The Arkle Trophy is often one of the most anticipated races of the Cheltenham Festival, but this years race has a sub par look to it, and horses who might normally place without being good enough to win it, have every chance of hitting the bulls-eye this year.
Dodging Bullets is one such horse. He’s unlikely to be a superstar two miler, but his form over fences is at least as good as anything in the field has achieved so far, and having already won at Cheltenham over fences he also has some course form.
Dodging Bullets was a 156 rated hurdler, and is already on 156 over fences. Given that he’s had only four chase starts so far, there is scope for him to be better still. He won his first 3 chasing starts, with the last of those a comfortable dismissal of Grandouet at Kempton over Christmas.
Last time out Dodging Bullets finished a 1/4l 2nd to Module at Newbury. On ratings that was a fine effort, as he was giving 3lb to the 157 rated 2nd. He also looked all over the winner jumping the last having traveled much the best, and perhaps he idled a little when hitting the front. It’s also possible he may have been given a little break after his previous start, with his trainer now realizing he had a serious Arkle contender on his hands, and not wanting him at concert pitch for his prep run.
The likely better ground at Cheltenham will suit Dodging Bullets and his form already entitles him to go very close, with the possibility of better to come. One horse who could yet prove to be top notch is, Champagne Fever, but while he will take plenty of beating if he arrives here in top form, the vibes haven’t been great, with him being pulled out of a few engagements since his last run, and Willie admitted he wasn’t entirely happy with him only a few weeks ago.
Considering he made a bad mistake which ruined his chance last time, and that the bare form of his chase starts leave him with plenty to find, Champagne Fever’s price of just 3/1, with two weeks to the race is plenty short. Trifolium was beaten by Felix Younger, and Defy Logic, before winning a grade one last time. I really don’t think that suddenly entitles him to be 2nd favourite for the Arkle, and I’d rate Dodging Bullets as a better horse than him.
Rock on Ruby was a 170 rated hurdle but he’s going over fences because his connections don’t think he’s a 170 rated hurdler anymore. This is effectively his first chase start, as his two official starts over fences were in 2, and 3 runner races, that were no more than a schooling session. When they go down to the first in the Arkle he’ll be approaching a fence an awful lot faster than he has before, and who knows how he’ll react.
Valdez is next in the market and while he’s improved over fences, Arnaud looked to have him beaten all ends up last time, before falling in a hole late on. I don’t think that form is anywhere near good enough, for even a below average Arkle, and while he might stay on late into a place, it’s very hard to see him winning. All told this might not take much winning, and Dodging Bullets looks sure to be bang there.