Kate Tracey takes an early look at the Arkle Novices’ Chase where she comprehensively analyses the leading contenders and has a tip at an each-way price.
The Arkle is the second race of the Cheltenham Festival and the first time we get to see runners flying over the fences. The fast and furious nature of the contest is always a spectacle as the novices nip around the 1m7f199y trip on the Old Course.
The Arkle may have lost the ante post favourite, Ferny Hollow, but it remains a hugely competitive race and the Arkle ante post market can be found here.
There are still a few races that many of the current entrants will contest before March, mostly in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival which will definitely provide further pointers.
This is my current run down of the leading protagonists for the 2022 Arkle Novices’ Chase.
Blue Lord the correct ante post favourite
Blue Lord is the current ante post favourite following his stablemate, Ferny Hollow, being ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival after suffering a suspensory ligament injury. But of course, Willie Mullins having the fire power that he does, Blue Lord was seamlessly able to slot into place at the head of the Arkle market.
This seven-year-old gelding by Blue Bresil is unbeaten from his two starts over fences, both of which coming this season.
He had shown keen tendencies as a novice hurdler last season which threatened to be a crux of his. He impressed when winning on his Irish, stable and hurdle debut in November 2020 but that was his only win of last season.
He went on to finish second-best behind Bob Olinger in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle and again faced a stiff task when third behind Appreciate It in the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
He was booked for second place in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last season but took a crashing fall at the last. He posed no threat to Appreciate It when coming down but was sure to do next best of the rest by some way.
He then signed off last season when tactics were changed at Punchestown in the Champion Novice Hurdle where he looked to show signs of a long season.
His next and latest outing at the time of writing was in another two-mile chase, this time a novices’ where he was found a golden opportunity with only two others rivals to face. Again, he jumped superbly and ran out as convincing a winner as could be hoped from a 1/4 shot.
He is entered in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle Novice Chase and the Grade 1 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on 5th and 6th February respectively. He’s sure to run in the novice contest and should take all the beating to cement himself as strong favourite for the Arkle.
Edwardstone may prove best of the British
A horse that has surprised many people this season already is Edwardstone. He was a very good novice hurdler but certainly had his limitations well documented when he dined at the top table.
He subsequently went down the handicap hurdle route instead of being sent straight novice chasing following his novice hurdle season. A decision that many were querying due to the size and scope this son of Kayf Tara looked to possess.
He made his seasonal debut when fifth in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham before connections decided to have a tilt at chasing. However, it may have become apparent to some why Edwardstone hadn’t been sent straight over fences. Sent off as the 11/8 favourite for his chase debut, he made an error and unseated his jockey at the fourth fence.
Quickly connections reverted to hurdles with the horse where he won before picking up valuable prize money by finishing third in the Betfair Hurdle and then fifth in the County Hurdle. He signed off his revised hurdling season with a very fair third in the Grade 3 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Aintree and it remained to be seen whether he would stay over the smaller obstacles this season.
The schooling signs must have been positive at home as he reappeared over fences at Warwick- not a track you want to take a sketchy jumper to at the best of times. However, Edwardstone’s jumping certainly wasn’t a cause for concern however, his rivals’ certainly was.
The free going For Pleasure fell at the fourth last fence where Edwardstone had to take evasive action to avoid the stricken horse. Edwardstone showed real intelligence and agility to avoid the carnage and managed to merely slither away to the side. Unfortunately, that manoeuvre meant he lost his jockey but it could have been a lot worse.
Clearly his confidence wasn’t knocked and he rewrote the wrong back at Warwick when dotting up in a Novices’ Chase with the reopposing For Please 15 lengths back in third.
That resulted in a tilt at the Grade 1 Henry VII Novices’ Chase at Sandown where he was taking on Third Time Lucki who admittedly, probably did too much too soon on the front end. Edwardstone was given a very efficient ride by Tom Cannon where he jumped the Sandown fences well in the main.
He was a short priced favourite for the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton where he cruised through the race and simply proved his superiority over his opposition. He won doing handsprings, displaying a good jumping technique and speed which will be needed on the Cheltenham Old Course.
He’s unlikely to be seen again until the Arkle so has the perfect time for a freshen up and he shouldn’t he hindered by any ground conditions, such is his versatility.
Riviere D’Etel armed with mares’ allowance
With the unfortunate injury that sees Ferny Hollow missing Cheltenham, it makes sense that Riviere D’Etel should be prominent in the market. She did after all, only lose her unbeaten chase record to Ferny Hollow by 1 1/2 lengths last time out.
Prior to that second-place finish in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, she was a perfect three from three over fences. That was certainly a build on the juvenile and novice form she’d shown the season prior where she was a winner of one start.
That sole hurdle success came on her stable and Irish debut when heavily backed and justifying the support to run out an impressive winner of a three-year-old maiden hurdle.
