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RSA Chase preview

The Festival rolls on and one of the more intriguing contests is the RSA Chase. It only just qualifies for a three-place each-way race, but it's not clear cut at the top and cases can be made for several others. After just missing on the each-way on yesterday's tip, Dave Stephens, @davestevos returns....

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RSA Chase
Grade 1, £150k, 3m 1/2f Old Course
1410 local


The feature race on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Chase, but the RSA Chase is another cracking Grade 1 contest and although only eight will go to post it still looks an exceedingly tricky puzzle to solve. No trainer has dominated this race since Paul Nicholls won it for two years in a row back in 2006/7, and last year saw Willie Mullins claim the prize with this season's big Gold Cup hope Don Poli.

Don Poli was the first favourite to oblige since 2008 and there has been a fair few double figure priced winners in that period. Jonjo O'Neill and Gordon Elliott will supply the two market leaders in More Of That and No More Heroes, but it is far from a two horse race and it looks a very open renewal this season. A case can be made for most of them, and you can find out what I think their chances are by reading my in depth preview below.

BLAKLION

This 7yo son of Kayf Tara has been an admirably consistent performer for connections and his local yard will be hoping for a bold show on Wednesday. He has won twice around here, a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle back in 2014 (24f good to soft) and a Class 2 novice chase (25.5f soft) back in December.

He warmed up for this with a superb win in a Grade 2 chase at Wetherby when he beat useful yardstick Definitly Red by 8L. He has raced twice in Grade 1 company, both hurdling, and he made the frame on both occasions. However, while he didn't get his head in front he wasn't far away, and he looks as though he has improved a huge amount this season.

He has plenty of course form and he has won on ground ranging from heavy to good, so the forecast decent ground will be no worry to him. Nigel Twiston Davies has been bullish about his chances and he couldn't be coming here in much better form. Blaklion has every chance of picking up some place money at the very least and I wouldn't put anyone off backing him each way at his current odds of 9/1.

LE MERCUREY

This 6yo son of Nickname is currently priced up at 33/1 and on all known form he has it to do in this field. He was beaten 4L on his last run by the re opposing Vyta Du Roc at Ascot (24f soft) and there is no reason to think he can turn that form around here.

He was 23L behind Seeyouatmidnight when they met here back in January (21f heavy) and he had no excuses that day either. Even the switch to the forecast better ground doesn't inspire optimism as all his wins have come on soft or heavy ground, and he was pulled up on his sole run on good ground at Doncaster. It is always hard to write off a Paul Nicholls horse at Cheltenham, but I just can't see how Le Mercurey can win this race.

MORE OF THAT

This 8yo son of Beneficial is jostling with No More Heroes for favouritism and More Of That is just shading it at the moment at 2/1. It is no surprise to see him at the head of the market given that he has won his last three visits to the track, including a thrilling win over super mare Annie Power in the World Hurdle back in 2014 (24f good).

Even with the O'Neill yard going through a very lean spell earlier this season he still managed to win his last two starts, a class 2 novice chase here (20.5f good) and a similar heat back in December again here over 21f soft. It is an outstanding track record and it usually pays to follow horses that are proven on the legendary Cheltenham hill.

He goes on any ground, he stays well, he has been put away since his last win presumably to keep him fresh for this and judging by his price JP's money is down. Geraghty will be keen to make a big impact at his first festival as McManus' retained jockey, and in More Of That he looks to have a realistic chance of landing a valuable Grade 1.

NO MORE HEROES

This 7yo son of Presenting has been a useful hurdler (Grade 2 winner) for Gigginstown and Gordon Elliott, and given his owner's propensity for buying potential chasers it comes as no surprise that No More Heroes has taken his form to a different level over the bigger obstacles. He has yet to taste defeat since tackling fences, and two of his three wins have come at Grade 1 level.

It is no surprise to see him near the top of the market and he can currently be backed at 9/4. He has course and festival form in the book after finishing a close third behind Martello Tower in the Albert Bartlett last season (24f soft), and he was won on yielding ground so the forecast good to soft ground should be fine.

If the handicapper is to be believed he has 5lbs in hand on his main market rival, and on the figures he should win this pretty easily. However, this is Cheltenham and he has more than just the O'Neill horse to be worrying about. He looks to hold every chance, but at 9/4 he looks just a tad skinny and in such a competitive race there is probably better value to be found elsewhere.

ROI DES FRANCS

The trainer/jockey combination that is most feared by the bookies at Cheltenham will team up with Roi Des Francs for this race, and the 7yo son of Pogliote should not be written off. He is currently a 12/1 shot and given the manner of his last two wins he is a horse that will not be short on confidence for the trip to Cheltenham.

