The traditional Gold Cup trial for novices, the RSA Novices’ Chase run over a trip just past the three mile mark has a long and illustrious history attached to it, even if it has perhaps been slightly watered down in recent years with the introduction of the JLT and growing trend of better quality horses also competing in the four miler.
The rollcall of previous winners features some of the biggest names in National Hunt, many of whom went on to succeed in the big one, including Arkle, Garrison Savannah, Florida Pearl, Looks Like Trouble, Denman, Bob’s Worth and Lord Windermere, with other previous winners Don Poli and Blacklion likely to line-up in the Gold Cup this year.
Due to recent developments it’s rarely been one to get too excited about in recent years and it doesn’t feel that different this year, with no real standouts stamping their authority on the division and targets still in flux for many entrants.
The current market leader is Might Bite who has headed betting since putting in a mightily impressive performance at Kempton on Boxing Day, when defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory as the result of some jockey lunacy, falling at the last when a long way clear. Either side of that misfortune were victories at odds on against limited fields. Despite the impression created at Kempton, I don’t think the form Might Bite has shown stands up to much and I get the impression he could be a flat track bully who will struggle against the test of Cheltenham. I’m far from convinced of his chances and would avoid backing.
Far from guaranteed to run in the RSA with the JLT still very much an option, Coney Island is currently second favourite, with this looking the more likely option should the ground be on the good side. Wherever he runs he will have a real chance; he may have been beat at both attempts over three miles but the form has worked out well and he’s more likely to get the trip on better ground. With talk of being a future Gold Cup horse, he has great potential and could have that bit more class than others in the line-up.
A second place finish behind Thistlecrack in the Stayers’ Hurdle last year has to be some of the strongest form on offer, so Alpha Des Obeaux should have the class required to challenge. Sent chasing this year, he has been a bit ‘in and out’ with victories mixed with poor performances, however, he has generally had excuses for poor performances including when bleeding last time out. He has plenty of experience having had five runs over fences, despite not being seen since December, and comes from a trainer who is a master at targeting races. There has to be concerns over the bleed last time out as there’s a good chance it could happen again, but on form he is entitled to go close and Mouse Morris is sure to have him fully prepared. He comes with risk but that is probably reflected in the price.
American looked good and jumped into contention after winning at Warwick, however, it looks unlikely he’ll appear at the Festival. Harry Fry has said he is reliant on softer ground and will only run if getting that, which seems unlikely. Even if running, the Warwick form doesn’t look too strong when deconstructed, so he seems a very unlikely winner.
Disappointing when fancied at the Festival for the last two years, Bellshill always had the look of a chaser and was long-time favourite for this after winning well on his first two starts over fences. However, a heavy fall last time out and questions over his Cheltenham form has led to a big drift in the market, with talk of running in the four miler or even missing the Festival entirely also adding to this. There are big questions over him but he has always been well thought of, so the 12/1 available could offer some value.
One who I thought was more of a JLT type but now apparently heads here is Whisper. A Grade One winning hurdler who also has Festival form as a Coral Cup winner, he is a bit long in the tooth at nine to be a novice and I’d just question if he has the stamina to get this trip at Cheltenham. He has got form at three miles on flatter tracks and will have Davy Russell on board to nurse him around, so he wouldn’t be without a chance, but I just have too many questions over stamina and age to have any confidence for win purposes.
The most staggering winning performance you are likely see in the novice division this year came via Acapella Bourgeois who led by about forty lengths from start to finish in what looked like a strong graded race. There are obvious questions over that victory with the timings suggesting he was given an easy lead, but it was still a really impressive performance and he has always struck me as one who could make a very good chaser. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could win an RSA from the front, however, it’s unlikely he’d be allowed a lead unchallenged and he’d probably need soft ground to be seen at his best, which makes victory here seem unlikely.
