Arkle Antepost – The Big Three

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

For the majority of the season, the Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival has, to many, been straightforward.

“Who wins the Arkle?”

“Shishkin!” They would reply.

Theoretically, Shishkin does have the ideal profile for this race. After a tenacious performance to out-stay Abacadabras, he managed to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The idea is that the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner will either venture into open company for the Champion Hurdle or step up to fences and go to the Arkle. He is by Shokolov, a group one winner in Italy and the sire of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Don Cossack, and out of a three-time point-to-point winning mare called Labarynth, who is a half sister to a grade one winner. Shishkin’s half-brother, Marcle Ridge, has won five point-to-points and a three mile two and a half furlong hunter chase around Cheltenham. So, evidently, he is bred to enjoy fences.

At Kempton in November, Shishkin made the required progression to win first time out over fences with a twenty-three-length victory at Kempton, securing his place at the top of the Arkle betting market. Just over a month later, he took grade two honours over Christmas in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, which I was overly critical of. I didn’t think his jumping was without its flaws. He has been known to make little errors – he fell on his first ever hurdle start and made a mess of the first in the Supreme. However, the yard was very quiet during this period and a few horses weren’t quite right so, for him to win as well as his did whilst possibly not one hundred percent, it was actually very impressive. At the end of January, he jumped (slightly left) around Doncaster to win – it was straightforward and exactly what he needed to do. It drew comparisons with Sprinter Sacre.

However, there were rumbles from Ireland. A horse called Energumene had won his second chase seventeen days earlier, making all to win the four-runner affair. This horse won a Larkhill point-to-point for Sophie Lacey back in January 2018. After a long absence, he made his debut in Ireland for Willie Mullins, but finished third. So far under rules, he is quite unexposed with one further start in bumpers, which he won, and he won his only hurdle race before the Coronavirus-enforced stoppage of racing. He made his chasing debut in November 2020 and, interestingly, that was over two miles and four furlongs on heavy ground. He won easily by eighteen lengths but the form of the race isn’t particularly strong. Next time out, he won again and this time it was by eight lengths, with the well-regarded Captain Guinness in second.

Energumene is by the smart hurdler Denham Red and, as a result, he is closely related to Un De Sceaux, with both being by the aforementioned stallion and out of April Night mares. Un De Sceaux won twenty-three races for Willie Mullins, including the Arkle, and Energumene has already won 5 in his short career. Mullins had his horses in red-hot form at the Dublin Racing Festival and Energumene was unleashed in grade one company. He made virtually all of the running and, with the fall of Captain Guinness at the second last, it was smooth sailing from there. The winning margin was ten lengths and, as he easily galloped through the line, he proved himself to be a serious Arkle contender.

In a way, it appears to me that the Arkle has been pigeon-holed as being between the two aforementioned horses. However, one horse that appears to be frequently criticised, overlooked and unfancied is Allmankind.

Allmankind on the way to group one glory at Chepstow (JTW Equine Images)

Allmankind has a very strong Juddmonte pedigree. He’s by the stallion Sea The Moon, a group one winner on the flat and his oldest progeny are now five years old. In his short stallion career, he has already sired a grade/group one winner under both codes with Allmankind and group one winning filly Alpine Star. Allmankind’s dam, Wemyss Bay, is a full sister to Beat Hollow (a four-time group one winner on the flat and sire of Wicklow Brave, Minella Indo and Not So Sleepy) and Court Cave (the unraced sire of Ballymore winner City Island). Wemyss Bay is unraced but has produced three other winning foals as well as Allmankind and her dam won the Irish Oaks in 1993.

Allmankind has a reputation for being a bit of a live wire. After six starts and one win on the flat, he moved from Michael Bell’s yard to Dan Skelton’s Warwickshire base for a juvenile hurdle campaign. He began his career over obstacles on the 8th November 2019, making all, pulling hard and eventually finishing thirty-seven lengths ahead of the second placed horse.

