David Cleary's Cheltenham Notebook: Un de Sceaux impressive but too short for Arkle

Should Un de Sceaux be odds-on for the Arkle?

There were significant Cheltenham trials in the week just gone both at Prestbury Park and across the Irish Sea, David Cleary keeps you up to speed with the latest impressive performances and antepost moves

"Saphir du Rheu booked his ticket for the World Hurdle by finding more than Reve de Sivola up the hill, no mean feat given the runner-up's abundant stamina and willing attitude. Saphir du Rheu clearly merits serious consideration for the Festival, though his price looks about right."

In a week of Cheltenham trials that were more about gritty determination than showing sheer class, Un de Sceaux's success in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown stands out. Admittedly only three went to post, but Un de Sceaux was visually as impressive as could be, so much so, that he's now odds-on for the Cheltenham version of the Arkle in six weeks' time. He jumped very fluently, travelled sweetly under seemingly a more restrained ride and drew right away after two out without Ruby Walsh having to get at all serious with him.

The visual impression was backed up by an overall time that was ridiculously fast in relation to the handicap half an hour later, though it should be stressed that most of the difference came before halfway, the handicap slowly run early on, and shouldn't be taken at face value. Added to that, second favourite Gilgamboa made a serious mistake five out and was very sympathetically handled once it was clear he wasn't going to land a blow. Clarcam, the eventual runner-up, did try and land a blow after two out and wasn't able to, but perhaps he just wasn't in the same form as at Christmas, when winning under much more gruelling conditions. 

Un de Sceaux deserves to be favourite for Cheltenham, but looks too short at 1.875/6. Gilgamboa remains a horse of some potential and while connections probably won't want to take on the winner again in the Arkle, his smart win over 19 furlongs at Limerick last time suggests a horse that still merits serious consideration for the JLT/Golden Miller.

Un de Sceaux's stable companion Djakadam had got back on track when winning the Thyestes Chase at Gowran on Thursday, but, for all that it was a high-class effort on paper, there wasn't much depth to that contest, only six of the 17 runners getting round, and a more solid performance in Gold Cup terms came with Many Clouds' victory in the Grade 2 at Cheltenham at the weekend. Facing the King George runner-up Dynaste at levels and having to give 8 lb to the RSA Chase second Smad Place, Many Clouds took the step up in class in his stride, following up his Hennessy win with a thoroughly likeable effort, jumping well in the main and finding plenty when required up the hill. Many Clouds has just the sort of progressive profile that appeals in a prospective Gold Cup winner, and, while he may need going on the soft side to ensure enough of a test of stamina, if all goes well between now and March, he will be hard to keep out of the first three.

Smad Place might have been closer without a peck at the last, while Dynaste travelled well but seemed beaten on merit, and it's hard to see why either of them should reverse placings with the winner in the Gold Cup. Dynaste may well drop back in trip and attempt to win the Ryanair for a second time, though lack of stamina wasn't really the issue. Further back, Black Thunder is worth a mention. He had a stiffer task than the market suggested and was far from discredited. He has an attractive handicap mark and should be noted back in that sphere, possibly for the three-miler at the Festival.

How the form of the three graded hurdles on the Cheltenham card will play out, is a more taxing question. Neither the juvenile nor the Baring Bingham trial was a satisfactory race. Peace And Co deservedly remained favourite for the Triumph after winning the former, though his keenness is something of a worry. His stable companion Bivouac was done for foot off a slow pace and remains capable of better - he could be worth a Baring Bingham entry. 

The trial for that race fell to the unconsidered Ordo Ab Chao, who had seemed likely to improve considerably prior to his last run, his success a reminder of the merit in sometimes overlooking one poor run. However, neither Value At Risk nor Robinsfirth was seen to best advantage behind him, the latter the second boost on the afternoon for the form of Thomas Brown's race here at New Year. Thomas Brown has to be considered a serious Albert Barlett/Spa Hurdle candidate.

The Cleeve Hurdle was also closely fought, though a more satisfactory race, with Saphir du Rheu booking his ticket for the World Hurdle by finding more than Reve de Sivola up the hill, that no mean feat, given the runner-up's abundant stamina and willing attitude. Saphir du Rheu clearly merits serious consideration for the Festival, though his price looks about right.

The novice handicap chase was about the most strongly run on the card and the pair that forced the pace, Stellar Notion and Carole's Destrier, are better than the result and probably ahead of their marks. They will be of interest again at this level.

Finally: Hurricane Fly and Jezki in the Irish Champion Hurdle, the former enhancing his legendary status at Leopardstown with a tenth Grade 1 at the track, the latter running a much more promising Champion Hurdle trial in a race which didn't suit him at all, shaping better in defeat than The New One had in victory the previous week.          

Notebook Shortlist:
Au Quart de Tour: Champion Bumper
Black Thunder/Tenor Nivernais: 3m handicap chase
Carole's Destrier: handicap chase at 2m4f+ 
Eastlake/Savello: Grand Annual
Gilgamboa: JLT (Golden Miller)
Grand Vision: Kim Muir
Jezki: Champion Hurdle
L'Ami Serge: Supreme Novices'
Many Clouds: Cheltenham Gold Cup
Stellar Notion: novice handicap chase
Thomas Brown: Albert Bartlett (Spa)
Top Wood/Southfield Royale (needs to qualify): Pertemps Final
War Sound: Baring Bingham/Spa

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