AFTER a quiet period of winning favourites in the Racing Post Arkle, the cream has certainly risen to the top in the last two years with the outstanding Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig claiming the prize.
Nicky Henderson will be going for a third straight Arkle with Grandouet, but the seven-year-old hasn’t looked a natural over fences so far and BetBright’s 12/1 quote is a fair reflection of his chance.
CHAMPAGNE FEVER has won at the last two Festivals and he just seems to come alive in spring and at this course.
The 2012 Champion Bumper winner went on to defy the stats and land last year’s Supreme Novices’, and I fancy him to go on and win three different Festival races in three years.
Willie Mullins has always thought Champagne Fever would make a better chaser than a hurdler. The Gold Cup is the long-term plan, but this seven-year-old is not short of speed and you need a horse that stays to win an Arkle.
The obvious worry is that the selection hasn’t run since Christmas when he finished third having made a shuddering error at Leopardstown’s tricky second last fence.
That mistake knocked the stuffing out of him, but it’s perhaps not a coincidence that he has now disappointed a few times in the middle of winter. He is a very good horse and the 3/1 with BetBright is worth taking.
This afternoon’s race doesn’t look the hottest of contests and I’m happy to oppose Harry Fry’s Rock On Ruby.
The last nine-year-old winner was Danish Flight in 1988 and it’s not often that a previous Champion Hurdle winner goes on to take an Arkle.
By far the biggest danger to Champagne Fever is Trifolium, who looked really good last time and was a decent third in the Supreme two years ago.
He has been fragile in the past, but if Bryan Cooper can keep tabs on Champagne Fever he should go close. Regardless, I would strongly advise supporting Trifolium against Rock On Ruby in a match bet with Sporting Index.
Of the other main protagonists, Dodging Bullets has underperformed at this time of year in the past, while I just don’t think Valdez or Ted Veale are good enough.
Let’s hope Champagne Fever can do the business again and make sure Ruby Tuesday is well underway by the end of the second race.
CHAMPAGNE FEVER 2.05pm Cheltenham