This is another Gigginstown horse, and Bryan Cooper has plumped for No More Heroes rather than this fella. Perhaps Roi Des Francs hasn't achieved the same level of form over either hurdles or chasing, but he is 2 from 3 since sent over the bigger obstacles and he also has solid Cheltenham form in the book after a good third behind Killultagh Vic in the Martin Pipe last year.

The big worry would have to be decent ground, as this horse has produced his very best when the ground has been bottomless. He was worryingly pulled up behind Thistlecrack on decent ground at Aintree, and though he won his bumper on good ground he seems to be a much better animal on soft/heavy. Probably best watched given doubts regarding the ground and the owners look to have a better chance with No More Heroes.

SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT

This dashing 8yo son of Midnight Legend is the pride of the North, and his small yard will be loving every minute of the build up to this race. Thomson has only a handful of horses compared to the other trainers in this contest, and he will be hoping his pride and joy comes back safe and sound after running a big race.

He was a useful hurdler (Grade 2 winner) and he signed off over timber with a gallant effort in the World Hurdle behind Cole Harden (beaten 12L) on ground that was much quicker than ideal. His trainer had always talked of him as a chaser in the making, and this season Seeyouatmidnight has justified his optimism.

He was beaten on his seasonal reappearance (20f heavy) by Silsol but he badly needed the run and he reversed that form in no uncertain terms back up in trip at Kelso (23.5f heavy). He was stepped up to Grade 2 level here at the New Year meeting (21f heavy) and he had a few of these behind when beating Blaklion by 3L. He warmed up for this with a workmanlike win at Newcastle, and I must admit I backed him for this race at the start of the season. The big worry is if the ground dries out too much, but he is sure to make a bold bid from the front and his stamina is assured. Definite each way claims at 12/1.

SHANESHILL

The Mullins' second string according to jockey bookings and the bookies' odds of 20/1, but as ever it is dangerous to discount anything from those quarters. This 7yo son of King's Theatre hasn't got a whole lot to find on the ratings, and until his heavy defeat at Doncaster last time he had looked an extremely promising recruit to chasing. He was a very useful hurdler and bumper performer, twice runner up at the festival, and he undoubtedly is a classy type.

The trip is something of an unknown, but he looked like 3m stretched him on his only start at the trip at Punchestown (24f good/yielding). He was mightily impressive on his first two chase starts and he won with plenty in hand on both occasions (18f soft, 16f heavy). However, his run at Doncaster looks too bad to be true (16f good) and he is definitely a better horse than he showed that day.

He has that all important course form in the book, he has run his best races on decent ground and he has always been held in high regard by his trainer. His lack of chase experience at a high level is an obvious worry, but his runs in the bumper and Supreme Novice last year will have prepared him well for the hustle and bustle of this race. He looks a big price at 20/1 and he could easily run into a place.

VYTA DU ROC

This 7yo son of Lion Noir is the lowest rated runner in this field, but that hasn't put off his supporters and he is just 10/1 having been put up by Pricewise a few weeks ago. He was a very useful hurdler and he found only Thistlecrack too good in the staying hurdle at Aintree (25.5f good to soft). He had previously run a very nice race behind Windsor Park here in the Neptune, when an awful late mistake cost him a winning chance.

He has never been out of the first four since coming to England from France and his consistency is a big positive. Nicky Henderson was talking about the four miler as a possible alternative so stamina is obviously his strong suit. However, on decent ground he might get outpaced by the speedier types in the race, and it will be interesting to see if he can get to the front and dictate the pace.

Those who snapped up the fancy odds available when Tom Segal tipped him up will be sitting pretty, but he is now only 10/1 and seeing as he would be getting weight from all of these in a handicap he will need to produce a career best to win. He will be staying on when others have cried enough though, and he is another that has realistic place claims.

CONCLUSION

As can be seen from the above it is hard to discount almost all of the horses in the field for what looks an extremely competitive RSA Chase. The two at the top of the market, No More Heroes and More Than That are sure to be popular, but the value is gone from those two and with eight runners in the field there is plenty of each way value to be found elsewhere.

I have been in the Seeyouatmidnight camp all year, but I was praying that there would be plenty of rain before the race and on quick ground he just mightn't have the toe to go with the best of these. The same applies to Vyta Du Roc who looks an out and out stayer, and usually to win an RSA you need the right mix of stamina and speed. Blaklion is another that can't be discounted, though his odds of 9/1 look a shade skinny.

One horse that fits the bill is SHANESHILL who had the pace to take second in a Champion Bumper here and again behind Douvan in the Supreme Novice when he was a staying on second. He looks too big a price at 20/1 and while he looked a doubtful stayer at Punchestown, he is a year older and stronger now and his pedigree suggests that 3m should be within his compass. He is the each way suggestion in what should be a cracking race, though I will be shouting home Seeyouatmidnight in the hope that he can land a Grade 1 at Cheltenham for his tiny yard.

STEVOS' SELECTION: SHANESHILL E/W 20/1

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