2021 Cheltenham Festival – Can Shiskin Get The Bankers Off To A Flyer In Arkle?
2021 Arkle Chase Tips
The 2021 Cheltenham Festival is just six weeks away and every day in February on Racing Tips, Lewis Tomlinson will be previewing one of the meeting’s big races. He starts off with the Arkle Chase, the first race over fences at the meeting, which looks set to feature the first banker of the week.
Key Arkle Chase contenders
The 8-11 favourite will be the cornerstone of many a multiple and accumulator and feature in plenty of punters Cheltenham Day 1 tips as he boasts a still flawless record – barring a fall on his hurdles debut at Newbury last December- and he is already odds-on to add to Nicky Henderson’s record as the race’s most successful trainer by bringing a seventh Arkle back to Seven Barrows.
He wasn’t particularly overfaced early in his hurdling career last season, opting for the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon as a stepping stone to the Festival rather than a more strenuous task in Graded company, and despite failing to get the smoothest of passages through the race, he showed a rare combination of pace and power to overhaul Abacadabras in one of the strongest renewals of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in recent years.
After an easy defeat of the useful Mick Pastor on chasing debut, after which he was described as being “ten out of ten” by his trainer, Shishkin then produced a thoroughly destructive performance against a talented field in the Wayward Lad at Kempton over Christmas. The efficiency of Shishkin’s jumping in that performance was a notable positive, and showed he has the capability to put himself right without losing ground when getting in tight, but the most staggering aspect of his display was the ease with which he was able to change the race’s complexion at three out. After looking as if he might have a race on his hands, he had the event sewn up in a few strides, settling a two-mile race in less than half a furlong.
He’d be well worth a place in the Champion Chase on what he has shown already, and trying to stop him in this may be the hardest task any of his opposition are ever faced with.
The opposition themselves would be a generally credible bunch in a more usual year, with the market indicating the enigmatic five-year-old Allmankind (10-1) as the biggest domestic danger to Shishkin. A real showman of a racehorse, Allmankind’s swashbuckling front-running style have been a joy to behold since his transition to chasing and he has improved upon his smart juvenile hurdle form for the switch to the bigger obstacles, winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII at Sandown in December from fellow five-year-old Hitman (25-1), although the weight for age allowance gifted to that pair in the early part of the season has been gradually eroded.
Sky Pirate (20-1) has the most unconventional of CVs for an Arkle contender – he ran in the Kim Muir two years ago – but the Jonjo O’Neill team have finally found the key to unlocking the talent of this formerly frustrating chaser.
The strongest of travellers, Sky Pirate’s fatal flaw was how little he found off the bridle, but in dropping him back to two miles, he is evidently finding it easier to cruise his way through the race without being asked a question, although to his credit he knuckled down when asked to go and win at Warwick last time. Nevertheless, this is the first time we’ll see him in Graded company, and he requires another step forward.
Prior to the new year the picture across the Irish Sea looked somewhat murkier. I’ve always been a fan of Felix Desjy (33-1), who claimed the scalp of Champion Hurdle third Darver Star at Punchestown on his second start over fences, but his reputation took a blow when bested by mid-140s rated hurdler Franco De Port (20-1) in the Grade 1 at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, although the time figures show Felix Desjy went far too quick that day and was picked off by the quietly ridden winner.I’d be hopeful he would able to turn the form around if they were to meet again.
WILLIE MULLINS CHALLENGE
Willie Mullins also has Unexcepted (16-1), who produced a bloodless performance on his chasing debut at Tipperary in October, stringing out some useful rivals without even having to come out of first gear to score by an eased-down eight lengths. His older brother, the enigmatic tearaway Great Field, won at the highest level as a novice chaser and Unexcepted’s start to life over fences was as emphatic a step in the right direction as could have been taken.
But surely the standout performance we’ve seen amongst the Irish novice chasers came from his stablemate Energumene (6-1), who began the season as real wildcard; a thrice-raced winner in bumpers and novice hurdles, he produced a taking display on his first start over fences when beating inferior opposition by 18 lengths at Gowran.
Faced with his first real test at Naas in January, he showed he was well worth his place at the top level when putting in a captivating round of jumping to take the scalp of the useful Captain Guinness (20-1), a useful yardstick who may well reoppose here. The aspect I liked most in Energumene’s display at Naas was the ease with which he breezed into an extra gear as Captain Guinness drew level to make a challenge, regaining full control of the race in a matter of strides. He stays further, and features in a similarly prominent position in the betting for the Marsh betting.
ARKLE BIG-RACE VERDICT
It’s hard to see past SHISHKIN, who couldn’t have taken to chasing more emphatically in his two starts over fences so far and looks as if he has the potential to be dominant in the two-mile chase division for years. The unexposed Energumene is the only rival I could see proving a potential thorn in the side.