out the placings with a few of these.
Yorkhill will be heading for the JLT Novices’ Chase if he goes anywhere next week so we don’t really have to worry about him at this stage.
Top Notch is another that the JLT Novices’ Chase looks the most likely target, and he will almost certainly swerve this in favour of that.
A Hare Breath has acquired the services of Richard Johnson for his run in the Arkle next week. Made a favourable impression on his debut over fences but was beaten on merit when third behind Forest Bihan at Doncaster in January. Needs to improve but does go well at Cheltenham, and has excellent assistance in the saddle.
Ordinary World was a winner on his debut over fences but has followed that up with two placed efforts behind good horses in Identity Thief and Min. Doesn’t look up to winning this though and will be one for making up the numbers.
Knockgraffon has plenty to find on these terms and Gino Trail although admirable over fences this winter is unlikely to get his favoured deep ground.
The general feeling I get from this race is that Altior is head and shoulders above the rest, and that you could throw a blanket over the rest of them and you’ll end up covering most.
At a top price of 1/3 it is impossible to advise backing him at this stage and it is advisable to just sit and enjoy the Nicky Henderson trained gelding do his stuff.
In the interests of alternatives obviously Charbel is probably marginally second best, and the promise of Royal Caviar improving on his third start over fences means he too is favoured against the remainder.
Should any chinks emerge in the jumping armour of Royal Caviar at any point, or Charbel doesn’t fire after quite a long lay-off, then Forest Bihan can be best placed to capitalize. A model of consistency over fences so far he can give Brian Ellison a chance of entering the winners enclosure after the race.