2016 RSA Chase Preview, Trends, Tips
Cheltenham Festival's RSA Chase is the staying novice chase championship race. One of the best Gold Cup trials for the following year, the RSA Chase has sent winners onto glory in the main event three times in the last eight seasons (Denman, Bobs Worth, Lord Windermere).
Don Poli, last year's RSA champ, is vying for Gold Cup favouritism this time around, and in this post we'll look at who might assume that role next term as the reigning 2016 RSA Chase winner. We start, as is customary, with the trends.
RSA Chase Trends
Eighteen years of data to work from, going back as far as 1997 (excluding 2001, no meeting), and it is thanks to our friends at horseracebase.com for some of the key information summarized here.
Field size has varied quite a lot in the last few years, with Denman beating 16 rivals in 2007 and Hussard Collonges prevailing in a field of 19 in 2002. At the other end of the spectrum, there were just eight runners last year when Don Poli took the prize and there have been nine starters five times since the turn of the millennium.
At time of writing, there are still 35 horses engaged, so we could be looking at one of the bigger fields. When the field has been 12 or bigger, the average winning odds have been 12.6/1, and that includes scorers at 6/5 and 9/4! That said, most have at least on alternative engagement so time will tell how many actually go to post.
The Irish have an excellent recent record in the RSA, winning in five of the last seven years. Those five winners came from just 29 runners (79 raced in total), so it may not be a surprise to see an Irish horse at the head of the market. What might come as a shock is that the next horse from that country in the betting is a double figure price.
All 18 winners finished in the first three last time, with ten winning and six more running second. However, the ten winners (56%) came from roughly half the runners, and that group collectively stepped onto the podium just better than half the time (54%) as well. In other words, they did no better than their representation implied.
Last day runners-up, however, over-performed. Perhaps because they were not quite at concert pitch on that last day, perhaps because they ran in a less gruelling race such as the Feltham/Kauto Star, this squad of 42 horses represented 19% of the runners but 33% of the winners/24% of the places. They were also profitable to back blind, to the tune of 46 points, mainly thanks to 25/1 Rule Supreme (trained by a then lesser known Willie Mullins) and 33/1 Hussard Collonges.
In terms of age, older horses - nine year old and up - have a lamentable record of no wins and a single place from, granted, a fairly small sample of 23 entries since 1997. Miinnehoma, subsequent Grand National winner, was the last 9yo winner in 1992.
Younger horses, notably those aged five to seven, have thus outscored their numbers. Specifically, from 71% of the runners, they've won all bar two of the 18 RSA Chases since 1997, and also snaffled 85% of the places.
Despite these somewhat 'obvious' angles in, winners have come from all parts of the betting market. Five favourites have won since '97, but so too have five horses priced 14/1 or bigger. This is a race that takes most entrants into uncharted territory with regards to class and stamina, and resolution too; and it is often the one that can reveal most improvement in that context who prevails.
Other points of interest include the need for a run in the calendar year (one one winner in half a century has been rested longer), and the fact that the Feltham winner has been beaten every time it has run in the RSA Chase (though this season's winner, Tea For Two, is not entered).
Ideally, then, a trends type might be looking for an Irish-trained horse that was first or second last time, is seven or younger, and has run this year. More experience is generally better, too, meaning that the likes of Roi Des Francs, Ballychorus, or most notably perhaps, No More Heroes, will be in such players' focus.
2016 RSA Chase Preview
This looks like a great race at which to take a flier now that some of the firms are going non runner no bet (NRNB). We'll get to that in due course, but must start with the clear favourite, No More Heroes. Gordon Elliott's seven-year-old son of Presenting probably has the pick of the form, starting with an unlucky-in-running third in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival last year.
He would have gone mightily close that day but for getting no run up the inside rail, and he looked a strong stayer at the trip. Whilst his chase form is limited to three starts, two of those have been wins in Grade 1 company and it is hard to envisage the beaten horses - such as Monksland and Rule The World - getting close to reversing form.
As well as that Festival third, he had an excuse when beaten in the Punchestown equivalent: he was surely still reeling from a hard race a few weeks before. Given a clear round, he looks a very solid and worthy favourite, although his price of 9/4 NRNB reflects that. Still, he'll take some beating.
