The Arkle Chase is always a fascinating race. Officially known as the Arkle Challenge Trophy, it is named after Arkle, a three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966. It’s run over two miles on the Old Course and there are 13 fences to be jumped. But what makes it interesting is that connections often use it en route to a future Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Sprinter Sacre, Douvan, and Altior have all won the Arkle Chase. Sprinter Sacre won it in 2012 and followed it up by winning the Queen Mother in 2013. Douvan won it in 2016 but never won the Champion Chase. And Altior won it in 2017 and then won back-to-back Champion Chases in 2018 and 2019.
Keeping with tradition and true to form, last year’s winner Put The Kettle On is also entered into the Champion Chase this year. So will this year’s Arkle Chase favourite, Shishkin, follow in their steps?
The Arkle Chase is a race for Novice Chasers. That basically means that they can’t have won a chase coming into the current season. So they may have won a prestigious Hurdle Race but not a Chase.
Shishkin falls into that category. Trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by Joe Donnelly, Shishkin goes into this race with six back-to-back wins. A fall at Newbury in December 2019 is the only blip in an otherwise near-perfect record.
Starting as a Novice hurdler in January 2020, Shishkin won first time out at Newbury in a Class 4 race. That was followed up a Class 1 win at Huntingdon the following month.
— Billy Aprahamian (@billyapro1) January 30, 2021
That took him straight to Cheltenham in March 2020 where he beat Abacadabras by a head in the Grade 1 Supreme Novices Hurdle. Altior did the same thing in 2016.
This season has been just as impressive. Starting his chasing career, his first win came at Kempton in November and a month later he was back there for the Grade 2 novices chase which he also won.
Rounding off his prep for Cheltenham, Shishkin then ran at Doncaster in January, winning his second Grade 2 race.
But will winning the Arkle Chase be as straightforward as the bookies would have you believe? Currently at Evens, he is likely to go off as an odds-on favourite so can any of his rivals upset the party?
Energumene The Biggest Rival
19 runners are still in contention for the 2021 Arkle Chase. 11 ran in 2020 and 12 in 2019 so there are likely a few to still come out before next Tuesday.
Among them is Duc des Genievres from trainer Willie Mullins. The formidable seven-year-old has been notching up the wins for Mullins and goes into the Arkle on five back-to-back wins, the last three of which were chases.
Where he has the edge over Shishkin is that he has won a Grade 1. That was at Leopardstown in February in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase under the guidance of jockey Paul Townend.
Energumene – still unbeaten over fences
🏇 Three races
🥇 Three wins
🏆 Irish Arkle
A stunning performance from Energumene who laughs at his rivals in the Irish Arkle to complete a treble fort @WillieMullinsNH & @PTownend at @LeopardstownRC – a 1-2-3 for the trainer too 👏 pic.twitter.com/iW43FrRpah
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) February 6, 2021
Energumene has also run off higher weights and at slightly further distances proving there’s plenty of fuel in the tank. So where does Shishkin outshine his nearest rival?
Quite possibly it is the ease with which he has won his races. His three chase win margins have been by 23L, 13L, and 8.5L, and after the last win jockey Nico De Boinville said:
“I don’t think that could have been more simple for him. It was very straightforward.
“I was happy that he strode away all the way to the line and put real distance between him and the second horse.
“He had a good workout there, which is ideal for his prep.
“We have plenty of time to get him ready and fighting fit to take on Willie Mullins’s horse at Cheltenham. It should be a pretty fascinating clash.”
Arkle Chase Runners
Given the calibre of the two top runners in the race, it’s not a surprise that the rest of the field is left adrift in the betting markets.
Nearest to them is Allmankind at odds of 7/1 and the odds jump massively to Captain Guinness and Franco De Port at odds of 16/1. Next in line is Elixir de Nutz at 25/1 with the remaining potential runners at 33/1 or more.
So is it a two-horse race? Put The Kettle On won in 2020 at odds of 16/1 but in recent years that is the exception rather than the rule. The last long odds horse to cause an upset was Western Warhorse from David Pipe in 2014 who won at 33/1.
For now, it looks like a battle between Shishkin and Duc des Genievres. It’s Henderson vs Mullins again but which of them will reign victorious? We will know very soon.