1pt Arvika Ligeonniere to win
the Arkle (14:05) @ 8/1
0.5 pts e/w Hey Big Spender in the JLT Chase (14:40) @ 33/1
For those of us for whom Festival week is the best week of the year, there’s something truly special about the atmosphere on Tuesday. The ground is going to be crucial and with all the rain falling and the covers being on due to frost concerns, it could be really holding. Lets hope not as that won’t enhance the spectacle and from a punting point of view it throws races wide open.
There’s so much uncertainty at the moment, my advice would be to prepare your Tuesday bets on two basis – firstly, that the ground is decent, and secondly that it’s soft and tiring. Then make them as soon as you’ve watched the Supreme, (doing a hand time of the Supreme should give you a good guide to the ground conditions).
Cinders And Ashes got us off to the perfect start last season, and despite the formidable presence of My Tent Or Yours (2/1) and ground that’s likely to be softer than ideal, I’m hopeful that Jezki can repeat the dose in the Supreme. The favourite sets a mighty standard on form having won the Betfair Hurdle off 149, (now rated 162). To put that in context, the last 10 Supreme winners have been rated 146-154 in consequence so he’s already shown better form than is likely to be needed here, for all it’s shaping up into a hot renewal. On pure form he deserves to be shorter than the likes of Dunguib (4/5) and Cue Card (7/4).
He’s been beaten 3 times in 7 races though and came out the 2nd best horse at the weights in another race so he’s not bombproof. The Betfair was a crawl in which he sprinted best and he looks a horse for whom speed rather than stamina is the key ingredient. If they go an end to end gallop, (the likes of Champagne Fever will presumably ensure they don’t crawl,) I’d be slightly concerned about him getting up the hill in what might be testing ground.
Having put up Jezki at 12/1 (now 9/2) I don’t feel the need to go in again. Jezki was really impressive at Leopardstown at Christmas, sprinting away off a strong gallop and leaving a good field in his wake. Whilst he’d prefer better ground and its not ideal connections have decided not to run him since Christmas, he does have plenty of experience after 4 hurdle runs. He didn’t get home in the Bumper last year but nor did Cinders And Ashes as a 4 year old and that’s almost a positive in terms of not being the sort of stayer that tends to win the Bumper. In a normal year he’d deserve to be a short priced favourite and I still fancy him, though I’m hoping the ground isn’t too bad.
The Arkle looks more like a good Saturday graded novice chase in terms of depth, being effectively a 3 runner race. The upside is they are 3 cracking prospects. The race revolves around Simonsig (8/11). Considering he’s trained recent Champion Hurdlers and a Gold Cup winner, it’s telling that Nicky Henderson talks in totally different tones about Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig.
On form Simonsig has no business being odds on as he’s had just 2 runs in weak races, unlike Sprinter Sacre who’d demolished a Champion Hurdle runner-up (Peddlers Cross) and then taken an open Grade 2 event from quality horses. Simonsig missed his prep in the Game Spirit and I can’t back him at such a short price given that preparation.
Whilst bad ground may prove a great leveler this week, I still think there are only 2 plausible opponents here - Overturn and Arvika Ligeonniere. Overturn (100/30) has been a wonderful horse and as a Champion Hurdle runner up had better form over hurdles than Simonsig, (though Simonsig only competed against novices). His demolition of Tetlami is arguably the best form over fences too. He’s 9 though and hasn’t been off the bridle this season so it wouldn’t surprise me if this is a Festival too far – he’s best on flat tracks on good ground. If it’s clear after the Supreme that the ground is bad I’d expect him to drift.
Arvika Ligeonniere (8/1) was brilliant when making all in the Grade 1 Drinmore over 2m4f at right-handed Fairyhouse, but having looked set for an easy win in the 2m Grade 1 at (left-handed) Leopardstown at Christmas, jumped out to his right in the closing stages. He then had a novicey fall last time and it’s hard to know how good he is. He has plenty of stamina and if the ground is testing it will really help his chances.
