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Arkle Chase preview

You're four pints in, the Supreme is over, now what? It's (possibly/probably) the best National Hunt horse in training...

Regular contributor, the wise Mr Chris Day, @chrisday100, previews the Racing Post Arkle Chase - can anyone take it up to mighty Altior?

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Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase
Grade 1, £175,000, About Two Miles
Cheltenham Tuesday 1410 local, 0110 AEDT


The second race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, is always one of the week’s highlights and this year contains one of the two headline horses of the whole week in Altior, considered by some as the best jumps horse in training.

I’m not going to argue with that but I’ll be keen to see what happens next season or possibly at Punchestown this year when he finally gets to meet Douvan.

In the meantime, you don’t need to do an awful lot of form study to know that he brings the best form into this contest and, with a rating almost 20lbs ahead of his nearest rival, should be a banker to put almost £100,000 into the coffers of championship chasing trainer, Nicky Henderson.

A top class hurdler who reached an official rating of 160 over timber, the decision to go chasing was made and he’s made the transition to fences seamlessly, winning at Kempton in a non event in November, stepping straight into Grade 1 company at Sandown next month, returning to Kempton for a Grade 2 over Christmas before returning from a break to beat last year’s Arkle runner up, Fox Norton, in a canter at Newbury. The only time he’s ever come off the bridle over fences was at Sandown and he sets a very high standard for these to aim at.

The horse who did momentarily have him off the bridle at Sandown was Kim Bailey’s Charbel, himself a good hurdler who finished fifth in what is now widely regarded as one of the best Supreme Novices Hurdle’s ever run behind Altior. He’d earlier won impressively at Uttoxeter in October in a race which has worked out very well from Le Prezien who may well be hard to beat in the Grand Annual off 146 if anybody’s still going by 5.30 on Friday and Top Notch, fancied by many to give Yorkhill most to think about in Thursday’s JLT.

Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and Rich Ricci have a fantastic recent record in the race and run Royal Caviar who fell when still travelling strongly in the Irish Arkle last time behind Henry De Bromhead’s Some Plan, who also reopposes here. That race has been a strong pointer to this but the gut feeling is that these two are some way below the usual standard of the winner having been sent off as the outsiders in a field of just four runners at Leopardstown. Likewise, de Bromhead’s second and third strings, Ordinary World and Three Stars appear to have more than their fair share to find to get competitive here.

Brian Ellison has improved his jumps string no end in recent times aided by leading northern owner, Phil Martin and has Forest Bihan entered here. This one has improved all season and his form ties in closely with Waiting Patiently, a horse I think we may hear quite a bit of next season. The balance of his form suggests he has a little to find to get placed but that’s very possible and he could take some place money back up north on Tuesday night.

The other northern raider, Cloudy Dream, has also improved markedly for fences but failed by just under two lengths to concede 3lbs to Forest Bihan last time at Doncaster in the process coming out as the best horse in the race with A Hare Breath a further five lengths away in receipt of 7lbs. Wins at Huntingdon and Carlisle before Christmas revealed a slick jumping style and he could well be another to show up well.

Ben Pauling’s horse does appear to need to find a bit of improvement to figure although the trainer has always rated him highly and been making some bullish noises in the festival run up.

It’s true you don’t have to have a bet in every race but we wait 365 days for the chance and I make Charbel, at 10-1, a cracking each way bet here. He’ll love the big fences, jumps for fun and has shown that the festival and the way races are run here hold no terrors for him. And, if tricasts are your thing (not sure if they’re available in this - otherwise consider the Placepot), I’d have Cloudy Dream for a trainer who never has social runners at the festival to finish third behind Altior and Charbel.

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