Things We Learned » Arvika left

Arvika left

There is a chance that Arvika Ligeonniere can now go left-handed and, if he can, that makes him interesting as a Champion Chase contender.

The Arvico gelding’s win in the Tied Cottage Chase at (right-handed) Punchestown on Sunday did not tell us anything new about the left-handed/right-handed thing, but it did tell us that he is in the form of his life. In beating the talented Toner D’Oudaries by an easy 14 lengths, he recorded the highest RPR of his life. It could have been the best performance of his career to date.

The balance of his form – which is consistent with the visual impression that he usually leaves – suggests that he wants to go right. His record going right over hurdles or fences reads 121111111. His record going left over obstacles reads 241FP3.

Watching Sunday’s race, Arvika did not appear to be edging to his right, but right-handed horses can sometimes fool you at right-handed tracks. They can give you the impression that they are straight when the track is turning with them. More importantly than the visual impression, however, Ruby Walsh said afterwards that it didn’t feel like he was leaning right. Moreover, he said that, at Leopardstown on his previous run, he did not go markedly to his right either, that maybe he was straightening up as he was gaining in experience and maturing.

Willie Mullins’ horse is going to have to jump straight if he is going to win a Champion Chase. Cheltenham is very different to Leopardstown. At Leopardstown, you jump seven fences down the back straight in a line, then you turn left-handed. At Cheltenham, there isn’t really a back straight, insofar as you would define a straight. You jump the water jump, and you turn. You jump the open ditch, and you turn. You jump the fence at the top of the hill, and you turn. All the while to your left. If you jump to your right, you can give away acres.

That said, it is worth a shot. The Champion Chase lacks depth this year and, if Sprinter Sacre remains under a cloud, it is an eminently winnable contest. If Arvika did manage to jump straight, he would be a big player in the race, no question.

Jack stays home

Once again, the different handicap systems in the two National Hunt jurisdictions known as Britain and Ireland have been brought into sharp focus with the Tony Martin-trained Quick Jack, who really should now be preparing to line up in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury this afternoon.

It would not have made sense to have made the trip however. Before he ran in the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, Quick Jack was rated 119 in Ireland and 136 in Britain. 17lb higher. Frankly, it is an incredible disparity between two systems that should really be rating the same things.

He ran well, but ultimately got beaten off that mark in the Boylesports, finishing third behind Gilgamboa and Flaxen Flare, the three of them clear. He was receiving 23lb from the runner-up that day, not including the rider’s claim, and he couldn’t beat him. Yet, if they had both lined up in this afternoon’s race – and they were both entered – he would have been receiving just 6lb. Same horses, same nationalities, just a different jurisdiction.

You can argue that the race that Quick Jack won at Cheltenham in November is working out well through the second and third horses, and perhaps that is the basis on which a 23lb hike was awarded to him. The runner-up Deep Trouble (who does run in the Betfair Hurdle today) is now rated 22lb higher than he was then, while the third horse, Three Kingdoms, is now rated 16lb higher.

But those two were and are progressive horses. They were both having just their fifth runs over hurdles in that Cheltenham race and, consequently, they both had bundles of scope for progression. The fourth horse got beaten 45 lengths on his next run off the same mark. In fact, 15 of the 16 horses who finished outside the first three in that race have run at least once since, and none of them have won. Not one.

Deep Trouble was raised just 7lb for that Cheltenham run, Three Kingdoms was raised just 5lb. It wasn’t until afterwards that their respective rates of improvement became apparent. So surely it was difficult to justify a 23lb hike for Quick Jack for winning the race by two and a quarter lengths on that basis.

Risk management

If you thought that the name Sadler’s Risk – seventh in the Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown on Sunday – rang a dim and distant bell somewhere, then you were right.

Yes, this is the horse who finished fourth behind Treasure Beach and Nathaniel in the 2011 Chester Vase for Mark Johnston, the same one who dotted up on his debut over hurdles for Philip Hobbs at Kempton in January two years ago, who was sent off as favourite for the Adonis Hurdle the following month and who finished sixth in that year’s Triumph Hurdle. The one who, returned to Mark Johnston, finished second to his stable companion Star Lahib in the Shergar Cup Challenge at Ascot last August.

He had run three times on the flat between that Shergar Cup run and last Sunday, finishing third last of 13, last of nine and last of 10 respectively. However, his most recent run on the flat was last October and, now with Henry de Bromhead, Sunday’s run suggests that he retains a fair proportion of his ability.

Held up well out the back, a mistake at the second last flight did not help as he was just starting to progress, yet he kept at it all the way to the line to finish seventh behind Jetson. It was an encouraging run for a horse who had been off the track since October, who hadn’t jumped a hurdle in public since last April, and who had something to prove.

He still has plenty to prove, but there is every reason to believe that he can progress from Sunday’s run. A handicap mark of 145 is not especially lenient, but it is a mark off which he can operate, given that he was rated 150 at his peak. Sunday’s run was his first run over three miles, which could prove to be his trip – it is easy to argue that he is bred for stamina – and he could progress again now for his new trainer as a staying hurdler. The Pertemps Final is an obvious target, and best odds of 50/1 for that would look big if that is his objective.

Quevega rival

Even in Annie Power’s absence, Quevega could have a real challenger this year in her bid to make it six for six in the Mares’ Hurdle.

There was a point in last year’s race at which it looked as though Sirene D’Ainay might win. It’s easy in hindsight, Quevega is invincible in this grade, but there was a scary moment last year. It was after Willie Mullins’ mare had got shuffled back at the top of the hill, when Jonathan Plouganou kicked for home on the French mare around the home turn, with Quevega back in eighth place, and you took a sharp intake of breath. You exhaled a second or two later, but don’t say that you were not worried.

Emmanuel Clayeux’s mare warmed up for Cheltenham with a bloodless victory at Pau two weeks ago. Bizarrely, the second, third and fourth all fell at the second last obstacle in that race, but Sirene D’Ainay had them all well beaten by then anyway. She is only eight now, Quevega is 10, and there is no room for complacency.

Top jocks

It was interesting looking down through the list of top jockeys at Cheltenham Festivals past, all the way back to 1980. Here are five questions, the answers to which may surprise you at least a little. (Try covering the answers below and see how you do.)

1. Since 1980, what is the lowest number of winners that the Top Jockey at the meeting has ridden?

2. (a) How many times did two or fewer winners win the Top Jockey title in the 10 years between 1982 and 1991?

(b) How many times did two or fewer winners win the Top Jockey title in the 11 years between 2003 and 2013?

3. Has an amateur rider been Top Jockey since 1980?

4. How many times has Ruby Walsh been Top Jockey?

5. What nationality are the four winning-most jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival?


1. One winner, Jonjo O’Neill, 1982.

2. (a) Nine times

(b) No times

3. Yes, Jim Wilson (Mr), 1980, the year before he won the Gold Cup on Little Owl, with three winners

4. Seven

5. Irish – Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy, Barry Geraghty and Pat Taaffe

Go to the top of the class.

© The Irish Field, 8th February 2014