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Monday, 3 January 2022

Cheltenham Festival - the Arkle 2-mile novice chase

Putting together an antepost portfolio for the Cheltenham Festival requires a bit of thought: not in finding the best horse for the race, but in ensuring that you have a likely runner in the race.  The "Arkle" has been contested by only a handful of runners in some recent years:-
2021: Shiskin beat just 4 rivals,
2020: Put The Kettle On beat 10 others,
2019: Duc Des Genievres beat 11 others,
2018: Footpad beat just 4 rivals,
2017: Altior beat 8 rivals
When the fav is odds-on, the number of runners is likely to be in single figures - is Ferny Hollow likely to go off the odds-on fav?

 Current betting as at 3rd January 2022

The fav for the race is Ferny Hollow trained by Willie Mullins. The 2020 Champion "Bumper" winner, beating stablemate and subsequent 2021 Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Appreciate It in the process, won his only novice hurdle race beating subsequent 2021 Ballymore Novice Hurdle winner Bob Olinger into 2nd place. Injury curtailed his hurdling season, and he returned to racing last month with a facile win at Punchestown. He's followed that up with a good win at Leopardstown on Boxing Day giving 13lb to the useful Riviere D'Etel, and that form makes this quality horse the 2/1 fav for the Arkle. It is likely that Ferny Hollow will run again in the Irish "Arkle" on 5th February at Leopardstown, and a win there could see him start at 6/4 (or even shorter) come the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The best of the UK challengers is Edwardstone, trained by Alan King. He probably wasn't as good a hurdler as Ferny Hollow, but he is very consistent and has taken that consistency into his chasing. His win on 27th Dec at Kempton was a top-class performance for a novice chaser, and Alan King has suggested that he will go to Warwick for the "Kingmaker" on 12th February. What I like about this horse is that he never runs a bad race, and he also looks like he will stay 2m4f.  While Alan King has not done well at recent Cheltenham Festivals, he does know how to win the "Arkle".  

Blue Lord is another Mullins-trained horse, but his form is trickier to fathom, as his best performance on paper was when falling at the final hurdle in the Supreme Novices hurdle last March.  He looked like coming home a good 2nd that day; but his form before or since then does not suggest he's an "Arkle" winner.

As referred to above, Bob Olinger won the 2021 Ballymore Novices Hurdle in impressive fashion, and before that he'd "mullered" Blue Lord. He didn't look too convincing on his novice chase debut, but he did win, and Master McShee - also on his chase debut - in 3rd (btn 16 lengths) has since won well. That was in November and unless we see Bob Olinger run again soon, and win in decent fashion, then I don't think he will be winning the "Arkle".  He is the 6/4 fav for the "Turner" (used to be the RSA Chase) over 3-miles, but those odds look silly.  

It's not unusual to see Mullins have multiple entries in the novice races at the Festival, and I was impressed with the chase debut of Haut En Couleurs at Leopardstown on the 27th Dec. There were some good words from Mullins after that win, and it has to be remembered that he placed the horse on his debut for the stable in the Triumph Hurdle last March, in which he ran 3rd.  It would not surprise me to see this horse improve over 10lb next-time-out, and he looks very exciting.

At this point, it seems likely that there will be fewer than 10 runners in the race, with Ferny Hollow going off the odds-on fav - especially if he wins (as is likely) the Irish "Arkle" on 5th February.  This is a time & tested route to the Arkle for Willie Mullins, and he was successful with Footpad (in 2018) and Douvan (in 2016), but it is not guaranteed. I think there is better value in finding a likely runner that will be placed in the race, and the two that jump out are Edwardstone and Haut En Couleurs.  There is no "non-runner, no-bet" offers available on the Arkle yet, so there is the risk of losing the stake, but the 14/1 about Haut En Couleurs offered by Bet365 looks very tempting, especially as in my opinion he could be a 160+ 2-mile chaser.

Suggested Antepost Wager:
Arkle 2-mile Novice Chase:
HAUT EN COULEURS - £5.00 eachway @ 14/1 with Bet365, 5th odds a place 1,2,3 

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