Matt Brocklebank ramps up his Antepost Angle ledger with a strong fancy in the Arkle and a 16/1 bet in the JLT Novices' Chase.
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Take fresh approach for Arkle value
Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have bossed the Racing Post Arkle in recent years and while it's something of a surprise to see Henderson without a single entry this season, Mullins is well represented and CILAOS EMERY leads the charge for the Irish champion trainer.
He was absolutely electric on his chasing debut at Gowran last week, shrugging off a 13-month injury layoff to beat the far more experienced Impact Factor by four lengths, with another two and a half back to Mullins stablemate Duc Des Genievres.
Cilaos Emery was a top-class novice hurdler a couple of years ago, finishing fifth in Labaik's Sky Bet Supreme before turning the tables on the Cheltenham winner (and runner-up, Melon) in the Grade One Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
He didn't appear to have quite bridged the gap in two starts in open company at the start of last season, finishing fourth in the Hatton's Grace and second in the Ryanair Hurde, but fences look to have been the making of him now.
Importantly, they went a serious gallop at Gowran, hurtling over the first three fences and turning the two-mile beginners chase into a proper test, which the seven-year-old clearly relished.
He jumped beautifully throughout under Ruby Walsh, who was buzzing with anticipation in his post-race interview and, with Mullins winning three of the past four Arkles, the general reaction to cut Cilaos Emery to 8/1 seems relatively muted all things considered.
He's entered again at Leopardstown this weekend but it's likely he'll swerve such a test so soon as Mullins won't see much to gain from locking horns with Le Richebourg, Mengli Khan and Paloma Blue in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival, especially when the yard also has Voix Du Reve and Camelia De Cotte lined up for the race.
So it could well be the case that Mullins' number one Arkle hope goes there a fresh horse. David Pipe's Western Warhorse is the only winner in the past decade to have gone to Cheltenham following just the one run but there are other examples before him, such as Well Chief, and it appears this season could see a bit less emphasis placed on such trends.
That definitely looks to be the case with some of the major Mullins hopes, as he just hasn't wanted to run them on the relatively dry ground through the winter months, and we already know that Cilaos Emery is perfectly at home on spring conditions.
Joseph O'Brien's Le Richebourg is obviously dangerous and could shorten again with an accomplished performance this weekend, but there's no shortage of depth to Saturday's race.
As for the home team in the Arkle, Lalor and Kalashnikov both have one or two questions to answer now and it wouldn't be a shock to see the latter rerouted to the JLT Novices' Chase, while given the open nature of the Arkle this year we can surely expect a decent sized field and that just puts me off Dynamite Dollars slightly.
Paul Nicholls is a master at improving these young chasers and he's done absolutely nothing wrong since being beaten by Lalor at Cheltenham earlier in the season, when perhaps ridden with a little too much restraint. It'll be interesting to see how his jumping holds up going at Arkle pace, but for now he's left alone at no bigger than 7/1.
Defi Du Seuil was the star juvenile two years ago, winning at Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring, and his Exeter defeat of Topofthegame and Black Op reads well on paper.
It's hard to take that form too literally though and it was disappointing to see him overhauled late on by Lostintranslation in the Dipper. Dropping back to two miles looks the logical next step on the back of that display but I didn't like his finishing effort and running plans for him and fellow McManus runner Winter Escape aren't obvious from the outside looking in.
Even if Defi Seuil is geared towards the Arkle, his peak hurdles rating of 157 is still 2lb shy of Cilaos Emery's and the Mullins runner still has bundles of untapped potential after just seven starts over obstacles in his life.
Hard to ignore Elliott ace in JLT
There 31 entries for the Arkle, 17 of which are also engaged in the JLT Novices' Chase - the opening race on the Thursday of the Festival.
They include all four of Gordon Elliott's potential contenders, namely Cubomania, Duca De Thaix, Mengli Khan and HARDLINE.
Hardline was a deliberate omission from the above preview as the JLT looks the perfect fit for a horse described as a "proper galloper" by jockey Keith Donoghue after his Grade One win over Christmas.