The next few in the market are British, possibly reflecting No More Heroes' perceived dominance in Ireland. Pick of the home guard is More Of That, according to the betting, but recent noises from the McManus camp suggest this fellow may go to the JLT rather than here. In that context, NRNB is a must if you fancy his chance.
His chance is easy with which to sympathise if he does show up here. Wildly progressive as a hurdler, he went from winning a maiden event to scalping Annie Power in the 2014 World Hurdle in the space of just five runs. Things haven't gone completely to plan since, however, with just a trio of races spanning the intervening two years.
Two of those were novice chases, and both were wins, but both were in ungraded heats and both were late last year. As such, he has to show he retains all of his class and he has to show he is match fit. At a top price of 10/3 NRNB, I will let him beat me. He'll surely be at least that on the day, should he show up.
Although there may be more substance to Blaklion's chase form - a ready defeat of Definitly Red reads well - his prominent racing style does rather make him a hostage to field size. All of his seven wins have come in races of eight or fewer runners, and he pulled up when competing against some of his likely RSA rivals having raced too close to an attritional gallop in the 'run for the spuds' (Albert Bartlett) last year. He's a likeable sort - plenty of these fit that bill - but unless the entry cuts up markedly I think his chance is compromised.
Another for whom a small field is a definite advantage is likely pace setter, Seeyouatmidnight. This fellow is a serious tool, and already has a verdict over Blaklion at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Since then, he had a livener at Newcastle where he got it done at odds of 1/8. I like this chap, I really do; but his sort of heart-on-sleeve front rank galloping leaves him wide open late in the play.
Again, a record of six wins, the five of which since a novice hurdle victory against ten rivals have been achieved in fields of seven or less, tells a tale. That said, he seems to jump better out of soft ground, so if it was wet for the Festival, he could get into a nice rhythm and take some passing. 10/1 NRNB is not completely lacking in appeal.
Nicky Henderson has crept into this year's Festival almost unnoticed but he arguably has a better team than last year when he won two Festival races. Vyta Du Roc is a nearly horse, and one must keep that in mind when considering an investment in his RSA chance. He was the main danger to Windsor Park in the 2015 Neptune, only to make a calamitous blunder at the last. Remarkably, he was regathered and nursed home for a close fourth, beaten just five lengths.
Since then he ran closest to Thistlecrack over hurdles in a G1 at Aintree before embarking on his chasing career. Three starts over fences have yielded two wins either side of a close second where he may have been outpaced over a sub-optimal trip. He was a gallant winner of the Reynoldstown at Ascot last month, outstaying some fair horses and just hanging on from Minella Rocco, who looks destined for the NH Chase. That four miler hasn't been totally discounted as Vyta's Festival destination, but the RSA is favoured and I think he has a decent each way chance at 12/1 NRNB.
Black Hercules, like many in the list at the moment, has other options; and his trainer admits, "He's the one that I'm thinking most about. He's favourite for the four-miler, but I'm thinking of changing". It will be no surprise then that you can get 14/1 in a place but the best price NRNB is just 8/1. Hercules was really impressive when duffing up Definitly Red at Warwick - a sharp track - over three miles. That easy win suggested he has plenty of boot, as did a win over Sambremont over a shorter trip the time before. Both of those races were on heavy ground, however.
Of more concern is a Grade 1 record of 407 that suggests he might not quite be up to the very top level. His jumping is another niggle: he can clatter one, as he did when falling at the last under Ruby Walsh on his most recent outing. For all sorts of reasons, then, he's not for me. (Cue easy win)
Roi Des Francs is "going four-miler or RSA, depending on what Gigginstown want to do. Stamina is not an issue with him. He's good." That's a quote from Willie Mullins on sportinglife.com, and it suggests strongly that NRNB is the only route in if you like this fellow. There is, in fact, a fair bit to like.
His chase record is 211, the most recent win coming in a three mile Grade 2 event. Just three runners went to post there but he beat his better fancied and Ruby-ridden stable mate, with the same six lengths to Sub Lieutenant he'd bested that one by on his previous start. He looks set to run a big race if he lines up, especially if the ground comes up soft, and 12/1 e/w NRNB is reasonable.
Pont Alexandre must be a way down the Willie Mullins pecking order, and he has to prove he retains the ability that saw him run third in The New One's 2013 Neptune. In fact, he'll probably need to be slightly better than that to win this, and I don't think he is.
