THE ARKLE TROPHY AT CHELTENHAM PREVIEW. RUN FELIX RUN.
I continue my look ahead at Cheltenham, this time The Arkle. I have already tipped up FELIX YONGER at 14/1 to the tune of a massive 4 points.
CHAMPAGNE FEVER 7/2 : A truly high class horse winning eight of his thirteen career starts and never out of the first three on all sortS of ground ,tracks and distances, he is also unbeaten in both tries here at the Festival. Even with these mighty credentials, a few still doubt him and they argue he has thrown in a few blips in that mighty record like at Punchestown and Naas last year and on his latest outing behind Defy Logic. They are being a bit picky as there are excuses for those three below par efforts. Let’s try and explain those. The Naas run was over two and a half miles on heavy going and Ruby Walsh rode a plonker on this occasion, he threw in crazy fractions from the front on the gluey ground and the horse simply got exhausted , it was a cut and dried case of a very poor ride, it happens to the best of jockeys, including Ruby. Nick Mordin wrote an excellent piece on that run and you should look it up on The Field. The defeat at the Punchestown Festival looked to me to be caused by the ‘bounce factor” after a huge effort at Cheltenham, notwithstanding he did have the required magic forty two day break, and his defeat by Defy Logic the last day was down to Ruby again, he admitted it afterwards that he should not have got embroiled in another crazy pace duel up front with that high class but tearaway front runner. To prove my theory correct about that mad gallop, Defy Logic himself ran so hard that day that he burst a blood vessel on his next start against Trifolium and is now out for the year. That particular race has huge implications on this year’s Arkle and sadly for me also as it could mean the withdrawal of Felix Yonger I will explain in my piece on Felix underneath later .Ruby’s wish all along has been for Champagne Fever to contest the Arkle instead of stretching him out in trip for the Jewson or RSA and it now looks as if Willie and Rich Ricci have eventually granted him his desire and he looks certain to go for the two miler. Everything is in order for another massive performance from Fever and Willie will have him spot on for a record breaking/equalling third win in a row in three different races at the Festival, not sure if it has been done before, you have the likes of the greats doing it in the same race ,Golden Miller , Arkle, Best Mate and Quevega. I am sure some of you out there will be quick to tell me how wrong I am on this one but you know what I mean but certainly no horse has won the Bumper, Supreme and then the Arkle.
FELIX YONGER 14/1 : My big ante post gamble is likely to come unstuck because it looks as if Ruby has convinced Willie not to go for this and instead re route to the Jewson. I am devastated as I believe he has the beating of Champagne Fever and the others and by a fair margin. In fact in a terrible renewal of this year’s Champion Chase [ Sprinter Sacre heart problems ] I believe Felix could even win that as a novice, so highly do I rate him. I am not alone in this train of thought, yes , the great Mordin has given this horse a monstrous speed figure and he very rarely gets it wrong and Paul Nicholls has also spotted the opportunity by entering his novices Hinterland and Dodging Bullets so I am not going crazy. Felix Yonger was well bought by Tony Mullins and ran second when not tuned up on his debut before the Gowran handler sold him to Graham Wylie and out of thirteen career starts he has won six ,finished second on five occasions and the only two unplaced runs were when he was wrong when tailing off in the Champion bumper at this track and down the field in unraceable ground at Punchestown. Felix Yonger needs good or even fast ground and is a brilliant horse on his favoured surface. He dotted up on his first three chases dishing out thrashings to White Star Line , Defy Logic and Trifolium. He burst the clock on the second occasion when he outclassed Defy Logic and his jumping was electric, the best I have seen from a novice in a long time. He went on to hammer Trifolium at Navan twenty days later before two defeats on ground that he hates ,at Limerick against his inferior stablemate, The Paparazzi Kid and then in the Irish Arkle where Trifolium comprehensively turned the form around. I was very unhappy with the ride that Ruby gave him that day whatever the ground. He never once put him into the race and he eventually made his first ever mistake four from home which sealed his fate but he had been given far too much to do in any case and had no chance of winning. I have got to be careful here but Champagne Fever is obviously playing very heavily on Ruby’s mind for the Arkle and like the Annie Power debate in the Champion/Stayers hurdle any top jockey worth his salt will want to ride all the horses that have winning chances in the big ones and to keep them apart. In other words Ruby [rightly for him] will want Felix Yonger to avoid Champagne Fever like he will want Annie Power to sidestep Hurricane Fly. I do not blame him for that. There is a chink of light though for us with the emergence of Djakadam who has catapulted to the head of the betting for the Jewson and he of course is yet another Ricci/Mullins inmate so therefore the big decision should really come down to Graham Wylie and his advisers. My advice to Mr. Wylie for what it is worth is ”run Felix Yonger in the Arkle and you will beat the mighty Champagne Fever ”
TRIFOLIUM 6/1 : I have mentioned above the one all draw over fences between Felix and Trifolium. The latter is very smart when let loose around a tight track but not so good when faced with a taxing galloping course as his record shows. He flew around Thurles on his comeback from a reported leg injury and hasn’t looked back since, culminating in that Irish Arkle win against Felix. Plenty are backing him and he is seriously well fancied but I cannot have him at all on this big undulating track. He should be saved for Aintree where he would whizz round the bends and a mad idea would be to go for the Chester Cup back on the flat, his French bumper form would give him an outstanding chance but he doesn’t have a flat mark !! Final advice to connections is to wait for Aintree.
