The RSA Chase is a serious head scratcher, dear reader, and I've got a feeling we might see a decent priced winner next Wednesday.
You see, the race is quite unlike most of what goes before in a staying novice chaser's apprenticeship. It is much more of a 'starter-to-lollipop' balls out, slugfest. It is rarely to the quick, and generally to the brave, and perhaps the archetypal winner in the last decade was the magnificent blunt instrument that is Denman.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a card-carrying member of the Denman Appreciation Society. He has the guts and tenacity that only a vast unit such as himself could house. And he's got more than a touch of class. Not Kauto Star or Master Minded 'David Ginola' panache, but more of a Roy Keane 'box to box' verve.
What am I trying to say here? Well, it might pay to side with Keano rather than Ginola. In equine terms, it might be more prudent to take a horse that you know is a street fighter, as opposed to one which has demonstrated class on the bridle, but we've never seen what happens when push comes to shove (as it inevitably must, up Cleeve Hill).
Specifically, I am against Long Run. Sure he's a precocious five year old, as was Star De Mohaison when that one won in 2006. But the Star had been beaten in two of his four runs, so knew what a fight looked like when it tapped him on the shoulder.
Moreover, in Long Run's two wins in England, he's clouted more fences than he's cleared, and the fact that connections were considering a tilt at the Arkle implies they don't know his best trip. If he has the speed to win an Arkle - as they were intimating - then he's unlikely to have the steel to win an RSA Chase.
But it gets worse for the 5/2 favourite. He'll be ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen, son of owner Robert Waley-Cohen. Regular readers will know I'm not a fan of amateur riders in top races and this is no exception. Sam is a way above average amateur, in fairness to him, and he'll have a great chance on Roulez Cool in the Foxhunters. But he's no Ruby. Or Barry Geraghty. Or AP. Or even Andrew Thornton or Tom Scudamore.
Young Waley-Cohen will be wearing the brown colours (orange sleeves) of his dad, and he might be well served to get breeches to match!
Getting back to the theme of the piece, only Denman in the last decade has successfully protected an unbeaten fencing record in the RSA Chase, and there are a number who attempt the same feat next week: Long Run is joined by Punchestowns, Weird Al, Diamond Harry, The Nightingale, Burton Port, Shakervilz and the unpronouncable Uimhiraceathair.
It's quite possible that one of these has the requisite ultimate fighting championship (does anyone actually watch that crap?!) determination to prevail but, based on history, I'm going to look elsewhere.
Here's another reason why I'm going to look elsewhere. Sure, the last three favourites have all won. But, not so very long ago - indeed, within the past decade - we've had winners at 14/1, 16/1, 25/1, and 33/1.
But that's only part of the story. There have also been placed horses, thus:
66/1 2nd last year
20/1 2nd and 25/1 3rd in 2008
66/1 3rd in 2007
33/1 2nd and 66/1 4th in 2006
These horses all had one thing in common. When the prima donna's had cried enough, the Gennaro Gattuso's soldiered on remorselessly. (No more football player analogies, I promise).
So what else can I tell you about the race? Well, three runs has been a minimum of experience required. This counts against Punchestowns, especially if you've seen him jump.
It also bodes ill for Diamond Harry, The Nightingale, ThatUnpronounceableThingThatStartsUim, and Shakervilz.
Seven year olds have won eight of the last ten, and only the aforementioned Star De Mohaison and the 8yo Rule Supreme have blemished the clean sweep.
All ten winners in the past decade finished in the first two positions last time out, but only six won.
Finally, I like my Cheltenham winners to have done the business previously in a big field. As Shakespeare's witches once said, "When the hurly burly's done; When the battle's lost and won". I like my fancies to be proven in the hurly burly of battle. (A wry apology for the tenuous and horribly laboured Macbeth citation).
Long Run has beaten six and four in his two UK starts, though credit to him for facing double figure fields in France, where they amble around before sprinting the last two furlongs typically.
Punchestowns has beaten three and four chase rivals in his two starts, though again he has a victory in a much bigger hurdles field.
Weird Al has usurped five, four and three rivals in his races to date. And so on.
In what is a seriously tricky conundrum, my units will be split and then split again: two horses, each way.
The two 'lucky' nominated nags are Knockara Beau and Citizen Vic. (Quiet at the back, no sniggering!)
Knockara Beau reminds me of 2002 winner, Hussard Collonges, a relatively unconsidered 33/1 winner that day. He too had more seconds than wins to his name, but he was a doughty stayer and, like Forrest Gump, he 'just kept on runnin'.
KB might have been beaten into second by Weird Al, Burton Port and Diamond Harry, but those were all in diddy field dawdles, where the sprint finish would have been all against him. Given the end-to-end gallop expected next week, he may reverse placings with all three. Certainly, I expect him not to finish last of that quartet, despite being three times the price of most of them.
Citizen Vic completed the hat-trick last time, and hails from the top Irish stable of Willie Mullins (who saddled Cooldine to win last year, and Rule Supreme in 2004). On his penultimate start he won a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, seeing off a host of fancied runners, including Weapon's Amnesty, Roberto Goldback, Cousin Vinny and Zaarito.
Back to a shorter trip last time, he was pressured two out but rallied to emerge a cosy victor.
The fly in the ointment with this chap is that Mullins is tempted by the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse over Easter and he may not run at the Festival. Mighty Mullins has four others entered (Uimhiretc, Shakervilz, Mikael D'Haguenet, and Apt Approach) so doesn't lack for choice.
As pretty much all books are now offering non-runner no bet, we can punt safe in the knowledge that if he doesn't run, we'll get our cash back. Sweet! (NOTE: Betfair do not have this concession so look to the high street or 'traditional' online bookies for your wager).
In summary, there are loads of unexposed 'next big things' in this race, and it's a pretty likely scenario that one of them will win. But the history of the race over the last ten years points to plenty of value options, for both win and place. And I'd rather get stuck into a horse I know will scrap, despite not being in the 'untapped potential' bracket.
I may be proved wrong, but at least I'll be able to take a moral high ground stance in the post-race ruminations!
And just time for a touch of Thursday Fun before closing. With the Irish all set to exodus en masse to Gloucestershire over the coming days, I liked this little video sent to me by John 'Ears' - thanks John. Hope you do too! 🙂
Five days to go!!!