Last year’s race
- Winner: Altior
- Jockey: Nico de Boinville
- Trainer: N J Henderson
- Owner: Mrs Patricia Pugh
- Age: 7 Weight: 11st 4lb
- Starting Price: 1/4f
- Season Form Figures: 1111
- Previous Best: 1st - Game Spirit Chase (Grade 2), Newbury (Feb 2017)
This season’s Arkle is set to be one of the races of the meeting and, with so much pace up front with the likes of Saint Calvados, Footpad and Petit Mouchoir likely to be ridden positively, it will be some burn up leaving no hiding place. Un De Sceaux became the first winner to make all since Anaglogs Daugther in 1980 three years ago but Douvan virtually matched him two seasons ago having led from the third fence. Azertyuiop also led from the third fence when he was successful and Champleve led from half way.
There is a possibility that Footpad could be sent off at odds-on to emulate the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Altior who won the Arkle having been heavily-punted odds-on favourites so they have a fine record in the race of late. He finished fourth in last season’s Champion Hurdle and hurdles-race class counts for plenty in the Arkle. In fact, four of the first five in the betting - Footpad (4th), Petit Mouchoir (3rd), Sceau Royal (6th) and Brain Power (8th) - contested last season’s Champion Hurdle. If successful, Brain Power will give Nicky Henderson a sixth victory in the race.
Western Warhorse recorded the biggest shock in Arkle history four years ago as 13 of the previous 14 winners and the three subsequent winners were rated 142+ over hurdles beforehand and it can be argued that Voy Por Ustedes (the previous winner not to have posted an official rating of 142+ over hurdles) was a fortunate winner receiving 5lb and only narrowly beating Monet’s Garden as that weight allowance no longer exists. In short, hurdles class tells and Altior became the eighth winner stretching back to and including 2000 that entered the Arkle as the best hurdler in the race on official ratings. Two second-top-rated-over-hurdles contenders in Sizing Europe and Simonsig have also won the Arkle in recent years. Petit Mouchoir would be this season’s highest-rated hurdler in the Arkle. In fact, he beat Footpad on all three occasions they met over timber last season.
Hurdles class tells and Altior became the eighth winner stretching back to and including 2000 that entered the Arkle as the best hurdler in the race on official ratings.
Prior to Western Warhorse, the Arkle just didn’t throw up shocks. Of the last 27 winners, 24 have started at no bigger than 11/1 with 15 of those being sent off as either the second, third or fourth favourite before the blitz of recent odds-on winners since the JLT was made a Grade 1 therefore taking away a good number of contenders that would otherwise have taken part.
Nine of the last 15 winners had won at Cheltenham before (eight in pattern races) but, purely looking at previous Cheltenham Festival form, although 11 of the last 14 winners had been successful or finished placed at this meeting in the past is a strong steer in its own right, arguably even more interesting is that half of those 14 winners had finished in the first four in a novice hurdle at this meeting the previous season.
There isn’t really a traditionally-strong key guide in Britain but two races have featured three Arkle winners in the last 13 years, the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown won by Sceau Royal and the Wayward Lad at Kempton over Christmas won by Cyrname. With regards to the Irish, their Arkle Chase run at Leopardstown in January in which Footpad beat a returning-from-injury Petit Mouchoir, has historically been the best their best guide featuring nine of their last ten winners. The Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Meeting also won by Footpad is their second-best guide and has featured five of the last seven Irish-trained Arkle winners. Four of the last seven Irish-trained winners contested both those Grade 1 races.
The oldest Arkle winners are Sir Ken (1956) and Danish Flight (1998) at the age of nine. I am even loath to support an eight-year-old as only Moscow Flyer and Sizing Europe were so aged when they won the Arkle in the last quarter of a century and they had sheer class on their side winning 21 Grade 1 races between them including the following year’s Champion Chase so we are not talking standard eight-year-old Arkle winners here. Five-year-olds won on four occasions between 1998-2006 (and 14 times in total) but they are going the same way as the dodo in the Arkle in more recent years as just four have taken their chance in the nine runnings since their age allowance was dispensed with. Saint Calvados has that to overcome.
Sixteen of the last 23 winners had contested at least three chase starts. In victory four years ago Western Warhorse was providing the Pipe stable with a second Arkle winner who had raced just once over fences beforehand, the other being Well Chief. Four other winners going back to 1994 to have had just two runs over fences, which is the same profile for Petit Mouchoir.
At a glance summary
- The highest rated hurdler
- Won or placed at the Cheltenham Festival before (notably a novices' hurdle)
- Ran in the November Novices’ Chase, Henry VIII Novices’ Chase or Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase
- Trained by Nicky Henderson or Willie Mullins
- Not officially rated 142+ over hurdles
- Likely to start at 12-1+