The Arkle Novices’ Chase is the second of the three Grade Ones on the first day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival. For me, this race revolves around just two horses; Al Ferof and Sprinter Sacre.
Al Ferof showed his liking for the Cheltenham hill when storming home in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. At first I was under the impression that he needed further than two-miles but as the season has progressed, that opinion has started to change.
The Arkle is run at a helter-skelter pace and we know he loves the Cheltenham hill so if his jumping holds up, which it should do, he should be right there at the finish. Paul Nicholls is a better judge than me, surprisingly, and he is adamant that the Arkle is the perfect race for his dashing grey which is enough to sway my opinion in his direction.
Sprinter Sacre blew my off my feet when I watched him ‘wing’ fences on his chasing bow at Doncaster in December. He attacked every fence and when he got in close he put himself right and ‘popped’ as if he had been jumping fences for years. Despite that being one of the most impressive performances by a novice chaser I have ever seen, he went and blew that performance out of the water in his two runs subsequent. He received a rating of 161 after he broke the track record at Newbury last month, a rating that is exceptionally high for a novice. He is the deserving 4/5 favourite and if he wins it could be the start of a disastrous week for the bookmakers. However, despite everything I’ve seen him do over fences; I still have a niggling doubt that he won’t be his brilliant self around Cheltenham. In last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle he cruised into the lead at the bottom of the hill and looked as if he was going to win on the bridle. However, he emptied very quickly and he was outstayed by none other than Al Ferof.
Cue Card, who is a very decent horse in his own right, is sure to make the Arkle a test of stamina and not speed which will go against Sprinter Sacre and play perfectly into Al Ferof’s hands who will relish the stamina-sapping Cheltenham Hill.
At 5/2 from an earlier price of 5/1, backing Al Ferof is more appealing than backing Sprinter Sacre at 4/5, this however is just my opinion and I wouldn’t be surprised if either horse was to win and win well.