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Notebook bids to cement his place at top of the Arkle pile

Notebook (leading): puts in another fine leap en route to victory
Notebook (leading) puts in another fine leap en route to victory at ChristmasCredit: Caroline Norris

2.00 Leopardstown
ERSG Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1) | 2m1f | 5yo+ | RTE2/RTV

Five of the first six in the betting for next month's Arkle at Cheltenham clash in the Irish Grade 1 novice that also bears the name of the great chaser. It seems very likely that the outcome will establish the pecking order for Cheltenham.

Current favourite for both races is Notebook, winner of the Racing Post Novice Chase over Christmas. That is a natural feeder for this version of the Arkle, back over the same course and distance six weeks on.

Notebook's win last time owed something to tactics. Rachael Blackmore rode a perfect race on him, kicking on at just the right time to make the most of his speed against Fakir D'Oudairies.

Whether Blackmore will get the same opportunity this time is not certain. The three prime contenders from the Willie Mullins yard – Melon, Bapaume and Cash Back – all have some history of cutting out the running. The last-named in particular is a noted front runner.

If Danny Mullins goes sufficiently quick on Cash Back, it should see Bapaume to good effect. Even if it does not pan out that way, Robbie Power is one of the canniest race-riders around and he, like Blackmore in December, will know how to make best use of his mount's stamina.

Melon is the nominal Mullins number one, being the mount of Paul Townend. He has twice been runner-up in the Champion Hurdle, but his record at Leopardstown is not so inspiring. He has not been at his best in three previous Grade 1 visits to the track. In fact, it is surprising to note that he has never won a Grade 1 race anywhere.

The field is completed by Gallant John Joe and Royal Rendezvous. Both have placed form at Grade 1 level and it is a testament to the quality in opposition, rather than any shortcomings of their own, that they are so unfancied in the betting.

Key stat

Notebook has improved out of all recognition over fences. He ended his hurdling campaign last term with a mark of 135 but is already rated 23lb higher over fences after winning all three starts in impressive fashion, including a Grade 1 last time.

What they say

Robbie Power, rider of Bapaume
He was very impressive when he won his beginners' chase at Naas. He drops back in trip here but it shouldn't be a problem to him. Hopefully he has a great chance and it's a great ride to pick up. I'm really looking forward to the race, it's a cracker.

Paul Townend, rider of Melon
Notebook and Fakir D’Oudairies set the standard. I was very taken by Notebook at Christmas. Melon was going to win well last time but made a bad mistake at the last and did well to recover from it. He'll have to improve from that but on hurdles form we know the ability is there.

Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Notebook
He seems to be in very good form. He was good at Christmas and, although it's a very good race again, we're very happy with him.

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David JenningsDeputy Ireland editor
Published on 31 January 2020Last updated 13:50, 1 February 2020