Matt Tombs / Wednesday 9th January 2013 / 14:15
1pt Rocky Creek to win the RSA Chase @ 25/1
The RSA Chase often has a good betting shape because horses tend to be priced on hurdles form and form in small field, steadily run novice chases. Having watched so many good horses canter round in their comfort zone in uncompetitive novice chases, and then seen them struggle in the heat of battle in the RSA, I reckon the importance of being battle hardened over fences (not hurdles) is underestimated.
The recent results back this theory up. It’s 15 years since Florida Pearl won this after just 2 chase runs. In the last 10 runnings, 3 winners had run in three chases, 4 in four and the other 3 in five or more. 6 had run by the end of October and the earliest date a winner had had their last run was the 27th January.
In an era where training methods allow so much more of a horse’s preparation to be done at home, some trainers haven’t cottoned onto the fact that that doesn’t work for every type of race at the Festival. We’ve seen plenty of classy, inexperienced, short priced favourites bite the dust recently – Our Vic 11/8 (2 runs), Commercial Flyer 9/2 (1 run), Punchestowns 2/1 (2 runs) and Time For Rupert 7/4 (2 runs.) Although Grands Crus (6/5) had had 3 runs last season he hadn’t run since Boxing Day.
The wrong approach is to be slavish to statistics and simply find the closest match to what’s occurred before. The point is that to win this race horses need plenty of experience, ideally over a longish season, so they are battle hardened for the big day. The right approach is to consider each horse in that context, rather than purely looking at their form.
It’s also worth noting how successful the Irish are. They’ve won 4 of the last 10, including 3 of the last 4. Irish beginners’ chases are fiercely competitive with big fields and good horses running against each other. Having tougher races during their novice campaign might explain their success here, (and why some of those horses don’t train on – of those 4 winners, Rule Supreme’s win in the Irish Hennessy is the only chase win afterwards.) Boston’s Angel and Weapon’s Amnesty had run 5 times each – they looked classic cases of battle-hardened horses beating classier, inexperienced rivals.
On that basis, we shouldn’t get carried away with Dynaste (5/2) who’s been hugely impressive in winning 3 good novice chases easily, giving Court In Motion, (Grade 2 winner since,) 7lb and thrashing him at Cheltenham and then hosing up in the Feltham. He’s comfortably the best novice we’ve seen at staying trips so far, but he’s looked exactly the sort of speedy type that does get turned over in this.
Dynaste was running in top open hurdle races last season. He’s had 11 runs over hurdles, more than any other winner in modern times. That’s not an issue in itself but implies he might be vulnerable to a less exposed type improving past him. 6 of the last 13 winners have started at 10/1, 14/1, 16/1, 16/1, 25/1 & 33/1 so I have an inbuilt prejudice against taking 5/2 against any horse ante-post unless it looks like another Denman. Soft ground could see Dynaste switch to the Jewson, which suggests stamina concerns and makes him really opposable at this stage.
The next two in the market, Boston Bob and Back In Focus represent the Mullins / Wylie combination. Boston Bob (8/1) was described by Willie Mullins as the best novice hurdler he’d ever brought to the Festival last year, but didn’t look to enjoy himself in the Albert Bartlett and has a question mark over the track, (and likely good ground). He jumped well but looked one paced when edging out You Must Know Me at Navan, (2m4f, heavy). The runner up was unexposed and finished lame next time so its hard to evaluate the form. He’s going to struggle to get enough experience under his belt and if the ground is soft enough for Back In Focus, it wouldn’t surprise me if he bypasses the race.
Back In Focus (14/1) is a real stayer who’s jumped well 3 times on bad ground in Ireland, beating the classy Lyreen Legend over an inadequate 2m6f at Punchestown and then chinning Aupcharlie in a 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown. He’s just the right type for this provided the ground is soft. That’s more likely than usual given the high water table but it’s still unlikely. Whilst Willie Mullins said he had a good ground action, Ruby Walsh didn’t think he’d handle a sound surface and he did bomb on his only try on it. His chance is better judged closer to the race. Mullins other top novices Aupcharlie (20/1) and Arvika Ligeonniere (33/1) are likely to drop back in trip to the Jewson and Arkle respectively.
