At 14.05 on the 10th of March the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase will begin. The second race of day one is set to be a thrilling renewal, with what has been described as the festival banker set to start odds on.
The Arkle is run over two miles and is specifically for Novice chasers. This race is open to horses that are five years or older. Mares receive 7 lbs from their male counterparts with £85, 425 available to the winner. The name is hugely significant within the history of horse racing.
The Arkle was introduced as a replacement for the Cotswold Chase in 1969. Its title pays tribute to the highest rated steeplechaser in the history of the sport. Arkle was an Irish thoroughbred who was the Grandson of the unbeaten flat horse Nearco; owned by the Duchess of Westminster, Anne Grosvenor, trained by Tom Dreaper in County Meath in Ireland and ridden by Pat Taafe.
Arkle won 27 out of 35 races, which includes three consecutive Gold Cups, one King George VI chase, one Irish Grand National, two Hennessy Gold Cups, one Gallagher Gold Cup and one Whitbread Gold Cup.
Because Arkle was so dominant, the Irish racing authority took the unprecedented decision to create two weight classes, one for when Arkle was running, and one for when he wasn’t. In 1964, Arkle defied the odds by winning whilst carrying a monstrous two and a half stones more than his closest rival. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the Blue Ribband event of the year and in the history of the race only three other horses have won three or more Gold Cups.
Arkle was a national hero in Ireland; he was often referred to as “Himself”, and at one point the slogan “Arkle for President” was written on a wall in Dublin. It was joked that Arkle’s strength came from drinking Guinness twice a day. Furthermore, the skeleton of Arkle is on display at the Irish National Stud.
To put Arkle’s rating into context, the best horse currently in training is Sprinter Sacre, (who won the race in 2012) achieved a rating of 192 after winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2013. In 1966 Arkle was the shortest priced favorite for the Gold Cup ever seen at 1/10, winning the race by 30 lengths.
The most successful jockey is Barry Geraghty, who has won the race four times (2002, 2009, 2012, 2013), and the most successful trainers are both Tom Dreaper (1958, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1971) and Nicky Henderson (1991, 1993, 2000, 2012, 2013).
So it’s down to Un De Sceaux to live up to the legend of Arkle. Once again, we have a favorite trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh. Un De Sceaux has been claimed by many to be their festival banker, and with a high cruising speed and electric jumping you can see why. This half-brother to Olympe De Sceaux has won 11 out of 12 races, falling on his chase debut when over 15 lengths clear at Thurles in November.
There isn’t any conclusive evidence about following any nationality specifically, but there is one regarding age, with only two winners over the age of seven winning out of the last twenty renewals. Three winners were bred in France and were aged five or six, and six out of the remaining seven winners were bred in Ireland or Britain, aged seven or eight.
Nine out of ten winners have posted a racing post rating (RPR) of 153+ in at least one of their last two starts. Nine out of ten winners have finished in the first two in all of their chase runs. All of the winners in the previous ten years have finished between four and thirteen hurdles races. Eight out of ten winners have finished in the first three of a Grade 1 or Grade 2 Hurdle race. Two out of two Irish winners have won the Irish Arkle or the Racing Post Novice Chase.
Paul Nicholls has not had a winner in the race since 2013, saddling thirteen losers. Nine out of ten winners have come from the first five in the betting (only last years winner was an outsider). Favourites have won two of the last three, however if backing favourites for the last ten years they are currently showing a level stakes loss of £6.74.
So with those statistics in mind, the profile is as follows.
A horse that is from France aged five or six, or from Ireland/Britain aged seven or eight, that has run in two to five chases this season and that hasn’t finished outside of the top two. A horse who posted a RPR of over 153+ in their last race and has run in four to thirteen hurdle races, finishing with a rating of over 140+. A horse that has won a grade one or grade two race, and is from the first five in the betting.
So Un De Sceaux looks up to the race, but at around 4/6 I feel the value is gone, so I’ve looked for some each way value. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be having a dabble on the day, but I like the look of Gitane Du Berlais if it gets a run.
Gitane Du Berlais is a French thoroughbred that is five years old. She has had two runs over fences this season, winning both and therefore didn’t finish outside of the top two. Gitane Du Berlais posted a RPR of 153 on its last run. It has had nine runs over hurdles but never posted a rating of over 140+, however seven out of the nine were run in France. When running in Britain at Aintree it won a class one event. Currently available at 20/1 but I expect the price to shorten if declared to run. Gatine Du Berlais will have Paul Townend or Daryl Jacob on board as Ruby will be on Un De Sceaux.
It should be a cracking race, and if Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh can pull the double up for the day that’ll certainly set the punters up for a great week. But, it might be worth having a little saver on Gitane Du Berlais just incase Un De Sceaux takes a fence too quickly.