Arkle Challenge Trophy Ante-post Outlook

Cheltenham Festival

Horse Racing
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Published: 02/02/2012

The countdown to the 2012 Cheltenham Festival is now in full swing - and many racing fans, pundits and backers alike are predicting that for the first time, a novice event will provide the true highlight of the week in the shape of the Arkle Challenge Trophy.

With the Gold Cup and Champion Chase looking almost like straight match races and the Champion and World Hurdle’s dominated by Hurricane Fly and Big Bucks respectively, the Arkle looks set to cause a stir with over half a dozen top notch progressive chasers all bidding to enter the winners enclosure as two mile novice king.

And the ante-post markets are indeed suggesting that a speedy battle royale between a number of highly impressive horses could ensue.

Last season’s Supreme Novices runner-up Sprinter Sacre really caught the eye at the 2011 Festival and trainer Nicky Henderson was right to predict that he would improve even further when switched to the bigger obstacles.

Carrying a massive amount of scope and presence, Sprinter Sacre has already been jumping fences like a seasoned pro and his speed and turn of foot could be potentially devastating to his rivals.

He thrashed Champion Hurdle runner-up Peddlers Cross at Sandown, form which probably counts Donald McCain’s charge slightly out of the running whilst fully justifying Sacre’s ante-post favouritism.

Nevertheless, Peddlers Cross did markedly underperform on that occasion and McCain did issue a statement claiming that the horse was injured after the race.

But even if that were the case, his stable star is likely to head straight to Cheltenham without another run and that should leave him vulnerable to other challengers.

Sprinter Sacre will definitely take some stopping with yet further improvement probable before the runners and riders go down to post for the second race of the Festival.

But Paul Nicholls’ Al Ferof, who overcame Sprinter Sacre to win the aforementioned Supreme Novice Hurdle, may well be able to get on terms again if he is at his best.

The grey struggled for pace in the Victor Chandler at Ascot when third behind experienced horses Somersby and Finians Rainbow.

Nevertheless, that was Al Ferof’s first run ever out of novice company - and based on his previous novice chasing exploits, he is sure to come on for the lesson. For anyone of the opinion that Sprinter Sacre is too short at 5/2, Al Ferof definitely offers a superb alternative at 6/1 – a price which is unlikely to be around come race time.

Cue Card is the standout each-way selection at a whopping 10/1, odds which severely underestimate the horse’s profile, high regard and generally strong novice chase form to date. Colin Tizzard’s charge could be aimed at the Jewson Novice Chase over two miles five furlongs however, so caution has to be adopted when finding the correct staking amount.

Blackstairmountain and Menorah are other prolific horses who look more certain to participate; nevertheless it is quite easy to discourage backers from that pair based on their most recent outings.

Blackstairmountain was a distant fifth albeit on dead ground in the Irish equivalent of the Arkle whilst Menorah tumbled at Doncaster to yet again reinforce claims that he is not a good enough jumper to win at the Cheltenham Festival.

The latter’s fencing technique will be given a major examination over a frenetic two miles at Prestbury Park and any horse selected must be a proven stayer as well as having the pace to put rivals to bed.

Should the ground turn up on the soft side come March, horses who potentially get two and a half miles must also be taken seriously as the Cheltenham hill becomes a much more decisive factor at the end of a hard race on sticky going.


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