Arkle Chase 2014 Preview Tips Trends
The second race on a stellar opening day of the Cheltenham Festival 2014 is the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy, a novice chase run over two miles. This is a serious test of speed and there's no hiding place for frail jumpers or doubtful stayers, as they'll set off fast and maintain the gallop all the way to the finish.
It's a race that has been the springboard for many a Champion Chase winner, and even in recent times has heralded the arrival of the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe, Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop. Make no mistake, it takes a tip-top birch-bouncer to bag the Arkle.
In this post we'll consider the recent Arkle trends, as well as the form profiles for the main contenders, before honing in on a tip or two. Let's start then with the trends.
Arkle Chase 2014 Trends
Age: The Arkle tends to be a race for young upwardly mobile types, and established hurdlers looking to break into the top echelons of chasing have struggled at the sharp end. The last 24 Arkle winners were aged five to eight, with a notable number of fancied older horses turned over.
In 2002, Barton could only manage seventh at 9/2; a year later, Adamant Approach fell when a 7/1 shot; and, more recently, Captain Cee Bee was only eighth as the 5/2 favourite in 2010; and, last year, Overturn was turned over at 7/2, finishing no better than fourth.
It's a young nag's game, and Rock On Ruby (nine) will be bidding to become only the second horse aged older than eight to win the Arkle since Sir Ken way back in 1956.
Experience: Although Simonsig had just two chase starts to his name last term (and Champleve and Tiutchev likewise at the turn of the century), and Well Chief had just a single outing over the big'uns in 2004, the general level of experience for Arkle winners has been three (three winners) or four starts (eight winners) since 1997. The brilliant Moscow Flyer had already run in five steeplechases when he lined up for, and won, the 2002 Arkle.
Form: Since 1997, only one of the 57 horses to finish outside of the first two in their prior start has won. Contraband, a 7/1 shot and possibly the worst Arkle winner in living memory, was that horse. Indeed, Contraband's previous third place was the ONLY placing outside of the first two that any Arkle winner since... well, as far back as Racing Post records go, which is at least 1988. The strong percentage play is to demand a 1-2 finish the last day.
UK or Irish? The Irish have saddled 58 runners since 1997 in the Arkle, with just three winning (5% srtike rate). The British have saddled 13 winners from their 142 runners (9% strike rate) in the same time span. Looking only at those horses priced 12/1 or below, the figures come down to Ireland 3-23 (13%) and UK 13-76 (17.1%). Thus, the UK trained runners have enjoyed an edge, but perhaps not as marked as first meets the eye.
Arkle Chase 2014 Form Preview
For what is normally a fairly well established market, the 2014 Arkle looks wide open at time of writing. Champagne Fever, winner of the Cheltenham Bumper and Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, heads the betting at 4/1. He's closely followed by Trifolium and Dodging Bullets, both 6/1 shots, and Rock On Ruby, an 8/1 play.
It's then 10/1 Valdez, 11/1 Hinterland, and 16/1 bar those.
Champagne Fever deserves to be favourite. After all, we know he loves that Cheltenham hill, using it twice now to winning effect, having been beaten earlier in both seasons. This term, he has also been bested, and into third place too, by Defy Logic and Trifolium. Whilst he'll not be beaten by Defy Logic at Cheltenham - that one struggling with injury - the fifteen length margin of defeat and that significant trend he has to overcome are concerns.
However, on the plus side, if the ground at Cheltenham comes up good to soft, as it normally does, his record on that sort of quick turf reads 111. On balance, whilst I hugely respect Champagne Fever, I can't bring myself to bet him at 4/1. He was 16/1 when winning the Cheltenham Bumper, and was available at 16/1 shortly before winning the Supreme (returned 5/1).
He is entered in the PJ Moriarty Chase, a Grade 1 over 2m5f, on Sunday.
Trifolium has a more traditional Arkle profile, with chase form of 1221, the latter two efforts in Grade 1 company. He was a slightly unlucky third in the 2012 Supreme on good ground, but was nine lengths too good for Felix Yonger in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle, and eleven lengths in front of Champagne Fever when second to Defy Login in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. He is the form choice and, with no doubts about the course or the ground, looks a solid bet at 6/1.
Dodging Bullets is another whose chase form is hard to crab. He's three from three over fences, including Grade 2 victories the last twice. One of that pair was at Cheltenham, but the worry with this chap is that he's twice come up short at the Festival - 9th in the Supreme last year and admittedly a respectable fourth in the Triumph in 2012. Dodging Bullets is entered in the Kingmaker at Warwick on Saturday, if it beats the weather, but with Paul Nicholls' thirteen Arkle runners in the past decade yielding no wins and just two in the frame - a list which includes five horses at 4/1 or shorter - he's not for me.*
*My thanks to Gavin Priestley's Cheltenham stats book for that nugget
Rock On Ruby is a horse I love. He's a Champion Hurdler as recently as 2012, and was second in last year's Champion Hurdle. But he's nine now, and was hurdling a long time. Whilst he has been very clever on the rare occasion he's missed a fence, and he has undoubted class, I just feel that there's no coincidence in the stats about nine-year-olds here, and have to reluctantly overlook him. If there's one to beat me, I hope it's Harry Fry's Rock On Ruby.
Valdez is unbeaten in three over fences, and saw off Irish raider, Arnaud, last time. He was entitled to, though, off level weights and officially rated ten pounds his superior. Still, Valdez was coming back from a break and stayed on very takingly up the pan flat Donny run-in, implying he'll enjoy the stiffer circuit and sharper match fitness in the Arkle. At 10/1, he offers a bit of scope for each way players, and trainer Alan King is massively respected.
Hinterland has been off the track since winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in early December, and he's not currently got any entries. That's just too long a layoff for me to entertain and, while he could run between now and the Festival, he's no value to win the Arkle as things stand, especially given his trainer Paul Nicholls' aforementioned bad record in the race.
We're then in the realms of the 16/1 bar brigade. While Felix Yonger is a top priced 16/1, he might well go to the longer JLT Novices' Chase, and the best price with a non-runner concession is 10/1 which makes little appeal.
Grandouet is mildly interesting. True, he has been blighted with jumping issues throughout the big days of his career, and true, he's looked a bit off colour this season. But he was going like the winner in the Champion Hurdle last year when coming to grief - albeit a fair way out - and he is capable of a big run. 16/1 non-runner free bet isn't the worst wager in the Arkle.
Arkle Chase Trophy 2014 Tips
It will be clear from what you've read so far that I think Trifolium looks a very solid bet for the 2014 Arkle. He's got a perfect profile - seven year-old with four chase starts, all in the first two, and a win in Grade 1 company last time. He goes on any ground, though may be best on the easy side of good. He jumps well and should be able to race prominently. 6/1 non-runner free bet is the bet in the race for me.
Of the British squad, whilst I fear and respect Rock On Ruby, I'm happy enough to take a chance on the unbeaten Valdez being able to improve enough to make the frame. He looks like he'll stay well and is generally a decent jumper. 10/1, again non-runner free bet, is fair each way value.
Arkle Challenge Trophy 2014 Selection: Trifolium 6/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet