VALDEZ has always been a real favourite of mine. Maybe it’s his big white blaze or the way he tries to pull Choc Thornton’s arms out, but since he won his two bumpers as a very young horse he has captured my imagination and promised to be very, very good. As a novice hurdler last season he won two little races and then connections chose to run him in a bog in the Imperial Cup instead of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle a few days later. In hindsight that may have been an error as he could not handle the deep ground at Sandown. We saw the real Valdez sign off his hurdling career by running the talented Whisper close at Cheltenham over 2m 4f last April.
But chasing has seen Valdez in his true light. He hosed up at Exeter and then could not have been more impressive at Newbury. The other week at Doncaster I thought he would struggle in the soft ground but he dug deep to beat Arnaud and the very useful Fox Appeal. Interestingly Choc Thornton said after that win: “He’s better than that.”
For those considering a bet at Cheltenham 2014, Valdez is now as low as 9/1 for the Arkle and punters have been latching on to him as a real contender. I’m glad I took the 33/1 on offer last autumn. The pace will be strong in the Arkle and that will suit Valdez; so will good ground.
I can’t be having Champagne Fever at 7/2 unless the ground is very soft. He would also benefit from further. Trifolium has done little wrong but is another who would like some juice in the ground.
That leaves Rock On Ruby and Dodging Bullets as the two to beat. Rock On Ruby jumped nicely to win at Doncaster and Harry Fry will be hoping for decent ground for the former Champion Hurdle winner and the 8/1 still available looks good value. But do nine-year-olds win the Arkle?
Fry said the other day: “They’re crabbing him because he’s a nine-year-old and nine-year-olds aren’t supposed to win the Arkle but there aren’t many previous Champion Hurdle winners that have gone on to contest an Arkle. It’s a step into the unknown but we’re very happy with where the horse is and as a team we’re very much looking forward to it.”
I would be surprised if Alan King pitted Balder Succes against stablemate Valdez. Balder is probably the most fluent jumper in the field and he could take some catching. The 25/1 available is outstanding each-way value although I would expect him to wait for Aintree and Punchestown.
Others to consider are Hinterland, the aforementioned Fox Appeal and the talented Eduard who would be the real dark horse of the race if he runs.
But the Arkle could be set up for that white blaze on Valdez to come bounding up the hill.
Who do you fancy in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy? Please leave comments below.