Horses To Follow » Free World

Free World

With all eyes and most column inches focused on Master Minded dancing his way to ‘certainty’ status for the Champion Chase at Sandown last Saturday, the performance of his stable companion Free World in the Henry VIII Chase 35 minutes earlier may have gone under the radar, especially seeing as he didn’t even win the race.

The Henry VIII Chase is usually a high class race, it is often a significant indicator as to the relative merits of the current season’s crop of two-mile novice chasers, and it is among the best Arkle trials in the business. The 2002 winner of the Henry VIII, Impek, finished second to Azertyuiop in the Arkle on his next start, the 2003 winner Thisthatandtother fell at the second fence in the Arkle when favourite, but went on to finish second to the Arkle winner Well Chief in the Maghull Chase at Aintree, the 2004 winner Contraband went on to win the Arkle, while the 2006 Henry VIII winner and runner-up, Fair Along and My Way De Solzen, filled the same two places in the Arkle, in reverse order.

All the indications are that this year’s renewal was well above average. The winning time was exceptional for novices, just a second slower than the time that Master Minded took to complete the same course and distance in the Tingle Creek. Master Minded is officially the best steeplechaser in training, he was carrying just 5lb more than the Henry VIII winner, and he didn’t have to jump the Pond Fence, unlike the novices. Also, he wasn’t slacking in the closing stages despite the fact that he came home 10 lengths clear of his closest pursuer.

Free World and Araldur got into a tussle from early on in the Henry VIII Chase, which obviously was a major contributor to the fast time. Free World pinged the first fence, and was a little free under AP McCoy up the home straight first time. The champ quickly had him back underneath him, but his rivals continued to snap at his heels, first Astarador, then Araldur, with the result that he was never really able to relax in front. Even so, a fine jump at the third last looked to have sealed it, as Araldur looked to be fighting a losing battle. Neither of them jumped the second last well and, even though Free World did jump the last well, he just got run down by Araldur inside the final 50 yards.

As well as the fast time, Araldur and Free World pulled 30 lengths clear of useful rivals Astarador and Cheating Chance, which augurs well for the future of both. Araldur’s trainer Alan King is convinced that his charge is a two-and-a-half-miler, so he may not be an Arkle contender, but Paul Nicholls appeared to be certain that Free World still is. That is, after all, the race for which Clive Smith bought him, and there is no reason to lose faith.

It is interesting that Nicholls said afterwards that Free World continues to strengthen and, as he does, he will be able to get him fitter. As he gains in experience, this free-going type should settle more easily, which will help him get home better. The two-mile trip on Cheltenham’s Old Course, the site of the Arkle, is no stiffer than Sandown’s two miles, and Free World got one mile seven furlongs and 150 yards of it. There is every chance that he will get the full two miles come March.

As a near-five-year-old French-bred, Free World has a lot in his favour as an Arkle contender. Four of the last 10 renewals of the Arkle have been won by five-year-olds (albeit with a weight allowance which has been purged), and French-breds have won half of the last 14 from minimal representation. You can only assume that Coral’s quote of 20/1 about the son of Lost World for the novice chasers’ championship is down to the fact that he is rated inferior to his stable companion and fellow Arkle contender Tatenen, but he might be a lot closer to him come next March, by which stage he should have matured further and learned to settle. It might be worthwhile taking a little bit of that 20/1 in anticipation.

© The Irish Field, 13th December, 2008