Notebook and Cash Back renew rivalry in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
Henry de Bromhead’s Notebook has made huge progress since having his attentions turned to chasing, winning each of his four starts over fences, including a narrow defeat of the Willie Mullins-trained Cash Back in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown last month.
It is 10 years since De Bromhead saddled the popular Sizing Europe to claim Arkle glory and and he has high hopes Notebook can follow suit on the opening day of this year’s Festival, despite showing signs of recalcitrance prior to his latest triumph.
“I kind of backed off our horses after Christmas and a lot of them ran quite fresh at the Dublin Racing Festival. He bolted to the start in Leopardstown, but I hope he was just fresh and psyched up to get going – I’m telling myself it was anyway,” said de Bromhead.
“We’ll probably put some ear plugs in him at Cheltenham.
“He seems to love jumping. Sizing Europe was pretty slick as a novice, but he’s similar.”
Cash Back was beaten just three-quarters of a length by Notebook at the Dublin Racing Festival and Mullins expects to see his charge raise his game in the Cotswolds.
“We always hope we can improve them coming to Cheltenham,” said the champion trainer.
“Notebook has a good bit more experience, whereas our lad is gaining experience all the time.
“He has a great never-say-die attitude.”
Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies is another major contender for the Irish team.
The JP McManus-owned gelding jumped impeccably when winning his first two starts over fences, but had to make do with the runner-up spot behind Notebook over the Christmas period.
O’Brien said: “He is in great shape and we are looking forward to a good run. The juice in the ground should be OK for him.
“I thought it was a great run behind Notebook last time, we were over the moon with him and we will give it another go against him.
“It’s a different track on a different day, so you never know what will happen. Hopefully his stamina will come into play in the race as we know Fakir is a guaranteed stayer. It looks like it will be a good race.”
The home team is headed by Olly Murphy’s Brewin’upastorm, who is two from two over fences, but has not been seen in competitive action since winning at Taunton in mid-November.
“He had a knock at Taunton in November, so we had to back off him for a few weeks,” said Murphy.
“We are really looking forward to running him, as we know he goes well fresh.
“It looks an open Arkle and there looks to be plenty of pace in the race. Hopefully, we can benefit from that by dropping him in.”
Ben Pauling’s Global Citizen also lines up as a fresh horse, having been off the track since winning Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton in late December.
Pauling said: “He’s in great form and we’re looking forward to running him, all being well.
“We’d obviously prefer better ground. I suppose we won’t really know our fate until the day, but the better the ground, the better his chance.”
The 11-strong field features two mares in De Bromhead’s Put The Kettle On and the Dan Skelton-trained Maire Banrigh. The latter is unbeaten in four starts over fences, but faces a rise in class.
“She stays two miles very well and gets 7lb from the boys. If you take her 7lb into consideration, she’s a 155-rated runner, which is a very high mark,” the trainer told Sky Sports Racing.
“I think she’s got to be a player on form and figures and on the form she’s in at the moment, I can’t see her under-performing.
“I didn’t think we’d be this far along with her, to be honest, but I think she’s fifth in the betting and she’d be a legitimate winner.”
Evan Williams runs Henry VIII Novices’ Chase victor Esprit Du Large, while Harry Whittington’s Rouge Vif earned his place by winning the Kingmaker at Warwick.
Al Dancer (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and rank outsider Our Merlin (Robert Walford) complete the line-up.