2014 Racing Post Arkle Chase
This year’s interesting renewal sees Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever head the ante-post betting in pursuit of a third consecutive Cheltenham Festival victory.
The winner of the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the classy grey is available at a best priced 3/1, which with his formidable course form represents significant value. Like last year however, holes can be found in his credentials. With only two starts over fences, he made a bad mistake in the Grade 1 Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, losing that race to Defy Logic. We haven’t seen him since. Critics point to his jumping which in a red hot two-mile Arkle could be his undoing. The truth is we’ve been here before. A sub-par run before his impressive victory in last year’s Supreme can reassure backers of his ability to rebound. If Vautour hacks up in the Supreme the 11/4 will collapse.
Unlike last year the challenge will come from a number of intriguing candidates. Harry Fry switched Rock On Ruby to novice chasing early in the season after a drubbing from The New One over hurdles. Similar to Mullins’ grey, Ruby has made only two starts over fences – winning them both. Whilst the standard of his opponents can be called into question, the horses Cheltenham record is ominous. A Champion Hurdle winner over Hurricane Fly, a second place to the same horse last year and a second place in the Neptune, his Festival record demands respect. Opponents will argue that 9 year olds have no place in this race and that his switch to chasing was an afterthought; enough to deter me from backing the animal.
The Paul Nicholls’ challenge is headlined by the likeable Dodging Bullets, who’s achieved a RPR of 161 this season across his four starts. After thumping Grandouet by ten-lengths at Christmas, he found the experienced Module too hot to handle in his last outing. That defeat was only by a neck and the winner was in receipt of 3lbs on the day. The problem with the horse is his Cheltenham form and the fact that he’s let his backers down on the big Festival stage. Is beating Grandouet the benchmark for winning this race? I can’t see it.
Trifolium has been nibbled all the way into 9/2 after claiming the Irish Arkle, seeing off both Defy Logic and Felix Yonger. Charles Byrnes’ charge has shown a predilection for crisp, clean jumping, but the consistency of his form this season is a little murky. Backers will be enthused by his reversal of form with Defy Logic in the Irish Ankle, but is a singular electric performance enough to pin one’s colours to his mast? Certainly going the right way, but the class of Champagne Fever at the Festival should prove insurmountable.
Grandouet has yet to taste victory this season and can be overlooked. At a recent Festival Preview night it was said that Nicky Henderson’s high-class hurdler would fall in a jumpers’ bumper and should be a bigger price. Surely Alan King’s Valdez would need to find more to win this competitive renewal. Unbeaten this season, he struggled to see off Trifolium’s stable mate Arnaud. He may be progressive enough for each-way punters, but there’s more than a couple who’ll fancy seeing him off.
Selection – Champagne Fever – 3/1 (Win)
||Simonsig C, D
||Sprinter Sacre D
||Captain Chris C, D
||Sizing Europe C, D
||H De Bromhead (IRE)
||T Cooper (IRE)
||Tidal Bay C, BF
||My Way De Solzen C, D
||Voy Por Ustedes D
||Contraband C, D
||Well Chief D
The last 2 favourites for the Arkle have both won – Champagne Fever to win 3/1.