Tuesday 13th March 2018 – Arkle Chase

written by Daniel Roe

The past three renewals of this race have seen it won by huge names in the sport in the form of Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Altior, and if you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever this season then you will have no doubt heard that Footpad could be the latest in the line of superstars and is a certainty in this year’s renewal. It’s hard to find fault with his performances so far this season, winning his three chase starts rather unperturbed by either fence or foe and by a cumulative total of 27 lengths. He has jumped brilliantly, so much so that his trainer, Willie Mullins, has said he jumps as well as any novice he has ever had. However, I think he’s worth taking on at his prices around even money. There are three reasons for this: he’s never won on ground with ‘good’ in the description, he’s never entirely convinced me he gets up Cheltenham’s hill, and this year’s renewal looks particularly deep.

Petit Mouchoir was, once upon a time, the favourite for this race before his injury and before it looked like there would be anything up to beating him. He brings by far the best hurdle form into his chasing career having won two Grade 1s last season – including the Irish Champion Hurdle – and comfortably had Footpad behind him on three separate occasions. His return from injury last time out, when five lengths behind Footpad, would have encouraged connections, especially as Petit Mouchoir made several jumping errors and still ran on well at the end. However, his current prices around 7/2 seem awfully short for what he has to prove. He’s going to have to significantly improve on his last run, which isn’t always a given when horses return from an injury, and with only two chase starts under him – in both of which he made a notable error – I would have concerns about him jumping cleanly around Cheltenham. There’s no doubt he has the class for this race, but he would need to be twice his current price before he would be of notable interest.

Sceau Royal is a very consistent type who, like the other horse racing in the two-tone green of Souede & Munir, has fared better tackling fences than hurdles. He’s already a Grade 1 winner having bagged the Henry VIII at Sandown in December, and his only blot on his copy-book is when going down by a neck when giving weight away to North Hill Harvey around Cheltenham back in October. Otherwise, he has been spotless over his fences, winning four of his five starts this season. We know he handles Cheltenham and he’s versatile in terms of ground. He’s the type who will run his race – he’s consistently a performer to about 160, and he could be relied upon to deliver to that level again – but he will need several to falter before he is going to win this. That’s not totally out of the question, though; the race principals in here like to lead, and if this leads to an over-heated pace battle, Sceau Royal would be there to pick up the pieces. At around 6/1 he’s a ‘safe’ each way bet as I wouldn’t have him out of the top three.

The most obvious contender to Footpad is SAINT CALVADOS, who has been just as impressive as Footpad, in my opinion. He put up two very good performances at Newbury – the second of which was especially impressive on the clock and visually – before tearing apart the Kingmaker field at Warwick. There will be a few questions for him to answer at Cheltenham, though. He needs to prove he can handle a stiffer, undulating course as his three runs so far has been on flatter tracks. More importantly, he needs to prove he can handle faster ground. All of his form has been on soft ground, and he has a very prominent knee-action typically associated with a preference for soft ground. It’s worth noting, however, that his connections feel he will be better on better ground, and the fact he handles soft ground so well might be an indication that he’s just a very good horse – it’s said that a very good horse goes on any ground. He has been deadly so far, and I apologise in advance for rattling off this old cliché, but the only reason he’s available as big as 5/1 is that he’s not trained by a bigger name.

The rest of the field still have something to prove, however. Brain Power’s best form has come on flatter, right-handed tracks, and his last two runs would give considerable cause for concern. As for North Hill Harvey, he needed five lbs to narrowly get the better of Sceau Royal in October, the three-runner race he won in November completely fell apart, and he paid the price at Sandown when getting involved in the pace-battle too early. A forgiving person might benefit from taking his 25/1 each-way about this course specialist as he might sneak his way into a place, but the fact he’s been readily dismissed by two of today’s competitors on his last two starts means it’s very hard to see him winning this.