Our resident ante-post tipster is back with a long-priced outsider for the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy on day one of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival!
This time last year, Nicky Henderson trained the short priced favourite for the Arkle; fast forward 12 months and the Seven Burrows chief finds himself in the exact same position thanks to Simonsig; the impressive winner of last seasons Neptune Novices Hurdle. Foolishly as it turned out, I was keen to take on Sprinter Sacre in this race last year, but once bitten twice shy shouldn’t apply to betting, and so equally foolishly perhaps, I believe it’s worth taking on the short priced market leader again this time round, and with far more confidence.
I wouldn’t for one moment suggest Simonsig isn’t a special talent, or that he’s isn’t a worthy favourite, but to be trading at a shade of odds on, I’d want to have seen him do more than simply beat up far inferior rivals, on bottomless ground, in two Grade 2 in name only contests in minimal sized fields. I can’t argue with the way he’s gone about his business over fences; he hasn’t touched a twig at a jump, and he’s won by multiple lengths which until a few years ago would have been described as a distance. However, both those success have come on right handed tracks, one at Ascot the other at Kempton, and while I’m happy to accept Ascot is a fair test of a horse’s ability to jump, Kempton is just about as easy as it gets, and while giving credit to his Ascot performance, it’s nothing compared to the stiffest of tests Cheltenham will provide. We know he handles the course having run away with the Neptune last year, but for all I believe he possesses an abundance of class, he’s very inexperienced, very enthusiastic, and should he make a mistake I don’t believe watching him run, that he’s 100% certain to have the mental maturity to recover. Mistakes at Cheltenham seldom go unpunished, and that’s my primary concern.
My second concern involves the opposition, and one horse in particular; the hugely popular, front running, battled hardened Overturn, who trainer Donald McCain has handled with due care and attention throughout his preparation this season. It’s not so much I believe Overturn will win the race, or is necessarily a safer betting option than the favourite, but last year’s Champion Hurdle runner up is extremely hard to past when enjoying himself in front, and I have my doubts that Simonsig will go through with a complete effort. Cast your mind back to his hurdling career last season, and to Sandown in particular where he cruised up to Fingal Bay on the bridle, but found little for pressure and failed to go past his rival, who was flat out to the boards at the time. If Overturn holds the lead entering the straight, and his own impressive performances over fences this season entitle anyone to suggest that’s a strong possibility, then I’d fancy the McCain horse to get the better of the argument up the hill.
All that said of Overturn I couldn’t back him either; the last 9-year-old to win the Arkle was Danish Flight back in 1988, and you can hardly say he’s lightly raced for his age given his exploits over hurdles, and on the flat. I can’t believe that he won’t get caught by a younger, fresher pair of legs, plus his record around Cheltenham isn’t anything spectacular, and he inevitably finds at least one too good.
So, if that younger horse isn’t to be Simonsig, then we’ve got some tasty looking prices available among the others from which to choose to invest. Arvika Ligionniere will be popular, and should be high on everyone’s list. He’s already twice a Grade 1 winner of Novice chases over in Ireland, and stays a little bit further than this two mile trip, which has been proven to be a useful tool in the conditions the race is run. With a lightening gallop likely to be set by Overturn, he could get the run of things, and if it turns into a battle to the line, he appears to be the one who’ll have most left in the tank. He’s trained by Willie Mullins who certainly knows how to prep a Festival winner, but my one concern is his fall last time out, and more specifically what that might have done to his confidence; you can’t afford to commit half hearted when jumping at pace around Cheltenham, and at a best price of 10/1 he’s another I’d want to leave be. Fago, trained by Paul Nicholls is another who’d fall into that category, and how this horse is being allowed to trade as low as he is currently beggars believe! A winner on his first start over fences in England, in let’s be honest, not a particularly strong Class 4 novice event at Newbury, he then like many a French import before him, hurdled every fence at Warwick in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices Chase last weekend, before his luck ran out, and he made an error which brought his race to a premature end. Connections rate him highly but when do they not? If he were trained by a less fashionable team, he’d be double the price he is, and I think error after error will put paid to his chance early on in the contest.
Beyond the big four in the betting, we enter a minefield of horse who’ve proven themselves not to be natural over fences, not to be quite good enough for this level, and horses with duel entries who may not even line up, but one horse at a big price does catch my eye and that’s the Mouse Morris trained 7-year-old, Baily Green.
At first glance of his form you could say he shouldn’t be good enough; he’s been beaten by Arvika Ligionniere, Oscars Well and Twinlight, all of who look set to reappose here, but he’s not been being beaten far, and at 50/1 he’s worth a small each way investment. Unlike many trading at a fraction of his price, Baily Green has never fallen over fences, has bags of experience, and has shown himself to be extremely progressive this season, winning up to Grade 3 novice chases by multiple lengths. A rise to Grade 2 level brought about his first defeat of the campaign, but he only went down a length to Twinlight on that occasion, and only finished 3 lengths behind Arvika Ligionniere when upped to Grade 1 level last time out. I think to be effective at the very top level Baily Green needs decent ground, or at least better ground than he’s been running on over in Ireland this season. Despite all the rain of late, Cheltenham is an extremely fast draining track, and therefore he could still get his preferred conditions at the Festival, and it’s also worth noting that his sire, Kings Theatre, also sired the likes of Cue Card, Menorah and Riverside Theatre, all of which have shown a decent mix of speed and stamina as they progress, which are ideal weapons to possess in an Arkle. If the big guns all get it right on the day then he’s unlikely to play a part, but should one or two fluff their lines as I suspect might happen, Baily Green looks the type to take advantage.
Recommended Bet : 1pt Each Way – Baily Green @ 50/1 (Generally Available)