Nicky Henderson has ruled all in the Arkle Chase over the last two years sending out the sensational Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig to land the two-mile novice chase showpiece. What does he have up his sleeve this season?
What happened in 2013?
Henderson’s well touted chaser Simonsig landed the money for odds-on backers but he made hard work of seeing off a very ordinary field.
The unbeaten chaser, who won the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle at the Festival in 2012, had been off the track since December and looked far from his best, racing very fresh and keen, as he could only scrape home to beat Baileys Green by two lengths.
However, his jumping was pretty impressive, despite a bad mistake at the seventh fence, from which he recovered well from.
The race fell into the lap of Simonsig after market rival Cue Card’s race was ended by a dreadful mistake with three fences to run.
That left the 33/1 shot Baileys Green to chase Simonsig home and he did a good job, making the athletic chaser work all the way to the line.
It’s a bit of a worry for Simonsig’s followers though that Baileys Green ran two poor races subsequently at Aintree and Punchestown.
Improvement will be needed from him this season where he steps up to take on the older horses.
2014 Major Players
The jury is out on how good this group of novice chasers will potentially be this season, as there doesn’t look much depth bar Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Champagne Fever, who won a very strong renewal of the opening Festival contest.
However, he isn’t the most consistent of performers and seems to save his best showings for Cheltenham.
It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Willie Mullins’ charge struggle throughout the season then bring his A-game to the Festival once again.
He looks built for chasing, possessing the potent mix of flawless jumping ability and a supreme attitude to winning races.
Grandouet, despite being made of glass, is a very talented customer on his day and looks an Arkle contender for Nicky Henderson if staying sound and taking to fences.
Puffin Billy has a huge reputation for trainer Oliver Sherwood and a lot of expected of him this year while five-year-olds Sametagal and Irish Saint could be a talented pair to assess from the Paul Nicholls yard.
Betting advice: strong race trends
It’s common knowledge that top rated hurdlers usually fare very well when transferred to fences and that is shown by recent Arkle trends. Only Voy Por Ustedes failed to post an official rating of over 142 over hurdles of the last 14 winners.
Arkle winners such as Tiutchev, Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop, My Way De Solzen and Tidal Bay all came into the race as the highest rated hurdler.
Respecting previous Cheltenham Festival form is a must for all punters that dabble at the Festival, and is especially relevant when punting in the Arkle.
Nine of the last 10 winners had all won or placed at the Festival before.
It’s best to keep an eye on the Grade Two Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial at Cheltenham in November – a race which was won by Simonsig last season – and the Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown in December, as both races always tempt in the leading UK two mile novices.
In Ireland, the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting is always a great pointer as is the Grade Two Craddockstown Chase at Punchestown in November.
Champagne Fever (8/1 Paddy Power) has a record to die for at Cheltenham but is a tad inconsistent to punt ante post at a relatively short price. Mullins also trains Un Atout, who never really looked comfortable over hurdles but should improve readily for a switch to fences.
He’ll trade a lot shorter than 16/1 with Bet365 during the season.