Our racing expert is already looking ahead to the potential stars of next year.
Every now and then, you witness a race that sings to you with regard to pure class and promise for the future and in the shape of this season’s RSA Chase, the first three home suggested the staying division is in safe hands for years to come.
In what looked a mouth-watering contest on paper beforehand, TOPOFTHEGAME (best price 12-1), SANTINI (best price 16-1) and DELTA WORK (best price 33-1) all had their legion of supporters for various reasons and in a rousing finish up the Cheltenham Hill, the former came out on top. Right from the start, the pace was very strong largely thanks to the exploits of the trail-blazing Drinks Interval, and once it became apparent that his engine began to splutter at the top of the hill, the big three all loomed up going equally as well as each other on the run down to two out.
Turning for home, it momentarily looked as though Delta Work was travelling the best and was about to justify strong market support but when Gordon Elliot’s charge got in too close to the second last, it was left between the other pair to slug it out on the run-in. Having been questioned about his ability to see out the trip in the past, there was no arguments on that score this time around as Topofthegame fended off the persistent challenge of Santini in the dying strides and he went on to confirm what Paul Nicholls has always thought, that he’s a chaser of the very highest class. Breaking down the numbers that were posted for this stellar renewal, they reveal that all three ran to a very high standard. Not only did they knock out one of the fastest furlong-per-furlong overall speed figures of the entire week, the last circuit was virtually identical to the one posted by Altior in the Champion Chase. Using those findings as a guide, it’s clear we are dealing with three novices of the very highest order and they all should be followed religiously throughout the next few seasons.
Looking at each horse individually and their prospects going forward and it’s easy to see all three having campaigns geared around next season’s Gold Cup. Of the trio, Topofthegame jumped the best in notching up his first Grade 1 success and that part of his game will always stand him good stead, especially around a track like Cheltenham. Whether he runs again this season remains to be seen, but either way, he looks every inch another cab off the rank to follow in the footsteps of some of the best staying chasers to grace the Ditcheat stable.
Santini comes out of the race with great credit as his preparation in the build-up to Cheltenham suffered quite a few bumps in the road. Considering his foot had to undergo treatment as little as a week before the race, it was remarkable he not only made the gig, but he managed to run as well as he did and if you take into consideration a couple of notable errors he made during the three-mile journey, it has to go down as a tremendous effort by Nicky Henderson’s inmate. Probably not a King George type, one would imagine he’d be kept to some of the more galloping tracks next season and he looks the type who can only improve with more experience over fences.
Having jumped well in the build up to the Festival, it was ironic that Delta Work chose to put in his worst round when it mattered most, so the fact that he still managed to stay in the argument as a big threat until the last fence says a lot about his class and reserves of stamina. Crucial errors at the one going away from the stands on each circuit were supported by bad blunders at the first ditch and the final one going down the back straight second time around and, in a race, where tiny fractions counted for plenty, they were mistakes he could ill afford. Likely to stay on home soil for the majority of next season, it would come as little surprise if the son of Network were start his campaign at Down Royal’s big fixture in November and then the natural route would be for him to take in both of the big Grade 1 three-mile races at Leopardstown before hopefully heading back to Cheltenham for the blue riband. Having run to a very high standard at his last two festivals, it’s clear Gordon Elliot’s gelding is a big-time operator and there’s simply no way he should be a 33-1 for next season’s Gold Cup having already proven he’s a top-class recruit to the chasing ranks.
In summary, all three have the requisite profiles to become a Gold Cup winner and in an era when there doesn’t appear to be any standout performer (yet), it would come as no surprise if at least one of the three were to stake a massive claim to be the best of his generation. Therefore, the cutest strategy is to back all three before this season’s Gold Cup in the hope that nothing smashes the ball out of the park. Either way, the market for the 2020 version is likely to be totally different to how it stands at time of writing in the aftermath and at their current odds, all three are worth playing based on the theory that they all should trade a good deal shorter than their current odds if they stay in one piece along the road to next year’s big event.