King can be crowned Arkle champion again

ALAN KING has a fantastic record in the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy (2.05pm), winning it with Voy Por Ustedes and My Way De Solzen in 2006 and 2007. He is set to rely on MEDERMIT this year and the seven-year old looks to have a favourite’s chance. Although he’s never won at Cheltenham, he arguably should have taken the 2009 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and didn’t run that badly in the Champion Hurdle last season, when his stable were out of form.

An impressive winner of the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last time, he jumped like a stag and was probably just idling when Captain Chris lunged late on. He has always had the potential to be a top class chaser and that was his first performance that screamed, “Arkle”. King reckons he will be better suited to a strongly run two miles and it is hard to see Captain Chris getting any closer to him over this shorter trip.

One of the key features of Arkle winners in recent years is their ability to stay. My Way De Solzen had previously won a World Hurdle, while 2008 champion Tidal Bay is contesting this year’s Gold Cup. Medermit stays 2m4f well and that can only be good news for his supporters.

Nicky Henderson has always loved Finian’s Rainbow and he was the clear ante-post favourite after his two small field wins at Newbury.

However, they tried different waiting tactics with him at Warwick last time and his jumping seemed untidy and occasionally clumsy. Connections have said since that they were trying to give him more experience by teaching him to jump behind other runners and they look set to allow him to bowl along from the front this afternoon.

However, Dan Breen is another confirmed front-runner and Finian’s Rainbow is very likely to be taken on for the lead. Admittedly, Henderson and Geraghty are aware of this and may use David Pipe’s runner as a lead horse. Yet, there is a chance his jumping may become unsettled once more and I’d worry about him staying on his feet.

Ghizao is a more solid proposition having won two competitive races this season, beating Captain Chris comfortably both times. He has jumped excellently, but there is a nagging doubt that he just isn’t a spring horse. He disappointed at both Cheltenham and Aintree last year and even his co-owner Andy Stewart has admitted that it would be a pretty poor Arkle if he was to win.

The last 10 winners have all returned 9/1 or shorter, so it’s not a race for the outsiders. Ireland have won the last two, though, so you’d have to give a squeak to Noel Meade’s dual Grade One winner Realt Dubh.

He’s beaten Noble Prince twice, but I’m just not sure how strong the Irish two mile novice chasers are. His trainer also doesn’t have the best record at Cheltenham.

Medermit is a very solid contender and my idea of the best bet on day one of the Festival. Sportingbet offer 3/1 and that is a fair price considering it doesn’t look to be the hottest Arkle.

That said, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he traded far bigger in-running on Betdaq as this is bound to be run at a blistering tempo and he may have to come from a long way back.

The only other trade I would be looking at is possibly laying Captain Chris for a place, also on Betdaq. Philip Hobbs’ charge took forever to get going at Sandown and I wasn’t that impressed by his jumping either. All his best form is also on a right-handed track and I’d be surprised if he managed to get into the places.