Stepping up to two miles, three and a half furlongs for the first time, the seven-year-old was arguably a shade fortune to emerge half a length to the good over Getabird.
Ruby Walsh was sitting pretty on Getabird approaching the last but the horse made a fiddly mistake, allowing Hardline to pounce. To be fair to the winner, he took full advantage and seemed to quite readily repel the rallying Mullins horse on the run-in.
Whether he was lucky to win or not, giving a race-fit Getabird a serious race, on a right-handed course, in soft ground, has to go down as a high-class performance. They pulled 21 lengths clear of the third.
Hardline's current chase mark of 150 indicates he's improved around 10lb from his hurdling days and he is versatile in terms of underfoot conditions, with a couple of good ground wins already on the CV.
While he'll need to take another step up come Cheltenham, he's not got much to find at all on the figures to be challenging the market leaders and the race could yet cut up considerably as plans become clearer.
Lostintranslation is all but confirmed for the race and the 6/1 antepost favourite, but the eight horses between him and 16/1 (General) chance Hardline all look to have alternative engagements with the likes of Topofthegame, Delta Work and Vinndication potentially heading for the RSA Chase and, as touched upon, Defi Du Seuil, Winter Escape, Le Richebourg and Kalashnikov in the Arkle picture.
The one who could be significantly over-priced as things stand is La Bague Au Roi, who has beaten Lostintranslation twice and claimed her first Grade One win in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day.
She bids to enhance her fine record over fences in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown this weekend where Hardline could be among her rivals. Giving Warren Greatrex's mare 7lb looks a tall order but Hardline is entitled to be in there pitching at least.
Greatrex says a decision over La Bague Au Roi (JLT/RSA/skip it completely) will be left until close to the meeting but her Cheltenham record reads 0-2, having been well held at last two Festivals, and the owners are reported to be happy aiming towards Aintree.
The JLT market could have a distinctly different look come this time next week so getting Hardline on side before Leopardstown looks a sensible approach as Elliott looks to go back-to-back in the JLT following Shattered Love for the same owners last month.
Antepost Angle: Cheltenham Festival schedule
- Monday January 7 - RSA Chase
- Monday January 14 - Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup & Ryanair Chase
- Monday January 21 - Unibet Champion Hurdle & Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle
- Monday January 28 - Racing Post Arkle & JLT Novices' Chase
- Monday February 4 - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Ballymore Novices' Hurdle & Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
- Monday February 11 - No preview this week...
- Monday February 18 - National Hunt Chase & JCB Triumph Hurdle
- Monday February 25 - OLBG Mares' Hurdle & Trull House Mares' Novices' Hurdle
- Monday March 4 - Cheltenham Festival handicaps - including Ultima Handicap Chase, Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle and Grand Annual Handicap Chase
- Thursday March 7 - Any other business, including current positions and additional selections
Antepost Angle - 2018/19 National Hunt season record
- Arkle Chase (28/01/19) - 2pts win Cilaos Emery at 8/1 (General)
- JLT Novices' Chase - 1pt win Hardline at 16/1 (General)
- Stayers' Hurdle (12/01/19) - 1pt win Darasso at 33/1 (William Hill, Unibet)
- Champion Hurdle (12/01/19) - 1pt e.w. Vision Des Flos at 100/1 (William Hill, Betfair)
- RSA Chase (07/01/19) - 1pt win Vinndication at 16/1 (General)
- Cheltenham Gold Cup (14/01/19) - 1pt win Sizing John at 20/1 (General)
- Ryanair Chase (14/01/19) - 1pt win Sizing John at 12/1 (NRNB, General), 1pt win Mister Whitaker at 33/1 (NRNB, General)
- King George VI Chase (27/11/18) - 1pt win Politologue at 9/1
- Ladbrokes Trophy (13/11/18) - 1pt win Sizing Tennessee at 33/1 (WON)
- BetVictor Gold Cup (04/11/18) - 2pts win Baron Alco at 12/1 (WON)
- Unibet Greatwood Hurdle (04/11/18) - 1pt win Hunters Call at 16/1 & 1pt win Off You Go at 12/1 (BOTH NOT DECLARED)
Posted at 1340 GMT on 28/01/19.