Named after the legendary Arkle, the Arkle Chase is traditionally the second race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. It was first run in 1969 and has been won by horses such as Flyingbolt, Remittance man, Klairon Davis, Flagship Uberalles, Moscow Flyer, Azertyioup, Voy Por Ustedes, Sizing Europe, Sprinter Sacre, Douvan, and Altior.
The race takes place over one mile seven furlongs and 199 yards during which there are 13 fences that need jumping. Novice chasers aged five and older are allowed to enter.
The last 10 winners of the Arkle Chase have been aged between six and eight, with four 6-year-olds, five 7-year-olds, and one 8-year-old winning.
Nine of the last 10 Arkle winners had achieved a rating of between 152 and 170 before winning the race. The only exception was the 2014 Arkle winner Wester Warhorse who was rated just 135 after winning his only previous chase.
Trainers & Jockeys To Note
No owner has won more than one Arkle Chase in the last decade but both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have both trained three winners. Jockeys Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh have also ridden three winners each.
Six of the last seven Arkle winners have been sent-off at odds-on but, whilst that looks unlikely this year, three of the other four winners have been returned between 6/1 and 8/1. The one standout is again Western Warhorse who was returned at 33/1.
The last 10 Arkle winners had run between nine and 18 times prior to running in the race. However, none of them had run more than four times over fences, with five having run four times, three having run three times, one having run twice, and one having run just once over fences.
The top-class pair of Douvan and Altior had won the previous year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, whilst Simonsig had won the Ballymore Properties Hurdle. Forpadydeplasterer, Sprinter Sacre, and Footpad had al placed over hurdles at the previous festival, whilst Sizing Europe was unlucky not to win the previous season’s Champion Hurdle. Captain Chris, Un De Sceaux, and Wester Warrior were running at their first Cheltenham Festival, but Captain Chris was a course winner.
The three Willie Mullins winners Un De Sceaux, Douvan, and Footpad had all used the Irish Arkle Chase as their prep run, whilst Forpadydeplaster had won the Flogas Novices’ Chase and Sizing Europe has won at Leopardstown at Christmas.
The five English winners had either run at Kempton, Cheltenham, Doncaster or Newbury in January or February.
Main Arkle Chase Contenders
Trainer Joseph O’Brien may not have won the Arkle Chase before but his improving six-year-old ticks quite a lot of boxes. The most notable of those is his win in the Irish Arkle, which three of the last four winners have used as a stepping stone to success. Already rated 154 before that wins he has also achieved a mark that nine of the previous 10 winners had. A slight negative is that his 5 runs over fences makes him a slightly more experienced chaser than any of the last 10 winners. However, the big negative is that he was only fifteenth in last year’s County Hurdle when sent-off at 33/1. Interestingly, he’s by the same sire as Sprinter Sacre.
His trainer has said that her 7-year-old will go to Cheltenham a fresh horse after just two runs over fences but, as she is convinced he is best when fresh, that may prove the right thing to do. He certainly looked an Arkle prospect on his chasing debut at Cheltenham, which shows he handles the track despite a lack of Cheltenham Festival experience.
After just one run over fences, he may try and do a Western Warhorse by winning the Arkle on just his second chase start. However, having already won a grade one hurdle, he has at least proved he’s capable of achieving a mark in the 150’s (over hurdles at least). Mullins also doesn’t seem fazed by his lack of experience, which isn’t surprising considering how well he travelled and jumped on debut. He also has Cheltenham festival experience having finished fifth in the 2017 Supreme Novice’ Hurdle. He was ridden from the front that day but looked a much better horse held up and delivered with a late run on his chasing debut.
If his 19 lengths beating of Kalashnikov at Sandown last time can be taken literally, he should be a serious threat, and this lightly-raced but rapidly-improving seven-year-old can’t be dismissed. However, he has taken an unusual handicap route to get here and lacks any previous experience of Cheltenham.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead won the Arkle with Sizing Europe in 2010 and last year’s Supreme Novice’s Hurdle fourth was a big fancy for this year’s Arkle at the beginning of the season. However, he hasn’t impressed in the jumping department so far and will have needed to have improved since he was last seen over Christmas.
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle second was favourite for the Arkle just a few weeks ago but has drifted right out in the market after two defeats. But, as those where both on right-handed tracks, there is a chance he could be seen in a better light back at Cheltenham.