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Arkle Trophy

Which race are you looking forward to most at the Cheltenham Festival? Lewis Jones says it should be the Racing Post Arkle Chase run on the opening day….

There isn’t a better sight in racing than two-mile chasers going full speed around a track like Cheltenham.

My giddy levels always peak for the two-mile novice feature but this year my excitement is going through the roof. We have a race to savour involving four novices that all look out of the very top-class when it comes to two-mile steeplechasing.

The clash between Footpad, Petit Mouchoir, Saint Calvodos and Sceau Royal could go down in the history books as one of the highest class renewals in the history of the Arkle Chase.

Footpad leads the ante-post market (Evens) after racking up a richly impressive sequence of three chase wins in Ireland for champion trainer Willie Mullins, who had called him “the best novice chaser to jump a fence we’ve had in the yard” before he made his chasing debut earlier this season.

Now that is a statement.

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And from the look of Footpad, there is every reason to believe Mullins. He’s been faultless over the bigger obstacles, showing a jumping technique absolutely perfect for two-mile chasing. He’s big, he’s bold and he jumps at top speed. It doesn’t get much better.

The last time we saw Footpad was when he had too much in the tank for Petit Mouchoir (4/1) in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival.

However, that was only Petit Mouchoir’s second outing over fences and he was given an easy time of things by jockey Davy Russell. Over hurdles, this horse beat Footpad on both occasions they met, which will give trainer Henry De Bromhead hope that if he can squeeze more improvement out of the horse ahead of The Festival than the recent form may be switched around. He’s an exciting horse.

Every great race needs an underdog. This one has the quite brilliant Saint Calvados (6/1), who has the make-up of an underdog due to being trained by Harry Whittington but we may just have a superstar on our hands here.

Watch his last run at Warwick and he’ll knock your socks off with his jumping. He had everything off the bridle at half-way and jumped them to sleep before roaring away up the run-in. It was the definition of ‘bolting up’ – if he can transfer that ability to Cheltenham then we’re in for a treat seeing him and Footpad going up against each other from the front.

The Arkle could turn out to be a burn up from the front, which could set it up for the Sceau Royal (7/1), who landed the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase with an electric performance. He could be called the winner about four out there as he travelled and jumped out the back like a stag.

Trainer Alan King thinks the world of him and although he may not have the flashy jumping ability of his market rivals, he possesses the speed and the turn of foot to hose them down late on.

All these ingredients create a recipe which is likely to thrill. I can’t wait.