Published 8th February
In common with many of the novice races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, the market for the Arkle Challenge Trophy has been slow to develop. Between exciting prospects failing to make the track or fluffing their lines on the racecourse, we have had to be patient in waiting for a clear leading contender to emerge from the pack.
That wait came to an end at the Dublin Racing Festival with a horse that was hiding in plain sight all along jumping to the head of the market. That horse is the Joseph O’Brien-trained LE RICHEBOURG.
That it took so long for the market to come around to making Le Richebourg favourite for the Arkle Challenge Trophy is likely to have its roots in his novice hurdle background. While the market for this race always tends to revolve around the best of the previous season’s novice hurdlers and indeed open-class hurdlers that are being sent chasing, Le Richebourg didn’t fit that bill.
Following a promising start to his novice hurdle campaign, the onset of unfavoured soft ground led to his form tailing off and ending on a low note with defeat in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 140. Hardly the credentials of a future Arkle winner.
Le Richebourg gives the strong impression that he will be seen to best effect when there is a strong pace in front of him and this is usually assured in the Arkle.
However, Le Richebourg’s airy style of jumping hurdles offered encouragement that he would prove better over fences and with his favoured good ground having prevailed throughout the season, he has really come to prominence as a novice chaser.
Having shown an excellent jumping technique since his very first start over fences, he has gone on to win four of his five starts in novice chases. His sole defeat came in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse where the very talented Delta Work seemed to marginally outstay him over the two-and-a-half miles trip.
Since being dropped back to close to the minimum trip, he has produced two impressive winning performances at Grade 1 level including his most recent victory in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Le Richebourg gives the strong impression that he will be seen to best effect when there is a strong pace in front of him and this is usually assured in the Arkle. He has established himself as the clear pick of the two-mile novice chasers in Ireland and with that division in Great Britain looking below standard, Le Richebourg looks to be hold all the aces.
While his only run at Cheltenham resulted in the aforementioned defeat in the County Hurdle, he was actually travelling quite well on his unfavoured soft ground until a mistake and consequent stumble at the second-last hurdle effectively ended his bid.
The only concern for Le Richebourg’s chance is the possibility of softer than good-to-soft ground. Barring that, he looks to be a rock-solid proposition.