NOTEBOOK has the opportunity to put a poor performance at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival behind him by returning to claim one of its major prizes in the 2020 campaign.
The German thoroughbred was off the pace in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, finishing down in 12th place out of 16 competitors.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge was a 50/1 outsider for the event and was not expected to challenge for the win even though it was an underwhelming outing. However, since then he has developed into a fine horse, putting in outstanding displays to become one of the leading contenders for the Arkle Chase.
Whether the seven-year-old will be able to rise to the occasion is another matter. He boasts a strong record during the National Hunt term, winning all three of his races in Ireland. Cheltenham separates the true champions from the pretenders, and it will be up to De Bromhead along with jockey Rachael Blackmore to ensure that the horse delivers on expectations to challenge for the crown.
There were signs towards the end of the last campaign that Notebook was on the rise. He finished second in his final race of the season in the SalesSense International Novice Hurdle behind Gardens of Babylon. The German thoroughbred made a breakthrough in his first chase event at Punchestown. He was the leading contender for the Beginners Chase and duly put in an excellent outing to claim the victory, finishing two-and-three quarter lengths ahead of his nearest rival Eclair De Beaufeu.
Notebook now had the task of building on his impressive win in the bid to secure back-to-back triumphs for the first time in his career.
Eclair De Beaufeu and his stable-mate Moon Over Germany provided competition in the Craddockstown Novice Chase at Punchestown. Notebook was in contention from the off and remained with the leading group before making a move in the closing stages of the race. He surged ahead of his rivals down the straight and was able to clear the remaining two jumps with ease to pull away and claim the win by five lengths over Moon Over Germany.
The stakes were raised in Notebook’s next appearance in the Racing Post Novices’ Chase where he faced off against Fakir D'Oudairies. His rival was the overwhelming favourite for the contest given his form, including a win at the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.
The German thoroughbred put down a marker with a display to remember, matching the pace of Fakir D'Oudairies throughout the race. Notebook moved into the lead down the stretch and had the composure when it mattered the most to close out the victory by one-and-a-quarter lengths. The standard of his performance has seen him backed in the Betway odds as of 14th January at 4/1 to win the Arkle Chase.
One disappointment this term will not knock Fakir D'Oudairies off course in his bid to overcome his Cheltenham woes from last season after a fourth-place finish at the Juvenile Hurdle.
The French thoroughbred put in an impressive outing at the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase at Navan to defeat Melon among others and again in Fairyhouse in the Drinmore Novice Chase to claim his second win of the term.
The defeat to Notebook was a setback, but it would be foolish to suggest that he could not challenge his rival at the Arkle.
Melon bounced back from his defeat to Fakir D'Oudairies at the Beginners’ Chase in Leopardstown just after Christmas.
Willie Mullins’ charge was on form to deliver his first victory of the campaign, although he has had issues with consistency.
Melon has undoubted quality and finished second in all of his three runs at Cheltenham Festival, including last year in the Champion Hurdle, although he was 15 lengths off the pace of Espoir D’Allen. He will be there and thereabouts in a battle to the end if Mullins opts to place his charge in the Arkle Chase.
Cash Back is another Mullins horse that could compete for the Arkle crown. He has only raced five times since making a move into Mullins’ yard at the beginning of last year, but has won three of those contests, including his last two outings in Navan and Naas. Cash Back could have a problem with the raised standard of the horses he will be competing against, but he could be a surprise in his Cheltenham bow.
There are enough positives for Notebook to take into the Arkle Chase given his form this season and his impressive win over Fakir D'Oudairies. However, it will still take a flawless outing to take his place in the winners’ circle at Cheltenham given the standard of the competition.
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