Polished Ruby can defy the stats
Jack Keene takes an ante-post look at the Racing Post Arkle Chase and is prepared to defy the statistics with Rock On Ruby.
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The Festival is in sight, and race targets are more or less finalised for the majority of those on course for their date with destiny. The ante-post markets have been taking a more conservative shape the closer we get to the start of proceedings, and value is a mistress who is playing hard to get.
The uncertainty earlier in the season around Champagne Fever's Cheltenham destination has now been eradicated as he is an intended runner in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy. A gutsy win in last year's Supreme highlighted the class that this grey brings to the table, but his last appearance on a racecourse was a subdued one when soundly beaten by Defy Logic on Boxing Day.
Though he said the appropriate things to the media on Wednesday, the fact is that the horse has missed a couple of possible targets in recent weeks for reasons unclear. It's not the ideal preparation for an Arkle having not run for two-and-a-half months and, although he is a grand horse, he does chuck in the very occasional abysmal effort, and in the run-up to Cheltenham everything needs to go according to plan. The doubts about this are enough for me to take him on.
Trifolium has been launched up to the heady heights of second favourite for the race after a demolition job in the Irish Arkle at the end of January. He's around the 11/2 and 6/1 mark, but he has already shown in his career that a superstar he is not.
All of his best form is on heavy ground and the seven-year-old would, frankly, hold little chance in the Arkle if the ground come Tuesday 11th March had any hint of 'good' in the description. Only if Cheltenham is subjected to deluge after deluge would he stand a chance.
Next in the betting is Paul Nicholls' Dodging Bullets who has become a much-improved performer since tackling fences. He has kept on progressing up the novice chasing ladder, with his narrow defeat behind Module last time actually boosting his reputation as a novice going places. He also has a record that's not to be sniffed at around Cheltenham with three wins from five visits.
But despite all of these positives, when having an ante-post bet both head and heart need convincing before the hard-earned is parted with. There is just a doubt about how much class Dodging Bullets possesses. There are others in the line-up who would easily have his measure over hurdles and I have a big suspicion that it could well be the same story here.
The 2012 Champion Hurdler is available at 7/1, and Rock On Ruby is the one to side with in this year's Arkle.
This time 12 months ago he went down on his sword when second behind Hurricane Fly trying to defend his title. The decision to go chasing was taken when he was thumped on his seasonal reappearance behind The New One, and although Harry Fry has only managed to get two runs into him so far he's shown a real aptitude for the bigger obstacles.
How many times do we see horses thrive year in year out at the Cheltenham Festival? Rock On Ruby has run his three best career performances at Prestbury Park's March showpiece, with a short-head second in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle preceding his victory and runner-up effort in the Champion.
Granted, he's a nine-year-old and the last novice that ancient to win an Arkle was in 1988. But on paper it doesn't look a vintage running, with Champagne Fever the only horse to show anything like good enough hurdles form to give Rock On Ruby a race.
Another horse who features prominently in the betting Valdez. Let's not beat around the bush, he's not good enough. With a peak hurdle rating of 135 - some 22lb below Champagne Fever's and 35lb below Rock On Ruby's - it's an impossible task he faces to make up such a class gap over those two rivals for the switch to fences.
Although entitled to come on for his comeback effort at Doncaster, he was at full stretch to catch Arnaud that afternoon and I fancy he'd have to grow a fifth leg to stand a chance in the Arkle.
Grandouet must frustrate the life out of his connections having promised so much over hurdles but having delivered so little. He hasn't shown enough over fences to suggest he's a total natural, but he is the sort of horse that could throw in a huge run if everything falls right for him. What a huge 'if' that is though.
With Champagne Fever clearly not at his peak and the majority of the field not capable of holding a candle to Rock On Ruby on hurdles form, he must surely be a very sound bet at 7/1 - nine-year-old or not.