Clarcam looks the bet at a Smashing price for the Arkle
The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy has thrown up a number of small fields in recent seasons and it may well be the case in this year’s running. At the second entry stage we have 26 entries with Ireland holding 10 of those.
Numbers are sure to shrink significantly at declarations meaning this may well be a great time to grab some value. The presence of a hotpot favourite in Un De Sceaux is sure to scare away many. We may have a single digit field like the last three runnings where, 9, 7 and 6 horses went to post.
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Preview
There is little point sugar-coating this preview as it all revolves around Un De Sceaux. If Willie Mullins’ charge manages to safely navigate around the 13 fences the Old Course has to offer, it’s simple, he wins. On what we saw over hurdles and what has been witnessed over fences this season he is streets clear of the field in terms of raw ability and form. The biggest danger to Un De Sceaux losing is Un De Sceaux.
The aggressive front-running son of Denham Red has yet to be beaten when completing. Two bumper wins, three hurdle victories and two chase success have been gained in his 12-race career. The only blip on his record came on chasing debut at Thurles where he fell at the third last fence. While it was some way from home it was clear he was in command and, if jumping round, would remain unbeaten.
In the hands of Ruby Walsh he was just too keen on his first start in six months. Before coming to grief he had actually jumped like a seasoned professional. He quickly made amends three weeks later at Fairyhouse, however, running out a facile 12 lengths winner from Smashing, who has since given the form a big boost.
Once more he was keen, keener than you’d like, but that’s just his way of doing things. It didn’t hinder his jumping, though, as he was clean, neat and quick over the obstacles. A good cognitive ability at one or two fences was also seen, setting himself right at jumps he didn’t meet on a perfect stride.
Next up would be his first venture into Grade 1 company, his trainer’s patience was about to be rewarded by the performance of the season thus far. In the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase the six-year-old destroyed his field beating a previous Grade 1 winner in Clarcam – giving him ten pounds – by 15 lengths. It was a staggering performance.
So good was the win he now enters the race as a hot 4/7 favourite. His price is about right on what we’ve seen, but he is not a betting proposition. While there are no doubts about him being the best horse in the race there are a couple of concerns to note.
The biggest challenge that may face Un De Sceaux is the occasion. The Cheltenham Festival is awash with colour and noise; it’s an environment this keen horse will never have experienced before. It’s common knowledge the gelding hasn’t been easy to train or ‘keep a lid on’ and we just wonder how he will handle the circus that is Cheltenham in March?
Having never been to Prestbury obviously means Un De Sceaux has no Cheltenham course form. The Old track is quite sharp meaning at various stages he will be travelling at speed when meeting his fences. There will be little room for error in the jumping department.
The final note we’d make is, this will be probably be the fastest terrain he has raced on. The high knee action he carries wouldn’t fill you with confidence he’ll love faster ground, but he’s quite a light-bodied horse so there is every chance he’ll be fine.
According to the market Vibrato Valtat is the horse Un De Sceaux has most to fear. Coming from the Paul Nicholls stable he deserves maximum respect, especially when you consider he should be unbeaten over fences.
At Cheltenham on his second effort over the larger obstacles he was the victim of a poor Sam Twiston-Davies ride. It was a quick turn of events for the Ditcheat stable jockey who would go from hero to villain aboard Vibrato Valtat in the space of three weeks, as, on chasing debut, he executed a fine waiting ride.
This time, however, he over exaggerated the tactics and paid the penalty, finishing second in the Grade 2 Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices’ Chase. Luckily for the horse he would right the wrongs of that defeat over his conqueror when winning the Grade 1 Racing Post Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
A feature of all his races is how strongly he travels and that was once more evident. In the hands of Noel Fehily the pair would stay on best past Dunraven Storm and stablemate Irish Saint. It appeared he ran on strongly, he did, but given how the race was run, it really did suit his hold-up style. He also benefitted from the runner-up’s bad final fence blunder before he got the job done. The bare form flatters him a touch.
Jumping errors have not been seen in Vibrato Valtat’s game so far and his safe technique was once more seen when winning his next start at Kempton, in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase. In fact, it was his sound leaping that probably won him the race given the runner-up, Three Kingdoms, was a touch safe and slower away from plenty of his obstacles.
John Ferguson’s horse served it up to the son of Voix Du Nord, but the Nicholls horse battled on well, hit the front and appeared to idle having gone a length up. It wasn’t overly convincing again, but he got the win and that was the most important aspect. His final run of the year came six weeks later in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.
Another victory was gained, but, in contrasting fashion to his previous successes. Strong travelling, quick jumping characteristics had been the mainstay of his game thus far, but this time his jumping lacked fluency and he looked clumsy. Was it the quick early pace that caused discomfort or was he a touch rusty off his mini-break?
Where he had only just been getting the job done in earlier wins Vibrato Valtat destroyed a 153-rated animal here by four-and-a-half lengths giving him four pounds. It was impressive to the eye how he strode clear after the last and he comes to Cheltenham in rude health.
