Named after Arkle, arguably the finest steeplechaser in the history of National Hunt racing, the Arkle Challenge Trophy is a Grade One steeplechase run over approximately 2 miles – 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 199 yards, to be exact – on the Old Course at Cheltenham Racecourse. Established in 1969, the race is open to horses aged five years and upwards that, at the start of the current season, had yet to win a race over regulation fences, a.k.a. ‘novice chasers’, and is the leading event of its kind in the National Hunt calendar.
Granted the nature of the race, the Arkle Challenge Trophy often serves as a ‘stepping stone’ to the two-mile championship race, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, when participants step out of novice company the following season. Indeed, in recent years, Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop, Voy Por Ustedes, Sprinter Sacre and Altior have all completed the Arkle Challenge Trophy – Queen Mother Champion Chase double.
Veteran Lambourn handler Nicky Henderson has won the Arkle Challenge Trophy six times, with Remittance Man, Travado, Tiutchev, Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig and, most recently, Altior, and is the most successful trainer since World War II. Barry Geraghty, stable jockey at Seven Barrows since the retirement of Mick Fitzgerald in 2008, was aboard Sprinter Sacre and Sprinter Sacre; he also won the Arkle Challenge Trophy on Moscow Flyer, trained by Jessica Harrington, and Forpadydeplaster, trained by Tom Cooper, for a total of victories, which makes him the joint-most successful jockey in the same period. Sharing that position, though, is the recently-retired Ruby Walsh, who won the race on Azertyuiop, trained by Paul Nicholls and Un de Sceaux , Douvan and, Footpad, all trained by Willie Mullins.
Indeed, Mullins, perennial champion jumps trainer in his native Ireland, has dominated the Arkle Challenge Trophy in recent seasons. The Co. Carlow handler has won four of the last five renewals, with Un De Sceaux in 2015, Douvan in 2016, Footpad in 2018 and Duc Des Genievres, ridden by Paul Townend, in 2019. Mullins’ winning streak was interrupted only by Altior, trained by Henderson, who subsequently won back-to-back renewals of the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2018 and 2019 and, at the time of writing, is 14-14 over fences and is rated 180p by Timeform.