It looked a good ploy to then send her into a Rated Novice Hurdle where win or lose, it would have set her up nicely for one of the two juvenile races at the Cheltenham Festival. As she finished third at Navan she took the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle route where she ran respectably to finish seventh.
It looked notable that Gordon Elliott wanted to make the most of the allowances and she won even more impressively in November in a Grade 2 Novice Chase at the expense of Cape Gentleman and Embittered among others.
This mare was able to squeeze in one final win as a four-year-old in a Grade 3 at Navan where she made all and despite some jumps to her right, she powered away.
Of course, even in receipt of 13lb from Ferny Hollow, she was set a hugely tough task to beat the talented yet fragile son of Westerner. Again, the mare jumped to her right around Leopardstown but could never get on terms with the winner.
She pulled 14 lengths clear of the third horse and without Ferny Hollow as an Arkle threat, she should have a big say in the race armed with her mares’ allowance.
The 2020 Arkle showed us that being a mare and a five-year-old isn’t a disadvantage in the race as the mare, Put The Kettle On won from Fakir D’Oudairies in second who was five at the time.
Riviere D’Etel is also entered in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown on 5th February and it’ll be interesting to see the challenge she throws down to Blue Lord.
Can it be Third Time Lucki at the Festival for Skelton’s charge?
Third Time Lucki very much fits the Edwardstone mould where we knew Third Time Lucki was another smart novice hurdler but again, he had his limitations in that sphere exposed when taking on the best.
He was fourth in Ferny Hollow’s Champion Bumper before winning his first couple of hurdle starts however, his progress took a few knocks thereafter. He was overturned as the 10/11 favourite in the Scottish Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which forced the hand of Dan Skelton to bypass the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle itself that season and instead, he ran well to finish sixth in the County Hurdle.
He signed off last season with a lesser effort in the Grade 1 Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree but the anticipation was there for what he could do as a chaser the following season.
His return to Cheltenham for his chase debut in October was seamless, he powered through the race.
It was much the same story in a Grade 2 Novices’ Chase back over the same course and distance in November where again, he took a lead but was going so much easier than the rest of the field.
Harry Skelton took the decision to allow Third Time Lucki to stride on at the fourth last fence. As soon as he was allowed an extra inch of rein, he flew clear when in his comfort zone speed wise. He again, ran out an easy winner and at that point of the season, he looked the leading Arkle contender.
He was sighted at his biggest challenge at Sandown when sent off as the 9/5 favourite for the Grade 1 Henry VII Novices’ Chase. Different tactics were deployed by Skelton who allowed Third Time Lucki to stride on and elected not to restrain him in that company.
He had also looked a very solid jumper in his Cheltenham wins so it made sense that connections should try and use that around Sandown’s jumping test. However, the gamble didn’t pay off, his jumping wasn’t as fluent, and he soon paid for his early exertions where he lost second near the line.
Of course, the bubble looked to be burst initially and even despite the winner being impressive, most of the talking points centred around Third Time Lucki’s run.
His sights were certainly lowered last time out where he ran in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster which has lost plenty of its spectacle over the years. It was a perfect opportunity however, for Third Time Lucki to get back to winning ways.
Queue the wonderfully enigmatic, For Pleasure to set a perfect clip for the two rivals to aim at.
The race could hardly have worked out any better with the forward going pace setter and in addition, Third Time Lucki looked to have matured and settled well. He jumped cleanly and was merely toying with For Pleasure when he fell at the last.
It was the perfect set up for Third Time Lucki and a return to Cheltenham should certainly suit him.
Chasing should see Haut En Couleurs at his best
Haut En Couleurs is big scopey son of Saint Des Saints, I met this five-year-old at last year’s Cheltenham Festival as I was perplexed who he was and what he was doing there. To be completely honest, I’m not sure the horse knew exactly what was going on either, but I was readily informed of A. how to pronounce his name properly and B. that this experience would stand him in good stead for his next season where his best would be shown over fences.
He only had one race in his entire life before last season’s Triumph Hurdle. That sole start was when winning by a head in a three-year-old unraced over obstacles conditions hurdle.
The first thing I noticed about Haut En Couleurs was his size and scope, he was merely a frame at that stage but the thought stuck with me of how impressive he’d look when he filled out.
He ran a great race to finish third in the Triumph Hurdle where he had the 11/8 favourite, Zanahiyr 1 1/4 lengths behind in fourth.
Understandably so therefore, he attempted another Grade 1 in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown where he posted another solid effort to finish third.
It was notable that he was another four-year-old sent straight over fences this season and that was once again, rewarded with Haut En Couleurs winning comfortably in a 2m1f Beginners Chase at Leopardstown in December. He jumped well and powered through the race impressively. Of course, he was the 1/3 favourite but he beat a solid field of runners with two stablemates in second and third in Gentleman De Mee and Mt Leinster.
Of course, it has to be noted that he will not receive the weight-for-ago allowance at the Cheltenham Festival in March so his task will be made more difficult.
