Al Dancer failed to capitalise on his momentum in his first major test of the 2019/20 National Hunt season, finishing second in the Arkle Trial Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
The French thoroughbred was the leading contender for the meet, but he failed to rise to the occasion albeit in difficult conditions on soft ground. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge placed behind 6/1 outsider Put The Kettle On, who claimed a solid victory by two-and-a-half-lengths.
A victory in the event may have propelled the six-year-old to be the favourite for the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham Festival in March. As it stands, Al Dancer is now backed in the horse racing odds in the ante-post for the Arkle Chase at odds of 16/1 to claim the crown. There are a slew of talented horses ready to compete for the title, including Fakir D’oudairies, Laurina and Samcro. The coming months will see respective owners and trainers move their charges into position for the honours, and even if the French thoroughbred does face off against elite competition he does have a top-quality performance in his locker albeit it has not come to fruition on the major stage yet.
Twiston-Davies’ charge rode a four-race winning streak into Cheltenham Festival last year. He produced a dominant run at Cheltenham in the Catesby Handicap Hurdle in December, beating out his nearest rival by 11 lengths. Al Dancer continued in that manner with another brilliant outing at Ascot two months prior to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He finished three-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of the field to establish himself as one of the top two contenders for the crown in the Festival’s opening race.
However, he endured a terrible outing in the Novices’ Hurdle, crumbling down the stretch with Sam Twiston-Davies at the reins. The French thoroughbred placed in a disappointing 10th out of the 12 horses that finished the contest.
After a seven-month absence, Al Dancer returned to the track for the Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. He was the odds-on favourite in a field that included Getaway Trump, and he duly delivered on expectations with a strong outing. Twiston-Davies guided his charge out of early trouble after making a mistake at the third fence. The six-year-old gradually moved into position before he made his move to take the lead over the penultimate hurdle. Al Dancer charged through to claim the victory by four lengths to atone for his underwhelming performance at the Festival.
As a result of his strong run, he was favoured again for the Arkle Trial Novices’ Chase. It presented an opportunity for the French thoroughbred to put down a marker as one of the firm challenges for the main event in March. However, he struggled to impose himself in wet conditions and failed to make the significant jump to move alongside Put The Kettle On.
Al Dancer did close on the final fence, but his rival had enough to break away down the stretch to claim the win. It was a decent outing, but both Nigel Twiston-Davies and his son Sam will be hopeful that there is more to come from the grey gelding at Cheltenham in the near future to avoid him becoming a pretender on the major stage.