Fakir can prove too good for old rival Notebook in Arkle joust

The British two-mile novice chasers don’t appear to be an exceptional bunch this year and it will be disappointing if the Racing Post Arkle Trophy, the second race on today’s opening day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, does not come back across the Irish Sea.
Fakir can prove too good for old rival Notebook in Arkle joust

Pentland Hills: Can add to trainer Nicky Henderson’s impressive record in the Champion Hurdle.
Pentland Hills: Can add to trainer Nicky Henderson’s impressive record in the Champion Hurdle.

The British two-mile novice chasers don’t appear to be an exceptional bunch this year and it will be disappointing if the Racing Post Arkle Trophy, the second race on today’s opening day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, does not come back across the Irish Sea.

Irish challengers Fakir D’oudairies, Notebook and Cash Back have form which ties in together and, while Notebook comes out on top on what we’ve seen thus far, Fakir D’oudairies can take his measure this time.

The latter won his beginners’ chase at Navan with some authority and raced clear in the Grade 1 Drinmore when Samcro departed two out. He then found Notebook too good at Leopardstown, though he didn’t get the run of the race.

He finished fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle of 2019 but already looks much better over fences. The ground should be ideal for Joseph O’Brien’s horse, he generally jumps well and if he finds a rhythm early, he can prove too good for old rival Notebook.

Much has been made of Notebook’s antics in the preliminaries at Leopardstown but that he still managed to win a Grade 1 that day says much about his talent but also suggests runner-up Cash Back will have to improve quite a bit to get involved. Notebook’s jumping is a real asset and he will likely give it a real go, but Fakir D’oudairies can improve past him today.

The Unibet Champion Hurdle is usually one of the highlights of the entire Festival, but this year’s renewal is one which fails to excite. Nevertheless, there are potentially good winners of the race, and one of those is Pentland Hills.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, who is the leading trainer in the race’s history, with his tally of seven, the lightly raced gelding won last season’s Triumph Hurdle on just his second start over timber.

He followed up at last year’s Aintree festival, proving a touch too good for Fakir D’oudairies, but hasn’t managed to get his nose in front thus far this season. That’s hardly ideal, but there have been mitigating circumstances.

Considering how much energy he expended by racing keenly in his two runs this season, the fact he was still able to lead late in both races before getting collared suggests he has immense ability.

He races keenly and is unlikely to settle fully this time, but with so much pace in today’s race he will never have a better chance to settle into some sort of rhythm.

He has had a wind operation since his latest run, is with the right man to be primed to run the race of his life and can get back to winning ways.

Stablemate Epatante disappointed at this meeting last year but was firmly back on track with her two runs this year and if the occasion doesn’t get to her she will go well.

Trainer Mick Channon won the listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase with Mister Whitaker in 2018 and can secure a second win in three years by taking this renewal with Hold The Note.

A lightly raced six-year-old, he won a bumper on debut in late 2018 and ran a fine race to finish a close fourth in a listed bumper at this track on his next start. He hasn’t been back here since, but the demands of today’s race should play to his strengths.

Last time out, he finished a close second in a Grade 2 over three miles and the trip seemed to catch him out. Nevertheless, that was a huge step up on his previous form and there’s no reason to believe he cannot improve further. The drop back to two and a half miles at this track should prove ideal for the son of Jeremy and he can hold off the likely challenge of the Gordon Elliott-trained Galvin.

The clash of Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle in the Grade 1 Close Brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle is one of the highlights of the meeting and marginal preference is for the former. Willie Mullins’ mare won the race in 2018 and was in front when falling at the last in the race in 2019. She has had just one run this season and it was a bloodless victory in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran, but she jumps well, travels well and can prove a touch too sharp for Honeysuckle.

The last-named won the Irish Champion Hurdle on her latest start and showed a great attitude in doing so. She is unbeaten and will not concede that record lightly, but her jumping still has a little room for improvement and any mistake she may make could hand a crucial advantage to Benie Des Dieux.

Roksana stepped in to take full advantage when Benie departed in last season’s running and she looks to have been primed for the return. She and Stormy Ireland can battle for the minor placings.

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