Overturn and Arvika Ligeonniere are both trailblazers (though it seems Ruby may try and take a lead on the latter). Donald McCain has been open that the tactics on Overturn will be to go as quick as they can and so the race could be run at Champion Chase pace, in which case 1 real mistake is usually enough to ruin even the best horse’s chances. Given Simonsig’s not jumped other than at a canter yet, trying to put him under pressure early on looks the right tactic, (2 of the last 10 Arkle favourites were on the deck after 3 fences.)
For those with the luxury of watching the Supreme before betting on this race I’d definitely hold fire. At this stage the right play has to be to back Arvika Ligeonniere. If the ground is genuinely soft then Overturn will be really inconvenienced by it and I don’t think it’ll suit Simonsig either. His 2 wins on heavy over fences have been canters at 2/9 and 1/6, which tell you little. The only other time under rules he encountered even good to soft ground, he fell in a hole behind Fingal Bay. Assuming there’s a fast pace on soft ground, the Arkle is going to be much more of a test of stamina than usual. That suits Arvika Ligeonniere who, of the 3 plausible winners, is the one proven on bad ground.
The Champion Hurdle looks pretty open and I became less bullish than I was about Grandouet (8/1) after he missed his prep in the Kingwell. Given the vibes surrounding him I’m positively pessimistic now. That’s a pity as the more I look at the Bula the more I think he ran the ideal trial and looked the classic type the Henderson team were looking after. He comes out the best horse in that race at the weights and is the likely improver, so if all is well I think he’s the most likely winner. That’s a big “if” though – but it was with the same stable’s Binocular the year he won.
Hurricane Fly (9/4) has been a brilliant horse and the fact Ruby didn’t even bother to wait for Zarkandar’s prep run to discard him suggests how bullish he is about the former champion. However, he’s a 9 year old trying to reclaim his title, who looked to boil over last year, (Ruby had his feet out of the irons at the start,) so I’d be looking to take him on at such short odds. For those thinking about backing him – I’d definitely wait and see how he takes the preliminaries.
I’m really disappointed Cotton Mill was scratched as I thought he had a great each way chance. I’m sticking with Grandouet and hope Nicky can produce another Lazarus style comeback winner.
The 3m open handicap chase is going to be a real slog with a full field of 24 declared on likely soft ground and I’d have serious concerns about market leader Our Mick (6/1) getting home in this. There are loads to fancy and clearly stamina will be at a premium.
Merry King (8/1) is tempting having been switched to this from the 4 miler by Jonjo O’Neill. His form with Rolling Aces reads nicely and he’s been progressive and stays well. This is always a dangerous thing to think about horses from this yard, but I just wonder if he’s shown his hand a bit to the handicapper. 139 is right at the top end of the marks novices have been able to win from historically in Festival handicaps and the early fancy prices have been taken.
It’s the sort of lottery I’d normally not bet in, but at a big price I think Hey Big Spender (33/1) is just the type to run a big race. His best form reads really well in the context of this. He stays really well having won the Classic at Warwick over 3m5f off 156 a little over a year ago, and acts on any ground. After that Warwick win he was going to run in the Gold Cup if it came up soft, but picked up a minor injury and missed the rest of the season.
He’s not been in form this season, but Colin Tizzard says he came in very late and fat - and he’s struggled to get him fit. After 3 runs in a month where he wasn’t competitive, he ran decently over a wholly inadequate 2½m at Warwick when only 14l behind Molotof. He then chased home Michel Le Bon at Newbury (extended 3m2f, good) at the start of the month. It’s hard to know what to make of that form but if first time blinkers did revitalise the winner he might have been very well handicapped.
It may be he’s not the horse he was, but equally he may be coming to the boil at the right time and he’s 11lb lower than winning that big Warwick race. He’s carried 11-12 to victory in handicap chases 5 times and so 11-4 should hold no fears – giving weight to less good horses in events with the emphasis on stamina is his forte. He’s worth a small each way bet.