Saint Sam has the ability to go with his looks
Saint Sam was yet another of the Willie Mullins battalion that I had the pleasure of meeting and working with at last season’s Cheltenham Festival. I documented it at the time that the best-looking horse for me of the entire string was Saint Sam.
He too, is a son of Saint Des Saints who is getting more and more talented progeny emerging through the ranks. Saint Des Saints is certainly a sire who stamps his progeny and Saint Sam is no different, he is a beautifully put together five-year-old who appears to have the ability to go with his looks.
He signed off his racing in France with a couple of hurdle wins before being bought and switching to join Willie Mullins.
He proved far too keen for his own good in his early juvenile days in Ireland and was very often his own worst enemy. He came off second best to Zanahiyr when that horse really announced himself as the leading juvenile in November 2020.
It was apparent to connections that Saint Sam was unlikely to beat Zanahiyr but he continued to run in the top graded juvenile hurdles where he caught the eye on a couple of occasions. It was therefore, understandable that he was sent to the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle as favourite.
Clearly, he’d proven in his juvenile season he was no match for the top two in that division but he’d earnt a workable handicap mark for the other juvenile contest. He came off second best to subsequent Grade 1 winner Jeff Kidder but still ran a mighty race in defeat.
Yes you guessed it, he is yet another four rising five-year-old who has been sent chasing this term to exploit the weight-for-age allowances which he did emphatically on his reappearance.
He will also be without his allowances come March however, I’m hoping he can once again, show his ability in the Irish Arkle on 5th February.
Venetia Williams may prove the joker in the pack at the Festival
If there’s one trainer I’m hoping can perform above expectation at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, it’s Venetia Williams.
She’s had a brilliant campaign and that’s against the stereotype of her horses requiring testing conditions. We have had unusually dry weather all season yet Williams’s horses have continued to run well.
The yard have picked up plenty of Saturday prizes along the way and I have a feeling that may continue into Cheltenham.
One of the yard’s leading hopes for the Festival is Brave Seasca who continues to go from strength to strength.
He was set his biggest task to date last time out in a Class 2 Handicap Chase at Warwick where he had the defending champion Sky Pirate to face. Yet Brave Seasca made most of the running, jumping the Warwick fences well once in a rhythm and he got better and better as the race progressed.
He was an easy winner and that performance warrants him a place in an Arkle line up should Venetia Williams wish to take this route.
Arkle trip too sharp for Jungle Boogie
It’s a given that Willie Mullins should have a strong hand in the Arkle, he’s won it four times in the past seven years and may also send Jungle Boogie to further bolster the yard’s chances.
Jungle Boogie has only had three career starts where he’s unbeaten, with a victory under three different codes as well.
He won his bumper on debut in November 2020 in good style as a six-year-old. He then returned on hurdle debut in February 2021 where again, he won impressively by 30 lengths over 2m4f. He subsequently had 11 months off the track and reappeared over fences last time out when again, making all to run out an easy winner of the 2m5f110y Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse.
He’s a son of Gold Well whose progeny tend to be stayers. The fact he’s run over 2m4f over hurdles and 2m5f100y over fences suggests he’s likely to take in the 2m5 1/2f Novice Chase at Leopardstown before sighting one of the longer trip novice chases at Cheltenham.
Coeur needs a Sublime performance to be winning
Coeur Sublime has certainly had a rollercoaster of a career so far where he’s shown real brilliance but has also provided disappointments.
His second in the 2019 Triumph Hurdle at a big price behind Pentland Hills was of course, hugely likeable and the hope was that he would go on from that run.
He again, showed his best form when bolting up in a Grade 2 at Down Royal on his reappearance in 2019. However, he was subsequently found out when upped into Grade 1 company, finishing last of those who completed the 2020 Champion Hurdle.
His below par performances continued on his first two chase outings where admittedly, he did next best of the rest behind Ferny Hollow at Punchestown on chase debut. He again, came up against Ferny Hollow in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase where he was a well-beaten third with Riviere D’Etel also finishing in front of him.
Coeur Sublime was then given his own golden opportunity to get off the mark over fences last time out at Gowran Park in a two-mile Beginners Chase. He was sent to win his race three out and ran out an easy victor, justifying his 1/6 favouritism.
He has no more entries between now and Cheltenham so it looks likely that he will head straight there.
To conclude, this year’s Arkle looks wide open at this stage with a stronger hierarchy likely to be established following the Dublin Racing Festival.
Blue Lord certainly appears the correct favourite at this stage. As the horse who should have fared second best behind Appreciate It in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, that stands him in very good stead.
However, there is one horse who looks likely to have the world at his feet still as he continues to progress. That horse is Saint Sam who impressed on chase debut. He will be without the weight-for-age allowances come March, like many of these. However, history has proven that five-year-olds are more than capable of holding their own in the Arkle from a small sample size.
At an each-way price of 11.010/1, I think there should be far more to come from Saint Sam and because of his keen going nature, I hope they send him to the Arkle instead of the Turners Novices’ Chase.
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