The breathing operation connections undertook has really worked. He does an awful lot right; travels and jumps nicely so he is respected coming from these quarters despite his form not looking anywhere near as strong as the favourite’s.
A horse that remains high in the betting and to the fore of our thoughts is Clarcam. This may surprise many given the formbook says he has little chance of beating Un De Sceaux, who destroyed him in the Irish Arkle on his last start.
It will be a tall order turning the form with the Willie Mullins inmate, but there is one aspect of his game we just can’t get away from, his jumping. There are very few novice chasers that can match his fluent, slick technique.
We have no doubt this will stand to him in the heat of battle in an Arkle. While his jumping is outstanding it shouldn’t be forgotten he is a Grade 1 winner himself. The form couldn’t be considered solid – given the below par performance of Vautour – but the son of Califet was an impressive winner in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The ground was heavy this day, but connections are adamant better going will show him in a much better light. With this being the case we can see him running a big race for Gordon Elliot. We doubt it will be enough to turnover Un De Sceaux, but running into the frame is a strong possibility.
The Gigginstown-owned horse will need to be at the top of his game to do so, however, as he won’t have the benefit of his ten pounds five-year-old allowance which he was entitled to in the earlier parts of the season. This is obviously a concern, but he’s a classy horse and his trump card that sees him run well is his jumping.
Three Kingdoms is a horse that jumps well in the main, too, but unlike Clarcam he’s not as quick through the air. It’s a shame this is the case because he looks a useful horse from the John Ferguson yard. As with most from this stable Three Kingdoms is an ex-flat-racer now applying his trade over obstacles.
It wasn’t too long ago he beat the race second-favourite Vibrato Valtat over hurdles, giving him seven pounds. The Nicholls runner has obviously progressed since, but still, there is little between the pair, on the formbook, judged on their Kempton running over Christmas of this season.
In the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase Vibrato Valtat would exact his revenge on Three Kingdoms, turning around a neck beating over hurdles, when receiving weight, into a half-a-length victory off levels.
The result may have been different had Three Kingdoms jumped the last as quickly, however, the son of Street Cry fractionally slower away from the fence before running on gamely. The winner possibly idled in front, but regardless, there is little between the pair on form, but their price discrepancy is huge.
Vibrato Valtat is a general 5/1 play, but Three Kingdoms is five times his price. For whatever reason, we’re not sure. It’s possibly down to John Ferguson being a less recognised trainer than Paul Nicholls, but however you cut it, the Bloomfield’s horse is value.
The one thing that lacks in Three Kingdom’s game is jumping slickly. By no means is he a bad leaper, in fact, he’s very safe, but he’s too conservative and we just wonder how much ground he’ll lose at his obstacles? On the other hand, the likely fast pace may help him jump slicker and if that transpires, his current price will look huge on the day.
His price is also value when you compare to that of Josses Hill, the current joint-third favourite. On a strict line of form through a horse of Paul Nicholls’s called Solar Impulse there is literally nothing between them, but yet, Josses Hill is half his price.
Three Kingdoms, like Josses Hill, would beat the above Nicholls horse at Doncaster in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase. Both AP McCoy and the son of Street Cry deserves huge credit for pulling this victory out of the bag. A bad mistake three out gave Solar Impulse a healthy lead late in the straight, but Three Kingdoms was as game as the man on his back and got up close home.
Connections felt he needed a step-up in trip after this win and that’s exactly what you want to hear for an Arkle candidate. You need to stay to win this race and Three Kingdoms does. The six-year-old has a fantastic attitude and that will stand to him at Cheltenham. Despite his jumping being a touch lethargic for a race of this nature he does plenty right and offers value.
Plenty of value can still be obtained about the price of Smashing who can be backed at a price of 33/1. Given his form this season those odds looks pretty big. Trained by Henry De Bromhead, who won this race in 2010 with the great Sizing Europe, there is plenty to like about this former French runner.
Despite only being six he has plenty of experience and has already raced a colossal 24 times. That’s plenty for a horse so young, but the good news is he still appears to be improving. With that sort of practice behind him, given his progressive chase form, it’s ideal.
Another aspect of experience that can be priceless is the son of Smadoun’s solid Cheltenham Festival form. He was a gallant fourth in last season’s Coral Cup behind Whisper. It was a fantastic effort and the form of that race is increasingly looking strong.
His three runs over fences this campaign can also be considered rock solid. On seasonal debut at Gowran Park the gelding finished 3rd behind two useful chasers in Don Poli and Wounded Warrior. Beaten ten lengths in the end that probably underrates the bare form given he raced keenly on heavy terrain over two-and-a-half miles.
Since that run, connections have decided to drop the Alan Pott’s-owned horse to the minimum trip and it has paid dividends. It didn’t immediately pay off, however, as Smashing was unlucky to bump into Un De Sceaux on his second run over fences.
He was no match for the Willie Mullins horse, but he ran a fantastic race to be second, coming home 30 lengths clear of the third. Having been a touch careful jumping on debut it was good to see his jumping technique improve.
