The RSA Novices’ Chase is one of the most prestigious events at Cheltenham Festival and is an indicator of the next batch of horses that could one day compete for the Gold Cup.
Garrison Savannah, Denman and Lord Windermere are among the horses to have achieved the feat, and Presenting Percy will be vying to join their company this term, having triumphed last season with a fine performance.
The RSA Novices’ Chase appears to be one of the more wide open events at the Festival this term, with no outstanding candidate in the field. Therefore it should be an exciting contest, although a tough one for punters to decide on their bet options.
Nicky Henderson’s charge Santini has been installed as the bookmakers’ favourite for the race, although his form over the campaign has been inconsistent. Delta Work, Topofthegame and Ok Corral are also in contention, and are more than capable of securing the victory.
We’ll now break down the recent form of the leading contenders in the National Hunt and give SBO’s ante-post tip for one of the leading events at Cheltenham Festival.
Henderson’s charge has not finished lower than third in his six appearances in the National Hunt, winning four out of his six races. However, one of those third-place finishes came last season at Cheltenham Festival in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. The bay gelding was the leading contender for the contest, but he failed to rise to the occasion as the pace of Kilbricken Storm proved to be too much for him to handle.
Santini finished in third, four-and-a-half lengths of the pace of the race winner, while Ok Corral managed to beat him out for second. The seven-year-old bounced back in his next outing at the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle to end the campaign on a high note. Nico de Boinville in the saddle guided his charge into the lead three fences from the end of the race and was able to close out the victory ahead of Roksana.
He returned to action after eight months out of the fray in the John Francome Novices’ Chase in December at Newbury. The bay gelding did not put forward a clean performance, struggling over the fences. However, he rallied down the stretch to surge into the lead to record a comfortable victory ahead of Rocky’s Treasure. On Boxing Day, he was off the pace once again at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, finishing third behind winner La Bague Au Roi and Topofthegame. There are concerns about his form and consistency, while he failed to deliver at Cheltenham last season.
The French-bred horse has been on form in the National Hunt this season, although there will be slight concerns over the level of competition he has faced. Gordon Elliott’s charge does have a good history at Cheltenham Festival where he won the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle in 2018, defeating his stable-mate Glenloe by the tightest of margins on the line. Delta Work ended his last campaign, suffering a reversal of fortunes in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle where he was beaten out by a neck at Punchestown by Next Destination.
Elliott’s charge returned for the new season at the Porter & Co. Beginners Chase. Davy Russell kept the horse in rhythm and he was able to find his speed down the stretch to beat out Niven by three-quarters of a length. He used the momentum of the race to enjoy another triumph in the Drinmore Novice Chase.
On this occasion, Russell led the brown gelding past the favourite Le Richebourg down the stretch after a fierce battle, closing out the victory by half-a-length. The French-bred horse flourished once again in his last outing at the Neville Hotels Novice Chase. This contest was more straightforward for Elliott’s charge as he cantered to the victory by eight lengths. He could be the horse to monitor for the event given his Cheltenham record and form on the track this term.
The seven-year-old has not registered the wins that puts him alongside Santini and Delta Work in the bid for the crown, although he does have a strong level of consistency over the course of the term. Last season at Cheltenham Festival, Topofthegame competed in the Coral Cup and was an outsider at 9/1 for the crown. However, Sam Twiston-Davies in the saddle got a fine performance out of his charge to move him contention for the title, only to be beaten out for the win by Bleu Berry by a neck.
Paul Nicholls’ charge returned to action at the end of 2018 in the Heavitree Brewery PLC Novices’ Chase. He paid the price for a poor start to the race, which left him with work to do to get back into the meet. Topofthegame made his move two fences out, but finished three-and-a-half lengths off the pace of the winner Defi Du Seuil.
The Irish-bred horse put forward a solid display at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and finished ahead of Santini with a smooth ride, although it was not enough to close out the win. Topofthegame has quality, but whether it’s enough to seal the deal in the RSA Novices’ Chase remains to be seen as his closing speed is a concern.
Ok Corral beat out his stable-mate Santini for second place in the Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle last season, although he finished three lengths off the pace of the winner of Kilbricken Storm.
Henderson’s charge has not race a great deal since his last appearance at Cheltenham Festival, taking to the track only twice. He returned for the new campaign at the Mayfield Sussex Hop Gin Novices’ Chase in December at Plumpton for his first race over fences. Ok Corral was the leading contender for the crown and was solid on the course with Barry Geraghty in the saddle, cruising to a two-and-a-quarter lengths win ahead of the rest of the field.
The Irish-bred horse competed in a Novices’ Chase at Warwick in January and continued his success by producing a fine run to defeat Rocky’s Treasure among others by a comfortable margin. Ok Corral has form on his side, although Henderson still has to decide where to deploy his charge at Cheltenham Festival. He could be worth consideration, although the nine-year-old has not faced elite competition of late.
There are concerns over the form of Santini on the big stage. He was off the pace at the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last season, while his form at the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase was not encouraging either. Topofthegame has finished ahead of Santini, but does not have the victories to back up his consistent efforts, reeling off three-second place finishes on the bounce.
Ok Corral does have the form, although not against the strongest of competition. The same could be said for Delta Work even though his victory over Le Richebourg should inspire confidence, although with his Cheltenham triumph last term. Back the French-bred horse for the crown at odds of +400 with 888Sport for the RSA Novices’ Chase.
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