Cheltenham Ante-Post #8 – Arkle Novices’ Chase

Ante-Post Preview #8 – 05/03/2019

2m Arkle Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – Tuesday 12th March 2019

The Arkle Novices’ Chase is the first of three Championship races open to first and second season Novice Chasers, ran on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival. Some of the best horses in our sport have won this race in the past including Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop, Sprinter Sacre, Altior and Douvan. Last year the race was won by Irish banker Footpad, trained by the genius Willie Mullins – who has won three of the last four renewals. The Closutton handler doesn’t have his normal fire-power this year however due to injuries and dry ground, so the race has a much more open feel to it. With Ante-Post favourite Le Richebourg also ruled out of the race due to injury, this looks a fantastic opportunity for a horse to have their day in the sun.

I had previously tipped up Hardline in my JLT Novices’ Chase article (NRNB), however with the recent Non-Runners Gordon Elliot understandably has chosen to aim his charge at this shorter race instead. The 2018 Festival Champion Trainer has never won an Arkle before, but in this weak looking renewal he has a great chance with our selection – who has already won a Grade 1 this season. Gigginstown are better known for buying three-mile Chasers than speed types, but I’m hopeful they can go closer than when third with Petit Mouchoir twelve months ago.

Hardline was a decent Hurdler last season, achieving a rating of 140 after winning a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Naas in February over two-miles. This seven-year-old began life over fences at Fairyhouse back in October, where he impressively won by fifteen lengths under Davy Russell. Having won so easily on Chase debut, his next start came at Punchestown in November when immediately stepped into Grade 2 company. The two-mile trip on Good ground made for conditions which were a bit too quick for this son of Arcardio, and he could only manage a respectable seven-length second to Voix Du Reve – form which could easily be reversed on a softer surface. The form of the race has worked out well however, with the third placed Cadmium winning a Grade 3 Chase at Naas last weekend. Hardline proved his class on his next start, beating Joseph O’Brien’s useful Us And Them by ten-lengths in a Grade 3 over 2m1f at Navan on Yielding ground. Connections decided to use hold-up tactics that day, swooping through to dispute the running at the third last before recording a facile success.

Hardline wins a Grade 3 at Navan under Davy Russell.

Back out on the track just 18 days later, Hardline was stepped up in trip for the first time since September 2017 to contest the 2m3½f Grade 1 Novice Chase at Limerick on Boxing Day. He seemed to have a stiff task on his hands with Getabird lining up for Willie Mullins, however this Gordon Elliot charge battled extremely gamely to lead on the run-in and hold off the rallying odds-on favourite. Not only was this a top staying performance on Soft ground, but the pair pulled twenty-one lengths away from the rest of the field. The third that day – Riders On the Storm – has actually franked the form since, and Jetz has subsequently ran credibly in Graded company. Hardline was last seen running in the 2m5f Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown earlier this month, where he bumped into La Bague Au Roi. Despite on form having a good chance in a decimated field, Hardline looked like being pulled up rounding the home bend before making eye-catching progress to eventually finish five-and-a-half lengths third to Warren Greatrex’s wonder Mare – who would’ve been a very warm favourite if turning up at Cheltenham.

It’s debatable as to whether Hardline really stays a full 2m5f, however he clearly shows good speed over two-miles. A mixture of being able to show speed and stay are needed in equal measure from an Arkle candidate, where they often set off at a ferocious galop. This season there is bound to be a very fast pace due to front runners such as Ornua, Glen Forsa and Knocknanuss taking each other on for the lead. This is a positive to our selection, who should be able to sit in behind these pacemakers and use his stamina up the hill to reel in horses who mightn’t have much left to give. One thing we do know about this horse is that he jumps very fast and slickly – a quality which will clearly be to his advantage in this unique test. Davy Russell has a fantastic record on Hardline with four wins from eight rides, and the pair will hopefully be reunited at Prestbury Park come Tuesday.

Hardline Each/Way @ 12/1

Good luck! – Jake Price

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