Looking ahead to Cheltenham, here’s an expert guide assessing the possible field for the Grade 1 RSA Chase. Highlighting a few leading contenders who could claim a huge victory on the second day of the festival.
Everyone will remember Nigel Twiston-Davies’ celebrating with his team after Blaklion got up late to claim victory in the RSA Chase last season – that scene goes a long way to emphasising how much a win at the Cheltenham Festival means to every trainer and their yard, who work so hard throughout the year to try and make that dream a reality.
The RSA Chase has long been recognised as one of the most difficult races to win at the festival and if you find a winner in this race, there is no doubting you have a quality costumer on your books. Several former RSA champions have gone on to lift the Gold Cup when returning to Cheltenham – including greats like Arkle, Mandarin and most recently Lord Windermere, who listed the RSA trophy and the Gold Cup crown in successive festivals appearances.
Despite being a distant finisher on his two previous appearances at the Cheltenham Festival, Bellshill
) is the strong ante-post favourite for this year’s RSA. Two miles was clearly too short a trip for a horse with his staying ability, so it was a big surprise to see him dropped back in distance and entered into the Supreme Novices’ last season – he suffered as a result and finished near the back of the field.Bellshill beating Coney Island in a three mile Grade 1 at Punchestown.
However, Mullins jumped him up to three miles at the Aintree Festival a few weeks later, where he was denied victory by Ballyandy by just half a length. That narrow runner-up finish stood him in good stead at Punchestown, where he beat RSA rival, Coney Island by a narrow margin to win the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle. The seven-year-old has been very impressive on both his starts over fences this season, cruising to victories at Gowran Park and a Grade 2 at Limerick, so he will bring plenty of good form with him to the Festival.
) has been running well since losing out to Bellshill at Punchestown last spring and will be looking forward to renewing rivalries with Mullins’ charge at Cheltenham. He was the favourite to land victory on his first outing of the season, but he was outstayed by Haymount down the home straight on his chasing debut. He bolted up to claim Grade 1 glory in the Drinmore Novices’ Chase in December, before narrowly being edged into second place in the Neville Hotels at Leopardstown just after Christmas.
) resigned Coney Island to second that day at Leopardstown, securing a maiden Grade 1 victory with a strong staying performance. That was his first crack at a two mile trip and it obviously suited him well, as he travelled along the rail very comfortably throughout the race and found extra after the last to edge his rival into second.
After fading to a disappointing seventh place finish in a class two here at Cheltenham last spring, Mite Bite
) has come back this season in much more impressive form. He was second to Binge Drinker on his seasonal reappearance, but bounced back with a 14 length victory at Doncaster in December. He was heavily backed in the build up to the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and those backers will have been quietly calculating their winnings after the second last, but a crashing fall at the final fence saw Daryl Jacob and his mount denied a maiden Grade 1 victory.
Alpha Des Obeaux
(16/1 William Hill
) pushed Thistlecrack for a long way in last year’s World Hurdle, but since switching to chasing he hasn’t looked as effective – despite claiming a Grade 3 title over the larger obstacles at Cork earlier in the season. Emerging Force
had a very disappointing spring campaign last year, failing to finish on both his outings at Haydock and at the Punchestown Festival, but he won his first two starts over fences in this season, including a good three mile victory over a strong field at Exeter. He was went off as the strong favourite on his last run at Cheltenham, but ended the race almost ten lengths behind the winners in fourth place.
Aux Ptits Soins winning the Coral Cup here in 2015.
Like many of the ante-post entrants in the current RSA betting, Shantou Village
) has duel entries in this race and the Challenge Cup, but Neil Mullholland's seven-year-old has displayed plenty of staying power during recent victories. Most of his outings may have come over two-and-a-half miles - a trip he has been victorious at four times in six attempts, including an emphatic win here at Cheltenham at the start of last season - but the way he has finished both his victories this season suggests three miles may be his best distance. He was given a crack at the World Hurdle last year, where he ran poorly before eventually being pulled up - but if his trainer does chose the RSA over the Challenge Cup, he could be a great each-way prospect.
The same can be said for former Coral Cup winner Aux Ptits Soins
(25/1 William Hill
), who managed to finish fifth in the World Hurdle last season, despite coming to Cheltenham on the back of a year-long absence. He was a little one-paced when coming second to Drumlee Sunset on his season reappearance, but was much more effective when moved back to three miles when winning on his last outing at Kelso. He has winning form at the Festival and currently sits at a very inviting price.
Although Coney Island and Our Duke have both achieved what BELLSHILL hasn’t this season – landing a Grade 1, three mile title over fences – but Willie Mullins’ mount looks to be in with the best chance of securing a Festival win. He’s due a good run at Cheltenham, after finding himself shackled by shorter trips on previous visits and this would be the perfect occasion to show everyone how good he is over three miles – maybe even using this win to kick-start a Gold Cup challenge in 2018.
15/3/2017 2:10pm Cheltenham selection – BELLSHILL (4/1 bet365)