Arkle Trophy 2012 Preview
The Arkle Trophy on the opening Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival 2012 is one of the key championship novice events at the meeting. Arkle winners have a fantastic record in subsequent two mile champion chases, meaning this is not just a race to savour in its own right but also a leading trial for future events.
In this post, I'm going to preview the Arkle Trophy 2012, and I don't mind telling you, there's a horse I really like the look of, and at a nice enough price too.
Arkle Trophy 2012 Trends
There are some quite strong profile pointers when looking at the past winners of the Arkle. Here are the key elements I uncovered, when looking at the last eleven renewals, going back to 2000 (no race in 2001) :
Age - All Arkle winners were aged between five and eight years old. The two five year old winners both started their careers in Europe, and were reasonably experienced with eleven (Well Chief) and fourteen (Voy Por Ustedes) prior runs under their belts.
Eight of the last eleven Arkle Trophy winners were aged seven or eight, including the last five.
The average age of the last eleven winners of the Arkle was 6.73
Odds - The Arkle is not a race where outsiders do especially well. In fact, Flagship Uberalles was the only horse to win at double figure odds since Waterloo Boy's 20/1 shock back in 1989. And even Flagship was only 11/1! So don't be looking for a rag here, as it likely won't serve you well.
Despite that, it's been a pretty miserable race for the jolly old favourite, with just a solitary market leader obliging since 1995... and that was the 5/4 poke, Azertyuiop. Not a lot of jam on the bread for uninspired punters here. In fact, not a lot of shirt left on back over the years!
The next three in the betting have had it pretty much between them, with ten of the last fourteen winners from this zone, and a very healthy thirty points profit to boot. So, history suggests we should look to the top of the market, but be wary of the jolly.
The average odds of the last eleven Arkle winners is 6.16/1
Experience - Well Chief managed to win the Arkle off just one chasing run, and that a no name Taunton novice event. Tiutchev, in 2000, won off two chase starts, both fairly low grade affairs. Clearly, in profiling terms those are somewhat anomalous and, aside from the Chief and the 'chev, all the other nine recent winners had between three and five prior chase starts.
Interestingly, perhaps, the last seven winners had all run four times over fences prior to winning their Arkle.
Form - All of the last eleven Arkle Trophy champions had won a chase start. Duh! But there is, I believe, an undertone in the respective form lines of Arkle winners. And it is this: the last six, and nine of the last eleven, Arkle winners had all won or been second at 2m1f or further.
Quite simply, the Arkle rides like a 2m3f event. Out and out speedsters are undone by its punishing layout and murderously long run in. Consider Sprinter Sacre's wilt when apparently having the Supreme at his mercy last term, and ask yourself if you really want to take 5/2 about him being more resolute this time around.
Last year, Captain Chris had won around two and a half miles of Sandown's testing tracking; in 2010, Sizing Europe had won a 2m1f Leopardstown contest in a bog; 2009 saw Forpadydeplasterer beaten three lengths in a Grade 1 over 2m5f! And so it goes on.
All recent unbeaten chasers (of which there have been five), except Well Chief and his one chase start, have won at 2m1f or beyond.
Sprinter Sacre has won at Ascot, Ayr, Ffos Las, Doncaster, and Kempton. Their respective constitutions are as follows: flat, flat, flat, flat, flat. He's been beaten at Ascot the only time he went beyond two miles and a few yards (that was 2m4f) and Cheltenham. 5/2? Are you sure?
The last six winners had all finished 1st or 2nd on all completed chase starts. And, barring Contraband's 3rd place on very heavy ground, all of the last eleven winners had finished first or second on all completed starts. That's a strong stat, and I'd be striking a line through anything that finished 3rd or worse, unless they fell or unseated.
Course form around Cheltenham does seem important, but it's very hard to quantify. Two of the last eleven winners were having their first spin around the track (Moscow Flyer and Voy Por Ustedes), but all the others had form on the course, many of them in Festival hurdle races.
Other Factors - Ireland has supplied three of the last eleven winners; UK has the other eight. This is a race generally favoured to the home team, and the betting this time is very lop-sided towards British entries.
Hurdle ratings don't really give much of a clue except to say that most Arkle winners were high class hurdlers, and some were very high class hurdlers.
The time since last run of Arkle winners varies a fair bit, from Sizing Europe in 2010 who didn't race after Boxing Day (or St Stephen's Day, as he raced in Ireland), to Captain Chris last year who raced just seventeen days before.
The Arkle Trophy 2012 Contenders
Sprinter Sacre is the favourite, at a best priced 5/2. He is a six year old French bred with a penchant for flat tracks. He's unbeaten in two chase starts and will likely have one more before the Festival, making him less experienced than the last seven winners, but not by much.
He was beaten when coming to win the race in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and I can see him travelling beautifully again before being found out on the run in. He's been involved in three close finishes: when just nosing out subsequent good hurdler, King Of The Night, on debut; and then in his two defeats.
