Pace, technique, heart and class – that is what’s required to come out on top in the heat of an Arkle battle. It requires all the attributes shown by the horse the race is named after.
Arkle won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running and became one of the public’s all-time favourite horses along with Red Rum and Desert Orchid.
As well as his Cheltenham treble, he also won the King George VI Chase, the Irish Grand National and two Hennessy Gold Cups.
The race named in his honour is for novice chasers but usually the winner is anything but. Perhaps down the line, a change of name to the Champion Novices Chase would be more fitting.
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A normally small field tackle the two mile course around the Cheltenham knowing that a win in this race could open up a whole host of future doors for Cheltenham successes.
Remittance Man (1991), Klairon Davis (1995), Flagship Uberalles (1999), Azertyuiop (2003) and Voy Por Ustedes (2006) all have gone onto taste victory the following year in the Queen Mother Champion Chase while the immense Moscow Flyer (2002) achieved the great feat of winning the Champion Chase on two occasions after first winning the Arkle.
Alverton (1978) is the only horse to have won both Arkle Chase and then land the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Although that achievement could, in theory, be doubled this season if last year’s Arkle winner Captain Chris can put his jumping issues aside and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the Thursday.
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Phillip Hobbs’ charge justified the faith of his trainer that he would be suited by the two miles around Prestbury Park by powering up the Cheltenham hill to upstage the well-travelling Finian’s Rainbow.
That continued the eight year run of favourites getting beaten in the race; however the last 20 winners have started at no bigger than 11-1.
This year’s Racing Post Arkle Chase is one of the most hotly anticipated races of this year’s Cheltenham Festival. The current crop of two-mile novice chasers has rarely been of this quality and there is hopes from many in the racing world that one of this year’s protagonists can follow in the footsteps of Alverton in 1979 and go on to win the Gold Cup after winning the Arkle.
The horse that many people have future riches in mind for, including his trainer Nicky Henderson is Sprinter Sacre. The Seven-Barrows handler has openly admitted that the six-year-old could be one of the best he has ever trained and his eyes light up any time he is asked a question about the Caroline Mould-owned gelding.
So far in his chasing career, he has been faultless. The size, scope and nimbleness of the horse always had him earmarked for a career over fences, and he has showed this season that those hopes of him taking well to the sticks have become a reality. An exhibition of jumping was produced on his chase debut at Doncaster before he blew away last season’s Champion Hurdle runner-up Peddlers Cross at Kempton over Christmas by 16 lengths.
Obviously, the nature of the race at Cheltenham will mean Sprinter Sacre will need to travel and jump faster than he has ever had to before. But from an ante-post point of view he rates as a strong favourite and will no doubt be popular with punters on the day.
This is by no means a done-deal in terms of the winner though as this year’s novice chase contingent are a talented bunch. Al Ferof, certainly, is one that could rock the Sprinter Sacre boat come the race. After all, Paul Nicholls gutsy customer beat Henderson’s star by five and a half lengths in last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdler over the same course and distance.
Granted that Sprinter Sacre has probably improved a fair few pounds for the switch to fences but he still has to make up that length deficit over Al Ferof, who himself should have improved. He is unbeaten in novice company over fences as well but was beaten five lengths by Somersby in the Victor Chandler Chase when tackling open company for the first time.
Peddlers Cross is also likely to line up and trainer Donald McCain reckons he should get closer to Sprinter Sacre this time around baring no accidents while Cue Card has failed to live up to his reputation since winning the Champion Bumper by seven lengths two years ago and has also looked rather progressive over fences.
This is shaping up to be the race of the Festival.