Matt Tombs / Friday 7th March 2014 / 11:55
One of the problems of ante-post punting is how you react when a horse you really fancy goes for a different race than the one you’ve backed it in. That’s the conundrum I’ve got re Felix Yonger, who I backed for the Arkle at 16/1 in the autumn.
He’s 2lb clear on RPR, and with the ground drying out could easily get the sound surface that he had when thrashing subsequent Irish Arkle winner Trifolium, (now 5/1 for this,) by 15l at Navan. He looks a 2miler, (not for the first time he didn't look to get home at Limerick over 2m3f at Christmas), so why aren’t I sitting on a great ante-post voucher and concentrating on other races?
The reason is that the Mullins team want to run Champagne Fever (3/1) in this. He’s 21lb behind Felix Yonger on RPR and has had only 2 chase runs so lacks experience. Despite being seen by connections as a Gold Cup horse for next season, they believe the Arkle is the race for him this year. I had been holding off in the hope Mullins would change his mind and run Felix Yonger in the Arkle, but its beginning to really look set in stone now, so there’s no point grumbling about it – I want to get the winner more than ever.
I think Champagne Fever’s the best horse in the race of those likely to line up, but there are 4 issues. Firstly, he’s run in one race where he’s had to jump at speed and he wasn’t up to it – making a pretty bad mistake at the second last when trying to mix it with Defy Logic at Leopardstown at Christmas.
Secondly, speed. The Bumper and a soft ground Supreme are both much less of a test of speed than an Arkle run on a sound surface. He might have been winded by the mistake at Leopardstown but he's a year older now and it might be that he didn’t have the pace at the end of the race. Thirdly, he has disappointed badly in 3 of his last 6 runs so he’s not that reliable. Fourthly, he’s had an interrupted preparation, which forced him to miss his prep in the Moriarty. He could hose up, and I've tried to persuade myself to back him on the basis that he's the best horse - but there are just too many question marks.
The one I really want to oppose at the head of the market is Rock On Ruby (9/2). Connections have rather missed the boat to get chasing experience into him and he’s had 2 runs in small races where he’s hacked round to beat just 3 opponents. That’s a world away from an Arkle and he will have to be an absolute natural to win this with so little chasing experience.
High or top class hurdlers coming to chasing late in the day have a dreadful record in this. This century four 9 year olds with that profile have run in the Arkle. Last year Overturn, (RPR 167 over hurdles when 2nd in the Champion,) was beaten 30l when 4th to Simonsig at 7/2. In 2010 Captain Cee Bee, (RPR 159 over hurdles when winning the Supreme,) was beaten 18½l when 8th to Sizing Europe as 5/2f. In 2005 Ned Kelly, (RPR over hurdles 163 when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle,) was beaten 20l when 9th to Contraband at 12/1. Barton, (RPR 170 over hurdles when winning the Aintree Hurdle,) was beaten 34l when 7th to Moscow Flyer at 9/2.
The reality is that Rock On Ruby, (RPR over hurdles of 171 when winning the Champion,) looked on the downgrade over hurdles when thrashed by Hurricane Fly at the Punchestown Festival and then by The New One at Kempton in the autumn. Unlike the other four classy 9 year olds that bombed in this, he doesn’t even have the benefit of meaningful chasing experience. It wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t get round.
Dodging Bullets (6/1) is a horse who is hard to weigh up. I wasn’t convinced he’d take to fences but he won 3 novice chases before a good 2nd to Module when stepping into open company in the Game Spirit. He thrashed Grandouet giving him 6lb at Kempton and if Grandouet was anywhere near his best that’s Arkle class form. The suspicion is that Grandouet has again proved hard to train and the soft ground there wouldn’t have suited. Module is a decent horse and there was no disgrace in being beaten a neck trying to give him 3lb, but he was only 2½l clear of Raya Star (who received 5lb) and my guess is that he’s a bit below the top novices. He was a very buzzy horse last year and for those looking at backing him, I’d be tempted to see how he takes the preliminaries.
Valdez (9/1) is 3/3 over fences, bolting up at Newbury off 135 and then winning the Grade 2 Lightning at Doncaster last time. The form of those contests is solid but not spectacular. Arnaud looked to have him beaten at Doncaster before tiring late on and is a fair bit behind the leading Irish horses. Its possible Valdez is better than he showed there as Alan King’s yard was just re-opening then, but he’ll need to be.
Grandouet (12/1) is clearly difficult to train. The vibes from Nicky Henderson’ stable haven’t been great about him again this time round and its hard to know what to expect. He’d run decently when a neck 2nd to Hinterland (14/1 but seemingly running in the Champion Chase) in the Grade 1 at Sandown in December. He was then very disappointing behind Dodging Bullets (who gave 6lb) at Kempton. The soft ground there wouldn’t have suited but it was still a tame effort and he has questions to answer. If the Henderson magic of peaking a horse for the Festival works and the ground dries out, he’s a feasible winner – but he’s a risky betting proposition. For those not having a bet until the day, its worth watching the vibes for him – if Nicky can get him right his price will collapse and he may be one for momentum punters.
Of those at the front of the market, I like Trifolium (5/1). He was a close 3rd in the Supreme two years ago so acts well on the track and has been really progressive over fences. He was too free when thrashed by Felix Yonger at Navan but improved when 2nd to Defy Logic at Leopardstown at Christmas, (Champagne Fever 11l behind after that mistake 2 out,) and then bolted up in the Irish Arkle. Defy Logic broke a blood vessel there and Felix Yonger hated the heavy ground but it was the best performance I’ve seen around this trip by a novice, (that’ll line up for this,) so far. The one concern is whether he'll get tapped for toe in the middle part of the race on good ground.
The plan to get Ted Veale (25/1) handicapped to emulate Alderwood by doing the County Hurdle / Grand Annual double hasn’t worked. He’s been given his hurdles rating of 146 and given that you need about a stone in hand to win a Festival handicap, he probably has an equal chance of winning the Arkle and Grand Annual, (average mark given to an Arkle winner this century is 160) – yet he’s 3 times the price for the Arkle.
Given he was clearly being laid out for a handicap, its hard to know how good his chase form is. Looking at his hurdling form, he won the County off 134 on unsuitably soft ground and then was 2nd to Jezki in a novice Grade 1 at Punchestown, (Champagne Fever behind.) Given natural improvement from a 146 rated novice hurdler when novice chasing, you’d hope he’d be in the mix for an Arkle.
The Arkle isn’t the sort of race where you get a big shock on the day, (no double figure priced winners this century). However, it’s possible that Ted Veale will be a completely different proposition now, (only 8¼l to find with Dodging Bullets even though he was clearly being laid out for a handicap), especially if the ground dries out. I can therefore see his price collapsing by post time on Tuesday.
Tony Martin could have kept him in Ireland, probably off a much lower mark, but the fact that he’s running him in the Arkle tells you how good he thinks he is. Martin presumably hoped he’d get a mark of around 140 for the Grand Annual, and if he thought he was good enough to win off that then he should be a single figure price for what might be an ordinary Arkle - he's got a great chance of being in the first 3.
Ted Veale did the business for us at 25/1 last year - take the 25/1 whilst it’s still available, in the hope of deja vu.
1pt e/w Ted Veale in the Arkle @ 25/1 NRNB