The RSA Steeplechase is the championship race for staying novice chasers at the Cheltenham Festival.
Some great horses down the years have won the RSA Chase before returning to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following year. This happened in 2007-08 with the mighty Denman, in 2012-13 with Bobs Worth and most recently in 2013-14 with Lord Windermere.
The head of this year’s ante-post market has a very Irish look to it. Four of the five market principles are trained on the Emerald Isle.
Presenting Percy has already tasted success at the Cheltenham Festival, when landing the Pertemps Final last season. The Patrick Kelly trained seven year old started his novice chase campaign way back in October, with a comfortable and sound display beating De Plotting Shed. The next time out at Punchestown, Presenting Percy was sent off an EVENS favourite and put in an uncharacteristic display, racing without his usual zest, finishing only third, 13 lengths behind Jury Duty, who I fancy to win the Four Mile National Hunt Chase. Faith was maintained at Fairyhouse in December with the gelding going off 7/2 favourite for the Porterstown Handicap Chase. An 11 length demolition job propelled him to the head of the ante-post market for the RSA. The 9/2 ante post price was validated with another good display when landing the Grade Two John Mulhern Galmoy hurdle at Gowran Park in January.
Although Presenting Percy has lots of positives such as his jumping and travelling through a race, I feel he lacks the experience of a fast run Grade One race over fences. He may be more of a Grand National horse in time.
A horse who has the experience of Grade One races and is a consistent performer is the Henry De Bromhead trained 7 year old Monalee. After finishing runner up in last year’s Albert Bartlett at the festival behind Penhill, he went on to run one more time before being put away for the season. His seasonal opener came in November at Punchestown where he put in a bold jumping display to beat Any Second Now by 6 lengths. In the Leopardstown Christmas festival Monalee was sent off 11/10 favourite for the Grade One Neville Hotels Novices Chase and suffered a bad fall. The race was eventually won by the mare Shattered Love.
The best novice chase ran in Ireland this year was the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase. Monalee was once again sent off favourite at 11/4. His loyal fans were rewarded after a brilliant round of jumping and a performance fit to win any Grade One. The race was very hot with the first four finishers being covered by no more than 2 lengths.
Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only, two Willie Mullins horses chased home Monalee that day, and have both won good races earlier in the season. Connections are deliberating between running in the RSA or the JLT with Monalee. They believe with his bold jumping and the style he travels through his races with, he could prove hard to catch and pass in the shorter run race. This would be a mistake in my opinion, and feel he will run in the RSA and could prove very hard to beat.
One of the best trials ran in the UK traditionally is the Kauto Star Feltham Novices Chase on Boxing Day at Kempton. Unfortunately, my long term fancy for the RSA Chase is no longer with us due to a schooling accident. That horse Fountains Windfall was running a huge race and looked set to win when coming down at Kempton on Boxing Day in the race eventually won by the very brave Black Corton.
The horse gave Bryony Frost her first Grade One win and it is hard to argue with what he has achieved this season. It is very rare a horse that runs throughout the summer months and the winter, can carry on to win up to and at the Cheltenham Festival. The form can be argued as to being not very strong. Fountains Windfall twice fell when going well against Black Corton. West Approach and Ballyoptic, two very good hurdlers have not set the world alight in the novice chase ranks this year and have both been beaten by Black Corton on more than one occasion. Is Black Corton a lucky horse? For me he has had a few things go in his favour, but I cannot question his attitude and determination on the race course. He is not up to the standard of the top Irish novices in my opinion and at best can hope to run in to a place.
Another horse who has divided the opinion of racing fans is the Alan King trained Yanworth. Last season’s disappointing Champion Hurdle favourite bounced backed to winning ways at Aintree before being put away for the season. His novice chase campaign began at Exeter in November, where he put in a sketchy display of jumping to beat Sternrubin by 2 lengths. Yanworth returned to Exeter a few weeks later as odds on favourite and fell early in the race. The next task was a two and a half mile contest at Newbury, where he could finish only second behind last year’s Neptune winner Willoughby Court, favourite for the JLT Novices Chase. In the Newbury race Yanworth showed signs of warming up to the tasks but ultimately his poor jumping earlier in the race proved costly.
On New Year’s Day at Cheltenham, Yanworth put in his best display over fences, reversing the Newbury form by winning the Dipper Novices Chase, beating Sizing Tennessee by a neck, with the Newbury victor Willoughby Court back in third. I cannot take much out of the Cheltenham race, as the form of Sizing Tennessee does not stand out as RSA winning form. Willoughby Court was uncharacteristically ridden with restraint and in ground he would not be in favour of. I would be happy to keep the faith with different race tactics and better ground when the JLT is run in March.
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The first horse I am writing off is Yanworth. I cannot have him winning a Grade One Chase at Cheltenham, where there will be no hiding place. His jumping is questionable and he will be exposed against horses more suitable to such a race. I think if he went to the Stayers Hurdle he would have a very good chance. Presenting Percy will have his fans and I am certainly one of them. I just feel that this is not the race for him. I would love to see him go for the Four Mile National Hunt Chase and have a tilt next year at the Grand National.
The best performances I have seen this year are from Monalee. I love how he travels, jumps and although he had a slight mishap at Christmas, he bounced back and has proved he is up to the job.
The one horse I mentioned who seems to be a bit of a dark horse, but ran a blinder behind Monalee is Al Boum Photo. He will travel through his race and can definitely improve again. He is a consistent performer and will be the horse I would choose to ride if I was Ruby Walsh, over Invitation Only, who also has each way appeal. The race will go to Ireland for sure.
3 pts Win Al Boum Photo @ 12/1
1 pts Win Shattered Love @ 16/1