DODGING BULLETS 6/1 : Paul Nicholls is showing everybody this year how brilliant a trainer he is. He doesn’t have the spending power that he once had and yet he is leading the UK trainers championship by about half a million. He might even beat Henderson to the title. Tom Malone has chipped in to help him with his very shrewd purchase of Dodging Bullets from Andrew Oliver after he beat Hisabaat in a flat handicap at Sligo in August ’11. The horse has thrived this season winning his first three starts over the big ones including two Grade Two’s before being chinned on the line by the rallying Module in another such event on heavy ground at Newbury last Saturday. I feel it was pilot error that done him as he was produced too soon. The big question for fans of this horse is, can he carry his form into March, something he has palpably failed to do in the last couple of seasons at both this meeting and Aintree ? The horse is very hard on himself and is always on his toes but is hard to figure out overall as he has won in the height of Summer and the depths of Winter and while you could say he conforms to the rest pattern [ can take his first two runs of the season but needs a break of 42 days thereafter to produce his best] how then do we explain his lacklustre run when rested for 76 days before the Supreme last year ? It could just be that he hates the hustle and bustle and noise of the bigger meetings so a pair of earplugs might not go astray, that is the only conclusion I can come to to explain his terrible late Spring form. He wouldn’t be out of it and could well run into a place if the real Dodging Bullets turns up but it is difficult to see him beating either of Felix Yonger or Champagne Fever especially after that tough race at the weekend and just 31 days to recover. Also entered in the Champion Chase.
ROCK ON RUBY 6/1 : Harry Fry is on the ATR channel everytime I switch on and there is a huge amount of hype surrounding his hope, Rock On Ruby. I suppose he is entitled to it as an ex Champion hurdler and unbeaten in two chase starts but they were 2 and 3 runner affairs. He could do no more than win them easily but I wonder will he have enough jumping done at racing pace now to cope with the others ? That is debatable. I think not but one must remember that he has won and finished second in the past two runnings of the Champion Hurdle and was only done on the bob in a photo finish in the Neptune the year previous to those. That is one heck of a Festival record and this alone means he must be accorded the utmost respect. The horse loves the place and he really comes to life in the Spring also which is the complete polar opposite to Dodging Bullets. He is entitled to be fancied and especially if we get good ground. A Chance if his jumping holdS up.
VALDEZ 10/1 : This horse is by my one my favourite up and coming sires , Doyen, the other being Sholokhov. Valdez is a big strong bugger of a chesnut with a massive white face on him, you surely won’t miss him in running anyway. He is unbeaten in three oVer the larger obstacles and will be running on when many have cried enough. The big worry for me is will he have the boot to cope with some of the other speedier types ? Smart and as likeable as he is I feel a place is the best he can hope for. A really honest type.
HINTERLAND 10/1 : Failed to win over fences in his initial season over fences and has a lot of experience now and duly broke his duck at Sandown on his reappearance before winning the Grade One Henry V111 over the same course and distance beating Grandouet ,one of his opponents here. He has failed twice at other meetings on this track but that was as a juvenile and perhaps he has strengthened up now as a six year old. Paul Nicholls obviously thinks so as has given him an entry in the Champion Chase also. I do feel that he has a bit to find with a few of these and a place might be the best he can hope for. It is not inconceivable to think that he might do better in the Champion itself in what is looking like a desperate renewal of that event for which he is 16/1.
GRANDOUET 16/1 : A maiden over fences after three attempts but one was a neck second to Hinterland in that Grade One mentioned above. I have given up trying to work this fellow out other than to say he seems to lack the stamina to come up the final climb despite finishing third in his Triumph days. He has course winning form and was going easily when falling at the fifth in last year’s Champion and going off at only 13/2 but that is rather clutching at straws and I am happy to overlook him now.
BALDER SUCCESS 25/1 : Can run big numbers when fresh on tight tracks including last time at Warwick but I must also pass him over here. He would have a much better chance at Aintree.
Summary : This is a good renewal of the Arkle if they all hold their ground .I would have to go for FELIX YONGER if he turns up but that seems unlikely now according to the people in the know. That being the case and with four points already invested on him at 14/1, I am now advising another 2 pointer on CHAMPAGNE FEVER at the 7/2 still available. This bet will stand whether Felix turns up or not .That price could actually represent value come the day for a horse trying to create history. Rock On Ruby is best of the rest.