The Arkle Chase is named after one of the greatest horses to take to the track in the National Hunt, and one competitor will be striving to etch their name on the trophy at Cheltenham Festival.
The race is designed for novice chasers to make their impact on the sport after taking the step up from the hurdles. The last four winners of the meet have been quality horses, including the great Altior, who ended Willie Mullins’ run of success in 2017.
Footpad returned Mullins to the winners’ circle last season with a fine performance, and it will be no surprise to see the trainer in contention for the crown this time around. Although on this occasion, he does not have an outstanding competitor in the field.
Le Richebourg has been installed as the leading contender by the bookmakers, although he is surrounded by talent with Lalor and Glen Forsa also vying for the crown. Cheltenham Festival does not always play out as expected therefore there could be others horses in the field that could make a surprise charge from seemingly out of nowhere.
We’ll now break down the contenders for the Arkle Chase and give SBO’s ante-post tip for the event.
The French-bred horse did not have a good experience at Cheltenham Festival last season in the County Handicap Hurdle, finishing down in 15th place out of 24 competitors. However, Joseph O’Brien’s charge has been excellent since the meet, winning four out of his races this season. Le Richebourg began the campaign with a fifth-place finish in the Galway Hurdle Handicap, failing to find his rhythm after an early mistake.
He bounced back to claim his first victory of the term at the John F. McGuire Beginners Chase, delivering on expectations with a solid performance. O’Brien’s charge made his strongest statement yet at the Like A Butterfly Novice Chase in Tipperary, timing his surge down the stretch to perfection to pull clear of the field to win by seven lengths. Delta Work got the better of him in a tight contest at the Drinmore Novice Chase, but since the he has been flawless on the track.
Le Richebourg put forward a clean ride with Mark Walsh in the saddle on Boxing Day in the Racing Post Novice Chase. It was a smooth ride albeit with a slight error on the last fence, although he recovered with ease to finish comfortably ahead of Us And Them. He saw off his stable-mate with another polished display to claim the Arkle Novice Chase crown at Leopardstown, speeding down the straight to notch the win. The six-year-old will be a difficult horse to beat on Cheltenham’s opening day.
Kayley Woollacott took charge of the German-bred horse after the passing of her husband Richard early in 2018. Lalor will compete in Cheltenham Festival for the first time of his career after missing out last season.
His form has been up-and-down over the last year, putting in an underwhelming display at the Betfair Hurdle in February 2018, placing down in 13th out of 24 competitors. However, he found his form to end the last season on a high note at Aintree in the Top Novices’ Hurdle. Lalor was a 14/1 outsider for the crown, but with Richard Johnson in the saddle, he rose to the occasion and found the speed down the stretch to record the victory by two-and-a-quarter lengths.
After a lengthy break, Lalor returned for the Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in November. The German-bred horse produced an outstanding performance to defeat a talented field, including race favourite Claimantakinforgan, by seven lengths. He struggled for form on his last outing at the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park, finishing well off the pace of Dynamite Dollars. Woollacott’s charge will not compete before the Arkle Chase, although with rest he could emulate his performance from the trial in November.
The Irish-bred horse is a competitor on the rise and could be peaking at the perfect time ahead of the Arkle Chase. Mick Channon’s charge has progressed over the course of the season, although he does not have a great deal of experience.
He began the term with a solid run in the National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle at Newton Abbot, although he finished five lengths off the pace of his compatriot Colonel Custard in second place. The bay gelding produced an identical outing his next display at Carlisle in a Novices’ Hurdle meet, on this occasion Glen Forsa finished behind One For Rosie, lacking the speed to close down the stretch.
Since his defeat, Glen Forsa has responded by winning all three of his meets before the Festival. The Irish-bred horse delivered on expectations with a solid outing in the Viasat Chase at Chepstow. On Boxing, he was on form again, claiming the 32Red.com Chase crown as an outsider for the event.
Although Amy Murphy’s charge was well beaten by Glen Forsa in his last outing, he could still be a horse to be reckoned with in the Arkle Chase. In his debut at Cheltenham Festival last season, the Irish-bred horse lost by the smallest of margins to Summerville Boy in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
He returned to action for the Novices’ Chase at Warwick in November, easing to victory ahead of the field by 11 lengths. Kalashnikov was dominant on the track once again in the Sky Sports Racing Novices’ Chase. Jack Quinlan was able to keep his charge on pace in the early stages of the contest before moving into the lead three fences out. He did not take his foot off the gas down the stretch, cantering away to triumph by 18 lengths.
A couple of mistakes would haunt Murphy’s charge at the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase as he finished narrowly off the pace of Dynamite Dollars, leaving too much work to do down the straight. The Kingmaker Novices’ Chase proved to be a tougher outing as he failed to match Glen Forsa, suffering a humbling defeat at Sandown Park. There is a quality competitor in the six-year-old, but his form does not suggest he will prove it at the Arkle Chase.
Le Richebourg is the bookies’ favourite for the event, although he does not have a good track record at Cheltenham. His lack of a victory at the racecourse could be a cause for concern. Glen Forsa has the form, although he does not have a strong pedigree against elite competition outside of his one win over Kalashnikov.
Channon’s charge has also not competed at Cheltenham in his short career. Kalashnikov has excellent value at 16/1, although his recent form on the track does not inspire confidence. Lalor is the one to back as Woollacott has been careful to keep the German-bred horse out of action, while he also has a win at Cheltenham this term. Back him for success at odd of 9/25.50+4504.504.50-0.22 with Bet365.