Royal Vacation was the beneficiary of jockey lunacy when Might Bite fell at Kempton and but for that would have finished a well beaten second. He did follow-up with victory in a handicap at Cheltenham but that race was a little scrappy with fancied horses falling and others maybe being protected with the Festival in mind. He looks a strong, reliable sort who will potentially run well in some good handicaps in future, however, I can’t see him being good enough to win the RSA.
At a bigger price and one who is confirmed to run here, Our Kaempfer looked more like a handicap type before winning well last time. His form prior to that wasn’t anything to shout about but in such an open race connections have been tempted to chance their arm here. A third place finish behind Thistlecrack in a grade one novice hurdle has a very strong look to it now, even if some time ago, and shows he isn’t without a little class, whilst he’s likely to prefer the better ground that’s likely to be on offer, so he wouldn’t be without a chance of placing.
Previously more prominent in the betting, O O Seven was a good winner at the course earlier in the season but has gone on to disappoint since. He followed up his course victory with odds-on defeat and an unconvincing victory against a field low on top quality, which hardly fills one with confidence. He has also been well beaten at the Festival for the last two years, suggesting he is short of the quality required to challenge here. Judged purely on his Cheltenham performance earlier this year he could place at a bigger price but you couldn’t have any real confidence in support.
There are a number of other contenders featuring in the betting, however, most are likely to run elsewhere. The form of Singlefarmpayment has a strong look to it but a handicap looks the more likely option, Edwulf won impressively last time out but surely heads for the four miler, Ibis Du Rheu is also potentially handicap bound, Martello Tower has a handicap or the four miler ahead of this on his agenda and Bigbadjohn, who won a substandard Reynoldstown at Ascot, is either not good enough or runs elsewhere.
Much like those mentioned above, there are plenty of other contenders in the Gigginstown colours who feature in the betting but most look unlikely to head for the RSA. They have a clear contender in Alpha Des Obeaux but will surely look for a number two to run just due to the sheer volume of horses they have and the need to split them accordingly. With this in mind it might be worth trying to find a bit of value in the Gigginstown second string, whoever that may be. Looking at the entries, Disko heads to the JLT, Tiger Roll the four miler, Balko Des Flos goes JLT, A Toi Phil misses the Festival, A Genie In Abottle the four miler and Road to Respect is a possible but all form is over shorter, which leaves us with Marinero. He could possibly head to the four miler but the owners seem to have two contenders for that already, so with some decent form in the book including a second place behind Thistlecrack and Henry de Bromhead suggesting he’ll improve for better ground, he could be worth a punt at a massive price. He could just have the quality to run into a place in an open race.
Of the remainder still entered, even if it does have an open look to it, I doubt any would be good to enough to figure.
Might Bite looks the lay of the festival, certainly of the current favourites anyway; I just can’t see how he wins this.
It looks to be a fight between the two most obviously classy horses in the field to me. If heading here rather than the JLT I’d have to get behind CONEY ISLAND; he is potentially classy, has some of the strongest form on offer and will appreciate the better ground. If he’s going to be spoken of as a future Gold Cup horse he has to win. ALPHA DES OBEAUX does have the class to win and has a trainer who would have targeted him at this from a long way off, but there has to be concerns over the bleeding last time, so he could just be that bit more vulnerable.
If looking for a bit of each way value Bellshill at 12/1 wouldn’t be the worst ever bet, however, he really can’t be relied upon at Cheltenham. In a very open race it’s easy to see something running into the places at a bigger price and cases could be made for Our Kaempfer and O O Seven, but I’m going to take a chance on MARINERO at 66/1. He has some form worth noting and could improve enough to place; he’s far from certain to head here so the bet without NRNB could be a big risk but I just think it’s worth a little punt at such a price.
Coney Island – win @ 7/1 (Coral)
Alpha Des Obeaux – e/w @ 10/1 ( ¼ odds, NRNB Bet365)
Marinero – e/w @ 66/1 ( 1/5 odds, Betfair)