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The First Chase race of the meeting is the My Pension Expert Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase

The First Chase race of the Cheltenham Festival is the Arkle Novices' Chase Grade 1. This race is the equivalent of the Supreme Novices' for chasers, with the best 2m novice chasers taking their chance in what will be a very quick race, where there are normally plenty of front runners who don't like to hang around. For the National Hunt racing purists, other than the Champion Chase, this is one of the finest spectacles seeing horses flying over fences at 30+ mph.

Cheltenham 2:10 – Matata 18/1 (0.5pt EW, WilliamHill)

I know this is only the second race of the Festival and I'm already picking out a big-priced horse, but hear me out…

For some time now, I've been fancying Matata to run a huge race in this year's Arkle. Similar to the Supreme Novices' Hurdle race, the Arkle isn't a vintage renewal, and I think there could be a surprise in this race, with no candidate looking like they'll be a runaway winner. I really do rate Matata, and I'm glad Daryl Jacob is on Hunters Yarn, as I thought he gave Matata a honking ride at Lingfield last time out, as that was such a winnable race, and with the correct tactics deployed he would've won and will have been half the price he currently is, so I guess in hindsight him being the price he is due to the ride of lto has worked out nicely, as long as he wins or places.

It could be suicide to side with a horse who will run from the front in a race which has many front runners, but I think Matata is the alpha front runner for this race and if Sam Twiston-Davies doesn't give this horse a ride like he did on The Real Whacker at last year's 3m novice chase, I'd be very surprised. This horse has to be ridden on the front, you are fighting a losing battle by trying to restrain him. When allowed to stride on, his jumping is superb and he could really put the other horses' jumping to the test. He has already proven he handles this track and testing conditions and would've beaten a well-handicapped horse over this C&D if he didn't clatter the final fence.

A couple of the other front runners who might try and upset Matata are Found A Fifty and Gaelic Warrior. Found A Fifty is a Grade 1 winner, but the race he did win did collapse with Marine Nationale underperforming and Facile Vega not really living up to the hype over fences. His form isn't anything special and his rating would suggest he is a leading contender. Gaelic Warrior is a horse I could not be backing at the prices, he is a horrific price. This horse does not want to go left-handed, so why on earth is he the favourite for the Arkle over a trip which he wasn't going to be running at for the entire season, with this looking like a total last-minute decision? He is a talented horse on his day, and does have the pace to be competitive in this race. But, left-handed is a real problem and it has been amplified since moving over fences as we saw at Leopardstown last time out.

I briefly touched on Hunters Yarn earlier on. He is clearly a smart horse. Was well fancied into 11/2 for the County Handicap Hurdle last festival, which saw him underperform based on market expectations. He has made a decent start to over fences and would be 2/2 if it wasn't for a shuddering mistake at the last. He made a mistake late in his last race, which isn't ideal around this track.

Il Etait Temps seems to run his best at Leopardstown. Has run with credit at Cheltenham at the previous two festivals, but doesn't replicate the same level of form that he produces at Leopardstown.

The main UK hope for the Arkle, according to the price and what has been said for most of the season is JPR One, but I don't see it personally. He only managed to win last time out because Matata was given the wrong ride. He seems a sound jumper, but was thumped in the Grade 1 at Sandown which saw him jump nowhere near as good as he had shown previously. He was a faller on his sole attempt at this track, which might leave a few doubts.

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