By Max (Our newest recruit)
From the outset this year’s Arkle was always going to struggle to live up to the expectations that had been set in recent years due to an all-star honour roll featuring Sprinter Sacre, Douvan and Altior. Not a single horse from last year’s Champion Hurdle was sent chasing heading into this year so it was up to the new band of upcoming novice hurdlers to make their mark over fences. With Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Summerville Boy electing to stay hurdling and Gigginstown’s much publicised decision to delay Samcro’s chasing career ahead of a Champion Hurdle campaign, the novice chase division looked particularly weak.
6 months on and a turbulent season has seen four different favourites with Kalashnikov’s Supreme second looking the pick of the form going into the season only to be outdone by Lalor’s impressive frontrunning Cheltenham victory in November which catapulted him to the top of the Arkle market. Unfortunately for both of these horses it has not been plain sailing since – Kalashnikov has since been beaten twice at 4/6 and 1/4 including 19 lengths by Glen Forsa while Lalor could finish only a 12 length third as his form from Cheltenham was overturned by Dynamite Dollars at Sandown. Both head into this year’s renewal with points to prove although Lalor is still prominent in the betting with some feeling the ground was to blame last time out. On the other hand, Kalashnikov is clearly a classy horse as evidenced through his hurdle form but will need to jump much better this time.
Meanwhile, in Ireland the pace was set by Le Richebourg who recorded 4 wins from 5 over fences and led the market in the lead up to Cheltenham with his only defeat a ½ length battle with RSA favourite Delta Work over half a mile longer than the Arkle. Another interesting contender emerged in Cilaos Emery who won a beginners’ chase impressively and looked to be the Mullins number one. Unfortunately, both have since been ruled out and the Irish challenge relies on a number of unexposed challengers.
The biggest revelation of this season so far is perhaps Glen Forsa. Glen Forsa began the year hurdling after a two-year absence and recorded two promising 2nd place finishes before turning his head to chasing off a mark of 114. He began over 3 miles but pulled very hard early on and did well to get home in front so was dropped in trip at Kempton on Boxing Day for a competitive novices’ handicap. Up to a mark of 126 he won nicely and the form has since been franked by subsequent victories for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Yet he still looked slightly short of Arkle class until his aforementioned 19 length defeat of Kalashnikov in which he showed impeccable jumping from the front, reminiscent of the late Special Tiara. That form should put him in with a good shout in this below par Arkle and while I fancy him to run well I have to feel there will be something a bit classier here especially as bullying the field from the front will not be so easy up against better jumpers than Kalashnikov.
The Irish challenge is headed by Duc de Genievres as Willie Mullins’ main hope although I find him hard to fancy as he only got off the mark over fences at the third time of asking, being beaten on debut by the 140 rated A Plus Tard who failed to take advantage of having a stone in hand on Winter Escape since. The vibes seem to suggest that Cilaos Emery was the more complete of the two at this stage and the Arkle might come to soon for Duc to peak. Hardline boosts fairly strong form having beaten Us and Them 10 lengths before getting the better of the mercurial Getabird and the pair pulled a long way clear of Close Brothers’ favourite Riders OnThe Storm and Navan winner Jetz. Having said that it would a surprise if there was not something better as it was well beaten by La Bague Au Roi and Kaiser Black last time out but I fancy it strongly to finish in the frame. Ornua, Knocknanuss and Articulum also bring smart form to the table but look just off top class.
Finally, Paloma Blue. A bit of an enigma – always promising to be top class but just failing when asked to really show it. This could be his chance though with the way the Arkle has cut up and I feel his price could be underrating him. Although his jumping will need to improve, trainer Henry De Bromhead mentioned recently in a stable tour that he has been schooling him extensively and we should see a better round this time, in a similar vein to how his hurdling progressed gradually last season. He travels beautifully through his races, with his third to Samcro last year a good example of that as he looked like the only horse able to go with Samcro around the bend at Leopardstown. He improved again from that run to finish a 3 length fourth in the Supreme and while disappointing on debut over fences, he ran very encouragingly last time. He looked like he might just have the measure of Real Steel, who has since won by a combined 20 lengths in two runs since, and when that rival fell at the last he took advantage to power home well ahead of the useful Moon Over Germany and Impact Factor. Beginners chases in Ireland can often be up to the standard of some graded races when a number of promising horses are entered from the big stables and without a standout candidate either side of the Irish Sea Paloma Blue can confirm his underlying promise.
- Paloma Blue
- Glen Forsa