With just over two months until the Cheltenham Festival this year’s renewal of the Arkle Trophy Chase is shaping up to be one the most intriguing races of the Festival.
The ante-post markets are currently headed by Champagne Fever (5/1 bet365), a horse who represents the powerhouse stable of Willie Mullins.
Victiorious twice at Cheltenham Festivals; first in the Champion Bumper and then in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, chasing always beckoned for this horse.
Although he started his chasing career with a victory, he was far from impressive. Despite the whip not being drawn and the horse winning by four lengths, he was far from convincing over the final two fences.
He followed that up with a disappointing run in the Grade 1 WilliamHill.com Novices Chase. He never settled and his jockey was forced to go for the whip two fences out and he finished a very disappointing third some thirteen lengths adrift.
From what I’ve seen so far, Champagne Fever looks better suited to a longer trip than 2m, a thought echoed by his trainer who has talked about the possibility of a tilt at the Jewson or the RSA instead. With his Festival target unclear, he is too risky a betting proposition at the moment.
Similarly, Dodging bullets (8/1 Coral) was always a decent hurdler; finishing fourth in the 2012 Triumph Hurdle before going on to win the Grade 2 Sharp’s Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham, however, now over fences he looks a very promising individual.
He opened his account with an easy debut win, where he beat the useful Alan King horse Turn Over Sivola. He then went on to beat both Raya Star and Ted Veale comfortably by five lengths.
However, his last outing was by far the most impressive as he claimed victory over the well fancied Nicky Henderson runner Grandouet, despite conceding 6lbs.
He made the running and was superb as he attacked each fence and cruised to a ten length victory. His recent form is very strong and if he is able to continue his improvement then he has to have a very strong chance of providing Paul Nicholls with his first victory in the race since 2003.
Other horses of interest are a duo of Irish raiders in the form of Felix Younger (10/1 Betfred), and Defy Logic (10/1 Ladbrokes).
Felix Younger is yet another Willie Mullins recruit who showed impressive form when destroying a stablemate at Navan in early December before having an off day when the form was overturned by The Paparazzi Kid. Defy Logic, represents Paul Nolan and turned over Champagne Fever on Boxing Day.
This novice jumped well and won a tad comfortably with Trifolium three and a half lengths behind.
What makes these two horses difficult to to back is the fact that they are closely matched on form and, because of that, it is far too difficult to know conclusively which will prosper on any given day.
Rock On Ruby (14/1 bet365) was forced to go chasing after being beaten comprehensively by The New One at Kempton at the start of the season. The 2012 Champion Hurdle winner looked very good on chasing debut, despite blundering the second last.
Harry Fry is in tremendous form at the minute and I think that with the likely improvement to come, Rock On Ruby could be a serious contender. He certainly has the pace, and Cheltenham experience to give a bold show; however the statistics are against him as no previous winners of the Champion, Supreme or Triumph Hurdle have ever gone on to win the race.
Another impressive novice this year has been Hinterland (10/1 Ladbrokes). However, I’m put off by the fact he is a second season novice chaser. He may well have an experience advantage over his rivals, however I believe they have far more potential to improve. Hinterland was well beaten in last year’s Arkle and I worry as to whether or not he has improved enough to pick up the victory this year.
Examining the horses who have won the Arkle in the last three renewals, Simonsig, Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe remained unbeaten in their respective novice seasons before going on to claim the Cheltenham prize.
Of this year’s contenders only Dodging Bullets can boast a similar record (not taking in to consideration Rock On Ruby’s one victory to date). His jumping is fluent, he has a turn of foot, and he has strong form at Cheltenham all of which makes him the ideal Arkle bet.
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