He’d finally get off the mark over larger obstacles when winning at Gowran Park on Goffs Thyestes Day. Under Johnny Burke Smashing went on to obliterate his field by 33 lengths. He was an easy winner and apart from the third last obstacle his jumping was good.
While the bookmakers don’t appear to be paying much attention to Smashing we feel he ticks an awful lot of boxes. There is also a chance he’ll improve for better ground given his sire. That observation as well as his strong travelling and sound jumping ability means he’s high on our shortlist despite his over inflated odds.
At the start of the season Josses Hill was very much to the fore of our thoughts as an exciting novice chaser to follow. His sheer size and scoop suggested he’d go on to much better things when tackling larger obstacles.
Second in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, that was a fantastic run for a horse so big, and he followed up at Aintree when winning a Grade 2 event next time out. Excitement was building coming into this season, but the positivity has curbed somewhat.
To be fair connections chucked him in at the deep end on debut in the Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot. Given how keen he was, and can be, over a trip too far of his best it was a sound introduction behind the useful Ptit Zig.
He’d be entitled to come on for the run, but the one worry was his jumping. At times he looked clueless and awkward despite having jumped nicely in the earlier parts. It was a similar case on his next run at Doncaster where he beat Solar Impulse (as mentioned above earlier).
Having looked shaky in jumping in the primary stages, the son of Winged Love got his act together over the four fences in the straight. He’d collar Solar Impulse close home. It was nothing more than satisfactory, however, especially when you consider he received two pounds from the runner-up.
Things would get worse for the seven-year-old on his next start when turned-over at odds of 1-2 at Kempton in a graduation chase. While the run didn’t come over his ideal trip especially given his keen nature it was bitterly disappointing to not see him win.
Once more his jumping would let him down and given he was favoured at the weights it was a poor effort. With this in mind – despite his classy hurdles form – he is hard to recommend. While jumping appears to be his real sticking point, the form of his runs doesn’t add up to Arkle-winning standard. No doubt his jumping technique hasn’t helped.
Best of the Rest
There doesn’t really appear to be a whole pile of strength and depth to this race and there is a good chance a small field will go to post. God’s Own has some strong form to his name, but it’s all on right-handed track and we’re not sure will he run here.
Sgt Reckless was a classy hurdler, but he couldn’t be recommended given his unorthodox preparation. He lacks chasing experience and his one run over fences doesn’t look strong. The rest entered really don’t look up to scratch or have handicap options.
The BetBright Verdict
Given the presence of Un De Sceaux there is a strong chance we may have a single digit field meaning there could be some great each-way value in taking on the short-priced favourite. Make no mistake about it this race revolves around the Willie Mullins horse.
If he handles the Cheltenham experience and jumps round, he should win. However, given his price and the doubts we have about his temperament he must be taken on. Reservations about him handling the Cheltenham occasion may get his pre-race day backers as worked up as him as he heads to post. He’s by far-and-away the best horse in the race, but the best horse doesn’t always win in this game.
Given the jumping frailties we’ve seen Josses Hill isn’t a horse we could suggest playing in a race of this nature. He is classy enough to go close, but winning an Arkle is all about jumping nicely at speed. You also need to stay to win this race and Nicky Henderson’s charge has looked vulnerable over further this season. No doubt his keen-going ways don’t help, but either will they in an Arkle.
At the prices, at this stage, Vibrato Valtat will be taken on. This is purely a value call as Paul Nicholls’s horse looks quite solid. He travels strongly, jumps well and appears to be finishing his races better this season. There is just a nagging doubt his price is connections based so we’re willing to take him on.
The three horses that really interest are Clarcam, Smashing and Three Kingdoms. Of the trio, there is no doubt SMASHING is the best bet at the prices. It appears he’s been underestimated by the market and in our book is probably a 12/1 shot given this is now his number one target.
Fourth in a strong running of the Coral Cup last season the six-year-old has valuable course experience. Experience in general is something he won’t lack having run 24 times and that is always a positive.
His progressive form is another plus. From finishing behind the likes of Don Poli and Un De Sceaux in his first two chase starts, a 33-lentghs romp followed in his Cheltenham prep. The son of Smadoun jumps well and the prospect of better ground will further aid his cause. At 33/1, he is a must bet.
Clarcam and Three Kingdoms also interest us for different reasons. The latter offers far more value, but his form doesn’t look as strong and he certainly doesn’t jump as well. With that in mind we’ll take the Un De Sceaux form as gospel and also suggest a play on CLARCAM.
We know Gordon Elliot’s inmate has a mountain to climb with Un De Sceaux, but he still rates a just about fair each-way bet. Given his jumping and form 2/1 to place is worth the play. We can’t overstate how good Clarcam’s jumping is. Given connections feel he’ll improve for better ground we can see him running a big race.
This could be a race to throw up a shock result.
1.5pts each-way CLARCAM @ 12/1
1pt each-way SMASHING @ 33/1
The Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy goes off at 14.05 on Champions Day, Tuesday, March 10th.