In the latest instalment of GG’s Cheltenham Festival tips and previews, Rory Delargy (@helynsar) takes a look at the main contenders in the RSA Chase
Nicky Henderson’s CHAMP is clear favourite for the RSA Chase and is one of the most exciting novice chasers around. He was clear at the second last in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day before seeming to lose concentration and crashing out, and will attempt to make amends for that mishap at Kelso next week?
Henderson’s RSA winners, Bobs Worth, Trabolgan and Might Bite all came a familiar route, taking in either the Feltham (Kauto Star) at Kempton or the Reynoldstown at Ascot, or both. Santini would have run in both last year but for the equine ‘flu crisis, and the trainer was vocal about how the hold-up with vaccinations affected the horse’s prep.
It’s strange, then, that Champ is being campaigned more like a Golden Miller (Marsh) contender, and that is certainly noteworthy from a trainer who has been following tried and trusted methods for four decades. Champ has one of the best speed figures in the field for his Grade 2 win, but the feature of that was a scorching time from the last fence, despite almost taking the wrong course, and that merely adds to concerns that he has too much speed for a race which traditionally tests stamina.
Champ contested the Ballymore Hurdle last year, and while the recent record of horses who have competed as novices over hurdles at the previous Festival, the Ballymore is no longer the race of choice for prospective RSA candidates, with the Albert Bartlett having supplied five winners in the past decade.
The Pertemps Hurdle has been producing candidates for this race since Forgive’N Forget was denied in controversial circumstances in 1984, with Presenting Percy doing the double, and Delta Work going close to the same feat last year, while Topofthegame was narrowly beaten in the Coral Cup, and Don Poli won this after taking the Martin Pipe.
MINELLA INDO won last year’s Albert Bartlett on just his third start, bucking a trend for more experienced horses taking that contest, and he would be spiking the stats if winning this having won once from just two starts over the larger obstacles. Of course, a horse who can defy received wisdom once is clearly exceptional, and it would be foolish to rule him out because his lack of experience.
ALLAHO was better fancied than Minella Indo in the Albert Bartlett, but could finish only third, and was then second to the same horse at Punchestown. He was second to Easy Game on his chase debut, where he travelled best and was caught late, and then won easily in a maiden at Fairyhouse.
Despite a slowish closing sectional which was the result of not being asked to quicken when coming clear on the bridle, he produced an excellent overall time, and with Easy Game almost beating Faugheen in the Grade 1 Flogas, his form has a very strong look, albeit with two runs asking questions again of his experience.
Allaho has entries in the Marsh, RSA and National Hunt Chase, but he did all his racing at this trip over hurdles, and I’d expect him to be more likely to come here than the shorter race. He’s got far too many gears to waste in the NH Chase. Like Champ, Easy Game ran in the Ballymore, and while he could run here, another clash with Faugheen would make more sense. Battleoverdoyen and Samcro were prominent in the market at Christmas for this, but both have questions to answer having been humbled by Faugheen at Limerick and Leopardstown.
SAM BROWN has had injury problems, but was a classy novice hurdler and has returned from a long break to win both chase starts, improving when landing a Grade 2 at Haydock last time on ground which was not as soft as advertised, and over a trip which was half a mile shorter than for his reappearance win.
He was strong at the finish compared to his rivals in a well-run race and produced a time figure about the equal of any in this field. His fragility is a concern, but he is underestimated as one who needs a slog in the mud. He disproved that theory at Haydock but didn’t really get the plaudits for that effort.
The Kauto Star is often a guide, but Slate House was soundly beaten in the Cotswold Chase after defeating BLACK OP at Kempton, and that form looks a little short of what’s required. I quite like Black Op, and think he’ll turn the tables, but he would be seen to better advantage ridden aggressively, and he’s proved a bit too easy to pass in the closing stages despite his jumping having improved greatly.
Champ is exciting, but his chief asset is a turn of foot, and a test of jumping and stamina will suit him less than others, and he’s short enough. Minella Indo is respected, but I wonder whether his old rival Allaho has progressed past him, and he’s certainly put up the more impressive efforts over fences to date. He’s my idea of the best win bet at the prices, assuming he comes here (SkyBet’s 7/1 NRNB is very fair in the circumstances), but one who will surely be targeted at the race is Sam Brown, and he has demonstrated both the required stamina and the gears to go well in his two starts this term. He is worth a tickle at the 16/1 offered by Hills.
Rory Delargy selections
Allaho 7/1 NRNB (SkyBet) 10/1 BETVICTOR
Sam Brown [16/1 WILLIAM HILL]((http://ads2.williamhill.com/redirect.aspx?pid=191762110&bid=1487416256)