This chap might have the highest cruising speed of any horse in training, but he looks a massive in-running lay to me, as he finds nothing off the bridle, and is a doubtful stayer around Cheltenham in a championship race, to my eye.
Peddlers Cross is the horse for me. Yes, he was beaten by Sprinter Sacre in a three horse race at Kempton. He was beaten in a sprint up the straight in a slow run race on an unsuitably flat track over a trip short of his best, and apparently he was a sick horse afterwards.
Am I making excuses for him?
In two previous runs over two and a quarter miles round the - granted - League Two standard Bangor circuit, he'd bombed home. The runner up in the second of those runs, Minella Class, was going just about best of all when unshipping next time in a race that Cue Card won at Newbury.
From a profile perspective, Peddlers is a seven year old, with course form, has won beyond 2m1f, is high class, is yet to be out of the first two over fences, is in the right odds range, and - if he gets another run before the Arkle itself - will have had the magic four chase starts beforehand.
On hurdle form, Peddlers Cross was the only horse able to serve it up to Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle last year, and I am always prepared to forgive a horse one bad run, such as the 'too bad to be true?' effort behind Sprinter Sacre the last day. The balance of Peddlers' form makes 5/1 pretty tasty to my punting palate, and I'm on.
Al Ferof is next in, at 7/1 third favourite. He's another seven year old, unbeaten in two chase starts, including a Grade 1 at Sandown last time. He also won the Supreme Novices' last year - Sprinter Sacre in third - having been outpaced turning in but then fair barrelling up the hill to brush them all aside in the manner of a horse who could have gone around again!
This chap is respected, but here's my problem with him. As I write, he's entered in the Victor Chandler Chase, a Grade 1 for seasoned fencers. It's a bold bid, but in my opinion it could be the undoing of ante-post ticklers. If he runs badly, he may drift in the Arkle betting or, worse, injure himself. If he runs well, he'll be surely be considered for the Champion Chase itself, a race which - Sizing Europe and Big Zeb aside - looks desperately shallow this term.
So, assuming Al Ferof ran a respectable second or third at Sandown in the Victor Chandler Chase, and the trainer delivered reassuring post-race utterances regarding his Festival target, I'd be happy to take a shorter price on him for the Arkle. Having just watched his Supreme win again, he looked brilliant in the closing stages: everything that Sprinter Sacre didn't.
The rest, headed by Cue Card and Menorah, don't really count on what they've done so far. Cue Card is another who finds little off the bridle, and he's been unmasked in top company several times now. Not for me.
Menorah is a classy beast, for sure, but his jumping is laboured and unprofessional. Unless and until he can show me he's capable of jumping with fluency and alacrity, I'd be happy to take the hit if he's been saving it all up for the big day itself.
Of the Irish... well, there aren't many contenders for this from over the sea in truth. Blackstairmountain took full advantage of Notus de la Tour's pace-pressing and Bog Warrior's fence-mutilating when winning a fair Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He does have some reasonable form, including when staying on well until hitting the hill in the County Hurdle last year. On balance, that doesn't look good enough to win this, and place prospects may be the best he can hope for.
Arkle Trophy 2012 Final View
In what is generally a race which goes to form, and what is specifically this year a race which looks pretty shallow, I'd say it lies between the top three in the betting.
I have outlined my reasons for swerving Sprinter Sacre. This horse has a lot of class, and it's perfectly possible he can win an Arkle. But... he won't find much off the steel, and you'll be soiling your undergarments if you've gone 'all in' at 5/2 or less as they climb that hill.
The value lies further down the bookie lists, but not much further. Peddlers Cross is a very, very good horse, and has a Champion Hurdle silver medal already stowed in his trophy cabinet, as well as a Neptune Hurdle. Clearly, track and trip hold no perils. Fences seem to be of little consequence either, as he's jumped every one with panache... with the exception of the first at Kempton which may well have caused his dethroning that last day.
I like the Peddler a lot. And I think he has an outstanding chance in this race.
Al Ferof is another very taking sort. All National Hunt stock, he's by Dom Alco, the same daddy to Grands Crus, Silviniaco Conti, and Neptune Collonges. He bounded up the hill last term over hurdles, and he's another who has taken to his fences like I take to my burgers: with relish.
I am worried about his running in the VC Chase this weekend, as I always fret about inexperienced novices being pitched in against seasoned (how I like my fries) pro's.
If he comes out of that race unscathed, and Mr Nicholls intimates that the Arkle is the first item on the agenda, then I shall reload my wagering potato gun and take aim at those pesky bookies once more.
Arkle 2012 Tips
As you will have guessed, I believe the 5/1 about Peddlers Cross to be comfortably the best value in the race, and he is my selection.
I also feel that Al Ferof is a very lively runner, IF he doesn't come a cropper this weekend.
I've backed Peddlers Cross already at 5/1 (6.4 on Betfair), and I will have a bit more than a saving investment on Al Ferof after the weekend, all other things being equal.
Click on the below to see my 'working out' spreadsheet...