Cheltenham Festival: Arkle is ideal platform for Footpad

Footpad puts in a giant leap to win the Irisk Arkle when the injury sidelined Ruby Walsh was replaced by Paul Townend in the saddle.
Footpad puts in a giant leap to win the Irisk Arkle when the injury sidelined Ruby Walsh was replaced by Paul Townend in the saddle.
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CONNECTIONS of Footpad are confident that the rising star of steeplechasing has sufficient class to land a tantalising renewal of the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

This Grade One test has been landed by some great names in the past decade alone – Tidal Bay, Sizing Europe, Captain Chris, Sprinter Sacre, Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Altior. And, while this year’s renewal has attracted just five winners, their quality – and close proximity on form ratings – means Footpad, trained by Willie Mullins and the mount of a fit again Ruby Walsh, will have to be foot perfect.

Footpad leads Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Arkle, with the pair renewing rivalry at Cheltenham today.

Footpad leads Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Arkle, with the pair renewing rivalry at Cheltenham today.

Fourth in last year’s Champion Hurdle, Footpad has – in fairness – produced three near faultless displays since being sent chasing and the race is likely to be run at a quick tempo with the front-running Saint Calvados in the field.

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“It should be a fabulous race and with Saint Calvados there should be a lot of pace,” said Patrick Mullins, son and assistant to his father. “Our horse handles the soft ground and stays further than two (miles) and touch wood looks a very natural jumper. He is in great form at home and will be very hard to beat.

“We are versatile regarding tactics as well.

One thing we do know is over hurdles we were fortunate enough to beat Footpad a few times. There are other horses in the race as well, but obviously he’s the hot favourite. I’m sure we have a chance of turning the form around, but we’ll see.

Patrick Mullins

“He was just below top class as a hurdler, but he jumps fences so well and has improved enormously over them. He has had a nice prep and he could be top class over fences.”

Yet Petit Mouchoir, who finished just ahead of Footpad in last year’s Champion Hurdle, should not be discounted after chasing home the favourite in last month’s Irish Arkle at Leopardstown.

“He was very fresh in the ring at Leopardstown and we had to actually pull him out of the ring before they went out,” said trainer Henry de Bromhead. “He was just a bit fresh and forward-going for those first couple of fences and made a couple of stupid mistakes, but I thought his jumping was brilliant after that and Davy (Russell) was happy.

“One thing we do know is over hurdles we were fortunate enough to beat Footpad a few times. There are other horses in the race as well, but obviously he’s the hot favourite. I’m sure we have a chance of turning the form around, but we’ll see.”

Fronting the English challenge is Grade Two winner Saint Calvados who will be bidding to give Harry Whittington, a rising star of the training ranks, his first winner at the meeting.

The mudlark could not have been more impressive when winning at Warwick last time out and will relish conditions.

“I’m very pleased with him and his work has been excellent. He looks fantastic and he seems to be thriving. He is a joy to train and looks to have improved again for the Kingmaker at Warwick. He is very exciting,” said the trainer. “I couldn’t be happier with him. Everything is done now. He schooled brilliantly on Thursday so it’s all systems go.”

Nicky Henderson fears soft ground may compromise the chance of Brain Power getting back to winning ways and providing him with a seventh victory in the race he has won previously with the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Altior. The field is completed by the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained outsider Robinshill.

Gordon Elliott reports Apple’s Jade to be in tip-top shape as she goes for back-to-back victories in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.

The County Meath handler could not be happier with the six-year-old ahead of the defence of her crown.

“This year we’ve had a very clear run,” said Elliott. “Last year she was a bit weak and we had a few niggly problems, whereas this year we’ve had a clear run the whole way. I was always taught to go for the race you can win.”