Hadrian’s Approach (20/1) was 2nd in the Feltham and whilst no winner of that has ever followed up in the RSA, a number of beaten horses have done, relishing the extra stamina test (including the same stable’s Trabolgan.) He looks to stay really well though he has the tendency to thrown in the odd howler and would benefit from more match practice. He has sound each way claims but may not be targeted at the race.
Highland Lodge (20/1) has plenty of stamina and having been a close 3rd to Harry Topper (who apparently won’t go to the Festival this year) in a Grade 2 at Newbury, thrashed Our Father at Cheltenham. Both look talented stayers but Highland Lodge apparently won’t run unless the ground is soft so he can’t be backed ante-post. Our Father (33/1) clearly needs to be really fresh (won 1st time out all 3 seasons and a beaten favourite every other start.) Ideally he’d not run again before a target in the spring but that would probably leave him too inexperienced for this off two runs. He might be the type for the Hennessy next season.
Super Duty (25/1) had been beaten by the Nicholls pair Bury Parade and Poungach, (both useful but subsequently not looking Grade 1 horses), before bolting up at Cheltenham, (2m5f, heavy.) Visually, he was impressive but his main rivals jumped appallingly so he was probably flattered. I’m not convinced that he wants a step up in trip but the vibes are that he runs in this. He’s best judged after another run.
Sword of Destiny (25/1) had a huge reputation as a staying novice hurdler at the start of last season when an impressive winner of a 3m Grade 3 at Cork. He looked set to beat the useful Bucker’s Bridge at Punchestown before landing in a heap at the last and going down by 1½l, (2m4f, heavy). He then dropped back to 2m1f and showed his class to breeze past Darwin’s Fox at Navan, (heavy). If connections indicated he was being targeted at the race he’d be one to consider.
Houblon Des Obeaux (33/1) had the benefit of a run but had to give 4lb to Poungach and Court In Motion when winning a Grade 2 at Wincanton over 2m5f, (good to soft). He would have finished closer than 4¼l 4th to Harry Topper in another Grade 2 at Newbury but for ploughing through 2 out and then was running on strongly on unsuitably heavy ground at Lingfield when failing to catch Court in Motion (who received 7lb), going down by 1¼l. I’d be tempted but the vibes are that he may go for the 4 miler.
Paul Nicholls has 3 at 25/1 or shorter. Unioniste (20/1) won the big December open handicap at Cheltenham off, (after taking the allowances into account,) 131, (2m5f, heavy.) That was a great performance for a 4 year old but Nicholls made it clear he’d been trained for that and I doubt he’ll run. Sire Collonges (25/1) was a good winner at Cheltenham in October but was beaten miles when trying to give 8lb to a fresh Our Father there the following month. He doesn’t look quite good enough for the RSA.
On his seasonal debut Rocky Creek (25/1) seemed to blow up when edged out by the smart Harry Topper at Exeter. He then beat the useful Molotof (who gave 2lb) easily by 4l at Doncaster, (good to soft) despite being unsuited by a sedate early gallop. Whilst Molotof was beaten an easy 16l by Dynaste in the Feltham, heavy ground extends gaps between horses and Molotof wasn’t suited by the slog at Kempton, so there’s less between Rocky Creek and Dynaste than it may appear.
Crucially, Rocky Creek is much less exposed after only 5 runs under rules and looks to be on a rapid upward curve. He jumps well, travels well and whilst not a flashy quickener, is just the sort of relentless galloper that does well in this.
When I started looking at this market after the Christmas action, I was interested in 4 or 5. However, I’m keen to take the front 3 in the market on and Rocky Creek really jumps out at 25/1. As he’s entered on Saturday and Hills are going a stand out price, it makes sense to take the plunge now.