It's quite hard to see Out Sam winning, even allowing for him being a good bit better than he's shown so far; while Outlander would have been interesting if his first preference wasn't for the JLT. Sadly, it is.
At fancy prices, Drumacoo hit the front early enough in the Reynoldstown and wasn't beaten far at the end of a contest when they were racing from a long way out. That was his first sight of Graded company and he acquitted himself well. He could outrun his odds without especially floating my boat, even at 'double carpet' (33/1).
(Slightly) more appealing is Southfield Royale. Neil Mulholland's six-year-old has entries in this and the NH Chase and, should he line up here, he has a compelling profile. We know young horses go well in the RSA; we know horses that were second last time out have a market-beating record; and we know that beaten horses in the Feltham can win this (think Bobs Worth).
Southfield Royale did look tapped for toe approaching the last there and, when Tea For Two went by him, he knuckled down to close the gap, albeit steadily. A more recent run than Boxing Day would have been preferable, but at 25/1 NRNB he might be worth the tilt. Again, his trainer is leaning towards the NH Chase (what's the matter with these trainers?!)
Down in the long grass lurks a horse with very good Cheltenham Festival form, and reasons to forgive an ostensibly below par effort last time. Zabana, trained by Andrew Lynch, was a neck second to Aux Ptits Soins in the Coral Cup last season, and has had just three runs since. The first of those was a good third in the Punchestown World Hurdle, a Grade 1 over three miles, where he was beaten 11 lengths by Jezki.
He's gone chasing since, winning a reasonable beginners' chase over an intermediate distance on heavy ground, before beating two of his five rivals home in the Grade 1 Flogas Novices' Chase. His trainer says he's a better horse on better gound and, importantly, the form book concurs. Expect that Flogas effort to have blown away the cobwebs so, whether he goes for the RSA Chase or the JLT, he's interesting. He's 33/1 for the longer race and 14/1 for the shorter, both NRNB, and both are worth an interest.
I have to mention my mate, Native River. He's headed for the four miler, almost certainly (sigh) and he's probably not good enough for this race anyway, but if he did line up here, he's not definitely not good enough. 33/1 NRNB is all right about a horse representing a trainer - Colin Tizzard - with an excellent Festival record. I'm hoping for my ante post investments a) that he runs here and b) that he simply got bogged down in the heavy ground last time. Hope is probably all I have left with those vouchers...
While we're fumbling in the dark, how about Ballychorus? This mare has three entries, one of which is the RSA Chase, and she's more interesting than many 66/1 shots. Rated only 141, she's won three of her four completed chase starts, but it is the two non-completions that draw the eye. Last fence falls in both the Troytown and Paddy Power Handicap Chases left her rating largely unchanged (cursory three pound penalty both times).
But the winner of the Troytown, who she might have beaten, went up seven; and the winner of the Paddy Power, who she might have beaten, went up twelve. She is versatile with regards to trip and ground, three miles on soft or good being within her compass, and she's a bit of a trendy sort too. A top price of 50/1 NRNB might tempt a throwaway dabble.
2016 RSA Chase Tips
There are a lot of horses still engaged in this race but most of them have at least one alternative engagement, and many have stated preferences elsewhere. The favourite, No More Heroes, looks sure to run here, and he looks sure to run well. Although 9/4 won't excite everyone, it looks a fair price relative to his chance, especially when the field is whittled back to those who are intended for the RSA Chase.
Despite myself, I'm drawn to the prospects of Vyta Du Roc, and 12/1 looks playable each way, non runner no bet. His trainer says he's flourished recently and, though I tend to ignore most of what his trainer says, that Reynoldstown win backs up Hendo's assertion.
Roi Des Francs and Southfield Royale are not without interest if turning up here - take NRNB and you'll get your dough back if/when they head elsewhere - and the same comment applies to Zabana who is the most compelling of the trio, to this eye at least.
Entering the realms of the hopelessly optimistic, perhaps, Ballychorus could go better than 50/1 if she can stand up.
1.5 pt win No More Heroes 9/4 NRNB BOG (Skybet)
0.75 pt e/w Vyta DuRoc 12/1 NRNB (Betfair Sports)
0.25 pt e/w Zabana 33/1 NRNB BOG (Skybet)
0.25 pt e/w Ballychorus 50/1 NRNB BOG (Skybet, 1/4 odds)
Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews
All of our in-depth previews, trends and tips can be found here: