Matt Tombs / Thursday 22nd January 2015 / 17:08
The RSA Chase is very much a race where experience has been crucial, including recent match practice. Every winner for half a century had run in the calendar year and every winner since 1998 has run at least 3 times over fences. The markets are often suckers for lightly raced, flashy types – in the last decade Grands Crus (6/5), Time For Rupert (7/4) & Comply Or Die (3/1) have all been beaten favourites without a run in the calendar year. In the same period, Ballycasey (13/2), Time For Rupert (7/4), Punchestowns (2/1) & Commercial Flyer (9/2) have all been beaten favourites that had had less than 3 chase starts. That’s not to say that such horses can’t win – but in a race as tough as this, lots of experience, including recent practice, is a big advantage.
Kings Palace (5/1) has looked really impressive so far in 2 races at Cheltenham, making all and jumping boldly. He’s beaten the same horse both times, Sausalito Sunrise (33/1) and the strength of the form depends on how good Sausalito Sunrise is. Philip Hobbs rated him as an RSA horse at the start of the season and, whilst to some extent it’s a watching brief, I’m taking a positive view of the form.
The concern with Kings Palace is what happens if he gets taken on for the lead. At this stage it’s hard to know whether that will happen, (last year I thought Corrin Wood would get a soft lead, only for Annacotty to be diverted to the race and for the two of them to cut each others throats.) In his 6 wins Kings Palace has had an easy lead every time. Both times he’s been taken on for the lead this normally excellent jumper has ended up on the deck, (every chance on his hurdling debut when fell 2 out; well held when falling at the last in the Albert Bartlett where he stopped quickly, perhaps having done too much too soon.) I wouldn’t read too much into that, but at 5/1 in a race that throws up surprises, (4 of the last 10 winners went off at double figure odds,) you want a horse to look bombproof before taking a short price.
The issue concerning Don Poli (5/1) is a different one – whether he’ll run in this or the 4 miler. Willie Mullins was nearly in tears when Patrick won the 4 miler on Back In Focus two seasons ago and it shouldn’t be underestimated how much he wants Patrick to ride winners over fences at the Festival. The 4 miler is much Patrick’s best opportunity and it’s hard to see what else Willie has with a realistic chance.
Willie originally nominated the 4 miler and, whilst he’s normally impervious to criticism of his running plans, the exchanges suggest he may have had a rethink and Don Poli will run in this. His defeat of Wounded Warrior at Gowran looks good now and whilst Apache Stronghold was probably a non-stayer in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown, Don Poli was an impressive winner. Given how little horses are often cut when layers go NRNB, he’s one to consider at that stage, but I couldn’t back him ante-post at 5/1 given there’s a material doubt this’ll be his aim.
The same connections Valseur Lido (14/1) has a similar question mark over his target hanging over him – though in his case it’s a choice between this and the JLT. He was hugely impressive in what looked a vintage Drinmore (2m4f) at Fairyhouse. That form hasn’t worked out as well as might have been expected but my gut feel is that he is a top class novice. There’s more of a case for chancing he’ll run, given he’s 12/1, but if I had to nominate his race, I’d plump for the JLT not the RSA. I’m far from certain he’ll stay this trip even if he does run, so I have to pass him over.
Coneygree (10/1) is an intended runner – the difficulty with him is evaluating his form. After 21 months off he just edged Dell’ Arca out at Newbury – the runner up hasn’t taken to fences and has reverted to hurdles. He then won the 3m Grade 1 Kauto Star (formerly Feltham) at Kempton by 40l, but Saphir Du Rheu and Sausalito Sunrise fell, and Virak was a blatant non-stayer. My gut feel is that he won’t be quite classy enough for this. He misses his planned run at Cheltenham this weekend with a pulled muscle.
The Young Master (12/1) has come through the handicap ranks, winning the Badger Ales off 130, (disqualified on a technicality,) and the Silver Cup at Ascot off 144. He’s clearly progressive but was getting 17lb from Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot and only beat him 2½l, and I think he has a fair bit more to find. He could easily end up in the 4 miler instead, (amateur ridden at Cheltenham in October).
Champagne West (16/1) was a good 9½l 4th to Very Wood in the Albert Bartlett on his first try at 3m. This season he’s won two novice chases at Cheltenham over around 2½m, beating decent types Colour Squadron and Un Ace. He then took on arguably the leading British novice chaser Ptit Zig over 2m5f at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and got done for toe, finishing 6l 2nd, (slight mistake at the last increased the winning margin.) He should improve significantly for the step back up to 3m and looks to have sound claims.
Southfield Theatre (20/1) was a smart hurdler, (touched off in the Pertemps off 147.) He looked an RSA type when winning the Grade 2 Rising Stars at Wincanton over an inadequate extended 2m4f, (although it did look as if he might run out going out on the final circuit). He was turned over on much softer ground by Carraig Mor, (who received 7lb,) when 4/11 in another Grade 2 over 3m at Newbury. It might be that back on a sound surface, Southfield Theatre will be a different proposition in the RSA, (with Saphir Du Rheu back over hurdles and Virak a non-stayer, he looks likely to be Paul Nicholls’ RSA horse.)
After today's initial declaration stage, the likes of Whisper, Gilgamboa, Pont Alexandre and Close Touch did not receive an entry, while the aforementioned Saphir Du Rheu (25/1) sticks to the smaller obstacles and Apache Stronghold (20/1) looks likely to drop back in trip. Wounded Warrior (33/1) looked good the other day when winning a 3m Grade 2 at Naas but seems to be heading for the 4 miler.
At bigger prices, Jarry D'Honneur (33/1) is interesting. He’d been a sick horse after arriving in Willie Mullins yard from France. He apparently needed the run badly when a fair 4th to Lots of Memories in December, (1st run for 14 months,) and was described as only ‘half right’ by Mullins when easily beating Bishops Road at Punchestown earlier in the month. That was over 2m4f and his stamina is unproven. It would be a shot in the dark to back him at this stage but he’s just the sort to improve massively in the run up to the race and be a real contender.
I’ve had my eye on Le Vent D’Antan (33/1) ever since his impressive win in a minor hurdle race at the Punchestown Festival in the spring. He’s clearly not the soundest horse but he came on hugely for his seasonal reappearance, (good 2nd to Real Steel,) when trouncing a good looking field at Leopardstown at Christmas over 2m3f. He heads for the 2m5f Grade 1 at Leopardstown early next month and I think 3m will be the making of him. Given he’s a bit fragile and could run in the JLT, he’s a chancy ante-post proposition – he’s one I might back nearer the race.
It’s a typically open renewal at this stage and there are plenty to fancy. At the prices I like Champagne West, who jumped well bar a slight mistake at the last when outspeeded by Champion Hurdle 6th Ptit Zig over 2m5f last time. In the RSA I like horses that have got experience in good races over shorter – Champagne West looks just the unflashy sort that has the tactical speed to get into a rhythm, before his stamina kicks in at the business end.
1pt Champagne West to win the RSA Chase @ 16/1