Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase Preview
This years Arkle has the potential to go down as one of the great Arkles. Last season’s Supreme champ Shishkin looks to be cut from the same cloth as stable mates Sprinter Sacre and Altior whilst Dan Skelton’s Allmankind has been demolishing his fences and rivals on the way to three chase victories. It wouldn’t be a modern day Arkle without a challenger from team Mullins and Energumene looks yet another potential aeroplane from Closutton. All three of the big boys are unbeaten this season winning 3 chase starts each and all three have been extremely impressive on the clock. The recent role call is awesome featuring modern day greats such as Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Altior. I’ve no doubt the winner of this can go on to emulate some of those illustrious names and in a few years’ time, I am sure we will consider this a vintage Arkle.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Current Odds: 10/11
Last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Shishkin has looked the real deal in his three chase starts to date. Having backed him before last years Supreme to do the 2020 Supreme/2021 Arkle double, I along with many an antepost punter could hardly watch as he charged down to the first on his chase debut at Kempton. He was awesome! An electric round of jumping followed and the comparisons were quick to be made with stablemate Altior and Sprinter Sacre. I could bang on about his visuals all day long but what does Shishkins form amount to so far? His Supreme win looks unquestionable his strongest piece of hurdles form, having overcome a torrid passage to beat subsequent Morgiana winner Abacadabras. Thus far over fences he is yet to beat what I would call a real top notcher but he has comfortably put aside the likes of Eldorado Allen (OR 149) and Gumball (OR 150). Shishkin has however delivered some exceptional speed figures in what only can be described as third gear. Over Christmas, Shishkin ran in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad just over an hour before the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase run over the exact same course and distance. Coming down to three out Shishkin timewise was near enough identical to both Nube Negra and Altior but by the finishing line he had pulled 15 lengths clear without taking the handbrake off! On his last start Shishkin recorded an overall time that was 11 seconds quicker than the now 156 rated Ibleo who had run over the same course, distance and ground the day before. Once again, without breaking sweat! Shishkin may not have beaten a top class rival over fences so far but he’s destroying the clock at a canter and has demonstrated an unbelievable amount of gears late on in his races. Cheltenham as a track holds no problems and he’s the one they all have to beat.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Current Odds: 9/4
Willie Mullins has an exceptional recent record in the Arkle winning 4 of the past 7 renewals with the likes of Footpad, Douvan and Un De Sceaux. Coming into the season with a lower profile than some of Willies horses, Energumene was quick to get people talking after absolutely bolting up on chase debut in a very good time. This debut came over two and a half miles and I must say I had him pinned down as a potential horse to challenge Envoi Allen in the Marsh or even step all the way up to three miles for the Brown Advisory Novices Chase. Willie decided to give him a crack over 2 miles though and Energumene has not disappointed. On heavy ground at Naas, he powered through the mud and put his rivals to the sword which included the 152 rated Captain Guinness. It was a similar story last time out at the Dublin Racing Festival, where Paul Townend let him stride along in front and put his jumping to good use. Shishkin has put up some sensational time figures this season but this fella is matching him stride for stride. His time on debut was outstanding compared to others on the card. He was 8 seconds faster than the 152 rated Annamix carrying 7lbs more! Now that time figure came over two and a half miles, but we can also compare him to the best two mile chaser around, Chacun Pour Soi. The pair ran in their respective races one after the other and their times were extremely similar throughout. Given they carried the same weight and won in similar fashion this has to be a huge positive for Energumene. He took a fair bit of pulling up after the line that day and there’s no doubt he possesses a huge engine. Does he have as many gears as Shishkin and can he be as effective on soft ground? They are two questions he must answer come the 16th of March.
Trainer: Dan Skelton
Current Odds: 10/1
Starting off this season in a 4-year-old hurdle at Cheltenham, Allmankind disappointed a tad, finishing third and Dan Skelton duly wasted no time in sending his explosive gelding chasing. Allmankind has taken to fences extremely well and bolted up on chase debut before winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices Chase in impressive fashion. I’m quite a big fan of the horse he beat that day, Hitman, so would be inclined to think this was a fair effort and the time comparison to the Tingle Creek, run on the same day, reads well. Allmankind was a second quicker than Tingle Creek winner Politologue carrying 11lbs less which for a 4-year-old is a very good effort. Given a small break on the back of this, Allmankind had his final prep run in the Grade 2 Kingmaker at Warwick where he readily dismissed the 152 rated Sky Pirate, receiving 3lbs. There is no doubt this horse has an engine and his style of running is thrilling to watch but he did bundle through a couple of fences last time out and cannot afford to be so careless around Cheltenham. He may face competition form Energumene for the lead which could push him on further and in all honestly I think he may set the race up for his market dangers. Should he get loose on the front end though he may be hard to peg back.
As is the strength of “the big three” in the market, I am not entirely sure how many runners we will have for this year’s Arkle. A strongly run 2 miles around Cheltenham could really play to the strengths of Franco De Port who won a frenetic renewal of the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase over Christmas where he picked off legless horses late on. He does however have 10 lengths to find on stablemate Energumene and connections may be tempted to step him up in trip. Captain Guinness is likely to attract some support at big odds but comes here off the back of a fall and his season hasn’t quite gone to plan. A sounder surface should be to his liking though and I can see him closing the gap on Energumene form wise. Last seasons Champion Hurdle third Darver Star is another who may attract some support on a sounder surface but doesn’t seem to have improved for a fence and he, like Franco, could be another to step up in trip.
Crunching the Numbers
- 20 of the last 25 winners were aged 6 or 7
- 22 of the previous 25 winners had 3 or more chase starts
- 20 of the last 25 won on their previous start, including the last 11 winners
- Excluding falls 23/25 winners came into the race having finished no worse than third that season
- 11 of the last 12 winners had previously ran at Cheltenham (Un De Sceaux the exception!) and 11 of the last 25 winners had won previously at Cheltenham
- 9 of the last 12 winners were in the top 3 of the market, 6 of whom were favourite
Considering Shishkin, Energumene and Allmankind come in to this with 3 wins a piece it is unsurprising they all score well on the trends. Shishkin comes out on top with 6/6 whilst both Energumene and Allmankind score 5/6. Allmankind as a 5-year-old wouldn’t fit the usual profile of an Arkle winner although it must be said there have been plenty more 6 and 7-year-olds contest the race over the years. Energumene has to overcome zero Cheltenham form but as highlighted in the above stats, Un De Sceaux overcame that trend and he too was trained by the Irish maestro Willie Mullins.
With both Allmankind and Energumene in the race, this years Arkle looks sure to be run at a seriously good clip. Paul Townend is on record stating Energumene doesn’t have to lead despite his three wins coming from the front this season. I would be inclined to agree with Paul and expect Allmankind to lead Energumene who in turn will lead the rest of the field. Favourite Shishkin is likely to line up a few lengths back of Energumene and I expect De Boinville to adapt stalking tactics. Despite being a course winner, I have question marks about Allmankind’s form around Cheltenham having put in two of his poorer performances at the track. His jumping is also a slight worry. He can be breathtakingly brilliant at times but clattered a few fences round Warwick last time out and similar mistakes at Cheltenham could see his momentum swiftly halted. I can envisage Paul Townend applying the pressure on Energumene from the top of the hill to make it a proper stamina test. At this point I expect to see De Boinville make his move on Shishkin moving him into a more prominent position. Turning for home, Energumene may have a marginal lead before those Shishkin gears kick fully into action. Shishkin will then have too much raw speed for Energumene and I can see him striding away to win impressively. My main area of concern would be if the ground came up heavy and I would be inclined to side with Energumene in that case as bottomless ground may blunt Shishkins potent turn of foot and play to Energumene’s relentless galloping. This really could be a smash up for the ages but I’m hoping It will be a win for the home team and back to back festival wins for Shishkin!
My Idea of the Winner
- Shishkin 10/11
Each Way Play
- Captain Guinness 25/1
- Captain Guinness