Formerly known as the Cotswold Chase, The Arkle Challenge Trophy was renamed in honour of the great steeplechaser, Arkle, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in succession the 1960’s and is still regarded as the best ever National Hunt horse. The Arkle Trophy is a Grade 1 Novice Chase for horses aged five and above and is run over a distance of 2 miles, taking in12 fences on the Old Course at Prestbury Park, Cheltenham. It traditionally takes place on the first day of the famous meeting, preceding the Champion Hurdle.
In terms of prestige at the Festival, the Arkle Trophy ranks fourth, behind, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The race has been run since the end of the Second World War. The first race in 1946 was won by Bright Penny and ridden by Glen Kelly. At that time it was known as the Cotswold Chase, but the race had its name changed in 1969 to the Arkle Trophy. The first winner in its new name was Chatam, ridden by former Champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe, Chatam was trained by the legendary Fred Rimell. At the time the prize money for the race was a very attractive £1,365. In 2009, the prize money is nearer to £175,000.
The race has built up such a reputation that only the very best Novice chasers attempt to win it. For race punters this has been an excellent evolvement as it produces very few unexpected winners, meaning that is easier to predict the winner than most other races.
The Arkle Trophy is particularly noted for its record of producing winners who go on to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year. Flagship Uberalles (1999), Moscow Flyer (2002), Azertyuiop (2003) and Voy Por Ustedes (2006) are four recent examples. Last years winner, the Howard Johnson trained, Tidal Bay, is an entry in the 2009 Queen Mother Champion Chase and will high on the list of many as a likely winner.
The Arkle Trophy is not noted for creating shocks. The winner is usually a horse from a top stable, with previous good form at the Cheltenham Festival, and they usually come into the race having won or been very close to winning their previous race. Alan King is a trainer with a nose for this race having won it twice in the last three years, while the Pipe yard has also trained two recent winners of the race. However, it may be Champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, who trains the winner of the 2009 renewal, with his horse, Tatenen, currently heading the Arkle Betting Odds and is very much the one to beat judged on his two winning runs so far this season which have resulted in an aggregate winning distance of 35 lengths.
The Arkle is one of the few races at the Cheltenham Festival that has not been dominated by the Irish trainers in recent years, with Jessica Harrington the last winning trainer from across the Irish Sea in 2002 when the great Moscow Flyer won the first of his three wins at the Cheltenham Festival. One man who will be hoping to put the Irish back on the map in this race is Tipperary based trainer, Edward O’Grady who has a very interesting runner in the form of Tranquil Sea. This six year old novice chaser has been on an upward curve since finishing eighth in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Festival in 2008 and made a winning start over bigger obstacles at Cork recently. He is entered to run in a race at Fairyhouse this coming Sunday and if he progresses once again, expect the current 16/1 quote about an Arkle victory with Bet365 and Stan James to be long gone.