Following the release of the Arkle entries, Tony McFadden takes an ante-post look at the race...
"At this stage, others may theoretically look like greater value, but, come the day, there is only one horse I want onside and that is Simonsig..."
We have all had ideas that sounded great in theory but in practice simply did not work. For instance, during one of the many recent 'big freezes', my brother, aged 16, decided to dig out his old rocking horse, which had been safely retired for at least a decade, with the intention of using it as a makeshift sledge, the ski-like base seemingly perfect for cutting through the snow. Sound logic? Perhaps. However, in practice the once-noble steed simply succumbed to the extra weight and toppled forward, stamping the indelible impression on all passers-by that rocking horses do not make good sledges, while both horse and rider were left to make the most undignified-looking snow angels. It would be a mistake to think it were just reprobates in parks getting it wrong, though. We all have great thoughts that do not work in reality. How many people committed to giving up drinking in January, a seemingly reasonable challenge for people without a Shane MacGowan-esque thirst to quench, only to be driven into the warmth of the local boozer by the harsh winter climate? Good ideas do not always pay off.
This year's Arkle Chase, headed by Nicky Henderson's Simonsig, could offer a good case in point of how well-intentioned ideas are not always rewarded in reality. Plenty will make the wholly logical and reasoned argument that Simonsig is inexperienced as a chaser and will face a horse talented enough to finish second in a Champion Hurdle, factors which, taken in isolation, may lead you to think he is a short enough price and the value in the race lies elsewhere. However, value or no value, do you really want to be taking on a contender that has looked exceptionally talented in his burgeoning career and appears to be the most likely winner by a considerable margin? In practice, opposing last year's outstanding novice hurdler looks like a futile mission and not one I will be undertaking; at this stage, others may theoretically look like greater value, but, come the day, there is only one horse I want onside and that is Simonsig.
Nicky Henderson's charge is unlikely to be significantly shorter on the morning of the race, so an outright bet at the moment probably isn't the best way to proceed, for all he looks like the obvious winner. It is worth noting that the addition of the Jewson Chase, run over two-and-a-half miles on the Thursday, has given trainers a viable alternative and it would be little surprise were this year's Arkle field a single-figure affair; in fact, only six horses trade below 33s on Betfair.
Captain Conan, a stablemate of Simonsig, is one of those six but he is by no means certain to take his chance and actually trades as favourite for the Jewson. Undoubtedly a promising chaser, it is difficult to entertain Captain Conan as an ante-post proposition for the Arkle, especially in light of Henderson signalling his intentions earlier in the month by declaring him for the Dipper Chase, the 21-furlong contest cancelled at the eleventh-hour.
The participation of Oscars Well could hinge on how he fares in the Irish Arkle, a race in which he is due to renew rivalry with Arvika Ligeonniere. Connections had hinted that a step up in trip could be on the cards and defeat to the same rival on Saturday is likely to reinforce those views. Once again, it is difficult to make a case for a horse likely to be targeted elsewhere.
Arvika Ligeonniere had looked so impressive when dispatching his rivals with ease in the Drinmore Chase but, while pulling out enough to win, he didn't create the same impression on St. Stephen's Day, jumping to his right and needing to be firmly driven after the last to hold on from an admittedly smart horse in Oscars Well. He remains Ireland's best prospect and should strengthen his claims on Saturday, but that race is unlikely to tell us anything new and his price probably won't contract enough to be of interest to us.
Overturn brings the best hurdles form to the table- but not by as much as you might think, Simonsig's Neptune effort came within 3 lb of what Overturn achieved in the Champion- and Donald McCain's runner has made a highly-satisfactory start over fences, jumping well on his way to two chase victories. It was impressive how comfortably he defied a penalty at Doncaster, brushing off a useful rival in the process, and he remains open to improvement in this sphere considering the exalted level he reached over timber. The Grade 2 Lightning Novices' Chase at Doncaster had been mooted as the next port of call, but that meeting has fallen by the wayside and it will be interesting to see where he is sent for his prep run.
An interesting latecomer to the Arkle scene is the Paul Nicholls-trained French import Fago. Second in a Grade 1 on his final start for Guillame Macaire in November, Fago was introduced to the British public at Newbury last week, putting in a good round of jumping from the front as he readily made all, the strong-travelling five-year-old looking in control from some way out. The bare form would leave him plenty to find with the likes of Simonsig and Overturn, but the style of the victory strongly indicated that there was plenty of improvement still to come. The Kingmaker at Warwick has been earmarked as his next target and were he to win that traditionally-strong Arkle trial it isn't difficult to envisage his price contracting considerably, especially when you consider his powerful connections.
Fortunately, simply anticipating how the market will react gives us the opportunity to profit on Betfair, and Fago, with the obvious potential to shorten should he impress in his trial, could offer the best ante-post trading prospect in the Arkle. In truth, we are simply marking time until we can get stuck into Simonsig on the day-of-race market, without having to fret over any injury setback, but a small wager on Fago could theoretically leave us with the potential to trade out for a nice free bet, for all, in practice, Simonsig should prove far too good.
Back Fago @ 16.015/1 in the Arkle with a view to laying off at a shorter price.