That became his trademark running style for his next two victories. At Cheltenham’s November Meeting, he won the grade two juvenile hurdle and Mick Pastor was beaten forty and a half lengths. Mick Pastor faced off against Shishkin when the Arkle favourite made his fences debut and was beaten twenty-three lengths, carrying 10st9 in comparison to Shishkin’s 11st2. At Chepstow over Christmas, Allmankind handled the step up to grade one company when he won impressively in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle, racing enthusiastically and making all.

However, on the big day, the Triumph Hurdle, Allmankind couldn’t sustain his lead. He was headed between the last two hurdles and was beaten three and a half lengths. That margin would’ve been more if Goshen hadn’t hit the deck. It wasn’t necessarily a bad run – just not as good as many people expected. The burnt fingers that day could be one of the causes for the general distrust in the horse.

Another angle of Allmankind at Chepstow (JTW Equine Images)

His first start of the 2020/21 season was in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham and it wasn’t as good as many people anticipated. Back to the drawing board. Off to Warwick for the Stan Mellor Memorial Novices’ Chase. He was foot-perfect – pinged down the back straight, travelled dominantly and jumped for fun. It was the perfect start to his chasing career and a very smart move to utilise the four-year-old allowance.

Henry VIII had six wives and Allmankind won his sixth race under rules with a flawless round of jumping in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown. It was ridiculously impressive. The time of the race was just milliseconds quicker than Politologue, the reigning Champion Chaser. In fourth place, beaten fourteen and three-quarter lengths, was Eldorado Allen, who had previously won by nineteen lengths in a grade two at Cheltenham and, next time out, came second to Shishkin, beaten eight and a half lengths, at Doncaster.

On the day I write this, Allmankind has just survived a second last flight error to win comfortably in the grade two Kingmaker Chase at Warwick. Connections were quick to stress afterwards that the ground was dead and he couldn’t race or jump with as much fluency as normal. His jumping seems to have become a problem. I have never considered him a bad jumper yet this blunder at the second last has provoked the idea that his jumping won’t stand the unique test of Cheltenham.  

Looking at the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy itself, the race is named after Arkle, the great racehorse of the 1960s who won three Cheltenham Gold Cups. It has held its current position on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival since 1980. Last year, Put The Kettle On, a mare trained by Henry De Bromhead and ridden by Aidan Coleman, won the race and was something of a surprise winner at 16/1.

Nicky Henderson (Shishkin) is the leading trainer in the history of the race with six winners (Remittance Man (1991), Travado (1993), Tiutchev (2000), Sprinter Sacre (2012), Simonsig (2013) and Altior (2017)). Willie Mullins (Energumene) has sent out the winner four times (Un De Sceaux (2015), Douvan (2016), Footpad (2018) and Duc De Genievres (2019)). Dan Skelton (Allmankind) is still awaiting his first Arkle victory.

There will be one defining factor in the clash between Allmankind/Shishkin/Energumene – the Cheltenham Hill.

It always appears to me that a horse needs to thoroughly stay the trip in order to win at Cheltenham. This was evident with Shishkin’s hard fought Supreme success. One thing that interests me about Shishkin is that he was dropping back in trip for the Supreme. He had beaten Shan Blue by eleven lengths on heavy ground at Huntingdon in a listed novices’ hurdle over two miles four and he won a three-mile point-to-point. His pedigree reflects this too, being a half-brother to Marcle Ridge, a hunter chase winner around Cheltenham over three miles two, and out of a three-time point-to-point winner. Similarly, the extra stamina test at the end of this race will aid Energumene – he is a two-mile four winning chaser; three-mile point-to-point winner and Un De Sceaux won a Ryanair.

This makes Allmankind vulnerable – he’s all speed. He jumps out on the front end and there’s no stopping him. But, could he get away with that in an Arkle? The race that pops into my head when considering this is when For Pleasure won the Sharp Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham at the 2020 November Meeting. At one point, this horse was twenty lengths clear and he left his rivals will a ridiculous amount of ground to make up at the business end of the race. I very much doubt Allmankind would find himself that far clear but, even so, would they be able to make up the ground? Early on in his career, he was able to catch the other jockeys out by sustaining his speed throughout the race and finishing strongly. Yet, when faced with the Cheltenham Hill in the Triumph, he was found out.

To me, these three exciting novice chasers fall into two categories of two-mile chasers – Allmankind is a bold-jumping horse with an emphasis on speed whereas Shishkin and Energumene stay the two miles and are accurate and efficient, winning by large margins.

This free-going, bold front-running characteristic of Allmankind could be his weakness. However, that is what I really love about this horse. His run style (whilst crazy and not especially professional) has always appealed to me and the way he won at Sandown was sensational. Since his made his chasing debut at Warwick, I have fancied him for the Arkle. Looking at the race logically, there seem to be question marks about him. It is not completely impossible that he would go from the front and make every yard, like he did over hurdles in November 2019 at Cheltenham. He is a dual grade one winner – one more grade one than both Shishkin and Energumene have to their names.

Shishkin before he won the Supreme

Many racing experts believe that Shishkin is a “good thing”. His odds of 10/11 reflect this ideology and obviously his wins on the track speak for themselves. No horse is unbeatable, though, and I feel as though it is important that he’s put into a position where he can stay on at the finish because this won’t be just some romp like he’s had already. I don’t believe he is as fast as Allmankind so, if it becomes a speed test, it will play into his rival’s hands.

It will be a new experience for Energumene going oversees to race. We will have to see how well he handles travelling but he doesn’t seem a particularly buzzy or anxious horse. One thing I would be slightly concerned about is how he will have three runs in the space of just over two months. He had three runs during the whole of last season and I get the impression he isn’t the easiest to keep sound. But then, like I said in my article about his stablemate Al Boum Photo, Willie Mullins knows the best way to handle each of his horses and how to campaign them to the best of their abilities because each horse has their own character and idiosyncrasies.  

I think the nature of this race is summed up by the sixth favourite being Envoi Allen, who won’t be running, and the seventh favourite being 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream who has never jumped a fence in public. There are very few horses considered to hold a strong chance. However, there are two horses yet to mention who reside at shorter prices. Franco De Port was a good winner of a grade one at Leopardstown over Christmas and a peck on landing at the business end of the race won’t have helped him when he finished second to Energumene. Captain Guinness was well-fancied to be a smart two-mile chaser at the beginning of the season but he hasn’t had the ideal start. He pulled up lame on his first outing but, next time, managed to win a race at Punchestown. He finished second to Energumene in January but had a heavy fall at the Dublin Racing Festival.

I was keen to see my Twitter followers’ opinions of the Arkle after Allmankind’s run. The horse himself appears to be like marmite on Twitter – people either love him or hate him. This was how they polled-

The Arkle looks to be a thrilling race that has progressed through the season to be a very intriguing clash between three talented individuals from some of the best training establishments in National Hunt racing. The main three novice chases at the festival have been dominated by three horses all season – Shishkin, Envoi Allen and Monkish. I believe it will be straightforward for Envoi Allen and Monkfish as very few horses could be considered a threat to them. It has transpired that Energumene and Allmankind are worthy opponents to Shishkin.

Whilst I would love to see Allmankind and Harry Skelton bounce out into the lead from the outset and win comfortably, I think the tactics of the race will play into the hands of Shishkin and Energumene. I’m personally not ready to pin my colours to one horse yet. I think Allmankind is the value in the race – even to grab third if Shishkin and Energumene pass him between the last two fences.

This race is to be treasured as we see three horses competing at the top level of the sport and, hopefully, they will continue to do so for many years to come.

2 thoughts on “Arkle Antepost – The Big Three”

  1. Hi Sam, nicely written piece 👍🏇

    A few things for me – ALLMANKIND will front run, Energumene won’t take him on, just drop in like Shishkin. The biggest race delemia will be the second to last fence off the main bend (which shouldn’t of been re-positioned there, that’s another conversation to have) it’s a nightmare to meet on a good even stride, so many fallers when the pace quickens there’s, let’s hope their all there with one to go, then I see Shishkin flying past them both to Win, race set up by Allmankind, who if thrown at his fences, may not complete. Come on the Shishkin, loves that hill ask Abracadabra 😄🏇.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: