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There are few people that would dispute the claim that the greatest National Hunt horse of all-time is the legendary Arkle. What Arkle managed to do in National Hunt racing is never likely to be bettered and it’s no surprise that Himself has been immortalised in the form of not only in the traditional forms such as video tributes, paintings and statues, but also by the fact that one of the top novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival bears his name – the Arkle Challenge Trophy, or simply the Arkle for short.
The Arkle is the second race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. So once the crowd has died down from the euphoria of seeing the first race of the day, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, they get straight back into the high-quality action with the 2m novice chase they call the Arkle. The race was originally known as the Cotswold Chase, before it was changed to remember Himself in 1969 (the Cotswold Chase is still run at Cheltenham, and it serves as a trial for the Gold Cup in the Cheltenham Trials in January). So while the name Arkle has only been attached to the race since 1969, the actual 2 mile high-class novice chase has been run since 1949, when Bright Penny, under the guidance of Glen Kelly (who actually won the first three runnings of the Cotswold Chase) led home the field.
The horses are required to carry 11st 4lbs round the Old Course at Cheltenham, with mares receiving a 7lbs allowance, and it is open to horses five years-old and up, unlike many of the novice hurdle races which allow four year-olds to run.
The race is generally run at a fast gallop, with the focus being on a horse’s ability to jump accurately at speed. There is no room for sloggers and plodders in this race, which is why it tends to act as a stepping stone for the 2 mile Queen Mother Champion Chase rather than the 3 mile plus Cheltenham Gold Cup. The most notable winners of this 2 mile novice chase read like a who’s-who of National Hunt racing, with the great Flyingbolt winning in 1965, Fortria (two-time Champion Chase winner) winning the race in 1958, and then perhaps the ‘golden age’ of 2 mile chasing started in 2002, when the great Moscow Flyer (two-time Champion Chase winner) won, followed by Azertyuiop (2004 Champion Chase winner) in 2003, then Well Chief in 2004. This was followed by Sizing Europe in 2010, who went on to win the Champion Chase in 2011. And then there’s the small matter of Sprinter Sacre winning in 2012, before going on to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2013 and achieving the third-highest rating, behind the great Arkle and Flyingbolt.
So it is safe to say that winners of the Arkle Challenge Trophy tend to be of the highest calibre and should, in theory, go on to bigger and better things, usually the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year!
Winners of the Arkle are usually older than novice hurdlers, with the majority of winners being seven years-old and eight years-old. However, in 2012 and 2014, that trend was bucked with six-year-olds winning the race – Sprinter Sacre and Western Warhorse. While it is too soon to say that this trend has been bucked, it may pay not to become too blinkered by the age stat.
In modern times, the trainer to follow in the Arkle is Nicky Henderson, who has five wins in the race, with his most recent being Simonsig in 2013. He has also saddled Remittance Man, Travado, Tiutchev and Sprinter Sacre to success in over two decades. So although it is not a high strike rate, Henderson knows what it takes to win the Arkle.
Winner or second last time out.
Near the head of the marker (1 out of the last 10 winners has been greater than 8/1)
Solid jumper – never unseated of fallen over fences.
Rated 142+ over hurdles.
Good previous form at Cheltenham (having won or placed on the course).