Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Tony Keenan reflects on what could have been a vintage renewal of Cheltenham's RSA chase and looks at how an eye-catcher can be a two edged sword.

  • Wednesday 20 March
  • Blog
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VINTAGE RSA CHASE REFLECTIONS

A hoped-for three-cornered battle in the Champion Hurdle never looked like happening from an early stage but the same situation in the RSA Chase lived up to billing (and then some) and was the race of the Festival.

Everything points to this being strong form; an early-race move from Drinks Interval meant it was run at a strong gallop, the big three of Topofthegame, Santini and Delta Work were 16 lengths clear of the fourth and the time-figure was excellent, Timeform giving the winner 164.

For these three horses to already be pushing for mid-160 numbers, both form and time, at this early stage of their careers after only 11 chase runs between them suggests they are going to be right amongst the best staying chasers in 2019/20 and any potential rematches this spring are to savoured.

Topofthegame had the smoothest preparation and in-race trip; he was covered up closer to the rail than either Santini or Delta Work and jumped best of the three, a slight error at the tenth the only semblance of a mistake.

There had been concerns about his attitude coming into the meeting – not unreasonably given how he’d finished off his race at Kempton – but they were laid to rest as he outstayed Santini after the last, that one having hit the front two out.

The only slight negative one can give relative to the others is that he would have more experience over fences than them, if not on the track then at least at home as he had started a novice chase campaign in the winter of 2017. Against that he is building a strong Festival pedigree and could not be in better hands for what he is.

Santini had few in-race excuses bar being trapped wide and making a mistake at the fourth though it was a little surprising to see the winner outstay him given their previous profiles; he didn’t travel as well through the race as either Topofthegame or Delta Work.

With him, the reasons for improvement are down to preparation. Not only did he miss an intended engagement in the Reynoldstown due to needing flu vaccinations but he had also lost a shoe in a racecourse gallop causing lameness which left him touch-and-go for the meeting. Furthermore, he has had only seven lifetime runs versus ten for Topofthegame and 15 for Delta Work though the latter the youngest at six.

Of the three, Delta Work put in much the worst jumping performance in the RSA. This is being picky but he was beaten little over two lengths but I rated him as having six errors, the one at the second last most costly as it caused him to be squeezed out.

He did jump the fourteenth brilliantly but that may have been a curse in disguise as it meant he made an early move and he got to the front a long way from home. Racing wide wasn’t ideal either though he did get closer to rail after he made his move but he was the one that looked better than the bare result.

Then there is his preparation. Delta Work seems to be a horse that thrives on racing and each of the three times prior to this one where he has come off a break for Gordon Elliott, he has improved a lot for the run.

He had been an intended runner in the Flogas at Dublin Racing Festival and missing that race probably didn’t help him at Cheltenham. That said, it may be good for his long-term development as a run on fast ground at that point might not have be ideal, the form from that meeting generally not working out at the Festival, only Klassical Dream and Envoi Allen emerging from Leopardstown to win.

One shouldn’t forget La Bague Au Roi in all this given she beat the winner and runner-up in the Kauto Star and her appearances at Aintree and/or Punchestown are eagerly awaited. Cheltenham seems not to be her thing however so with a view to the Gold Cup of 2020, the trio of Topofthegame, Santini and Delta Work all interesting, albeit for different reasons.

Suggesting betting a horse for the Festival 12 months out isn’t really my thing but respective top prices of 10/1, 14/1 and 25/1 (or 4/1 combined) would make more appeal than the 8/1 available about Al Boum Photo repeating.

That one was brilliant last Friday but it was the perfect storm for him, the ground softening pre-race and a few of his rivals not performing on the day. More than that though is the history of modern Gold Cup winners; the recent past has shown us that they are never better than on the day of their win and backing them to follow up has not worked out.

WHEN AN EYE-CATCHER ISN’T AN EYE-CATCHER

Punters, myself included, love nothing more than spotting an eye-catcher from Cheltenham with a view to Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown but it is worth remembering overall context; a horse may have shaped better than the result at the Festival but their overall form-cycle and what they will be racing against next are as important.

Melon in the Champion Hurdle might be a good example. As has been well explained by Simon Rowlands elsewhere on this site, he went too hard on the lead in the Champion Hurdle, getting a sizeable sectional upgrade.

But in the process of doing so he had a hard race and it is no surety the cheekpieces will work as well second time. Melon is an inconsistent horse and without a win since the second-season hurdle at Down Royal in November 2017 while he doesn’t always jump well. Also, the tracks he will race on during the rest of the spring may not suit as well as Cheltenham.

Castlegrace Paddy is another that went well in the Champion Chase, taking the eye with how he travelled into the race despite being one of the outsiders of the field albeit disappointing with his finishing effort.

The easier Punchestown chase track should suit but he did finish weakly behind Footpad there last year and spring may not be his time of the season; his trainer commented after an impressive win in the Hilly Way (where he saw out his race well) that allergies tend to effect his performance from this point on.

A final one might be Bristol De Mai who overcame a wide trip in the Gold Cup and gave the lie to his not being effective at Cheltenham but the sense is that he needs to be fresh and it is likely Haydock in November rather than Aintree next month will be the next time we see a peak effort.

If you’re looking for one or two to take from the championship races last week, I venture the less obvious Sharjah and Bellshill. The former never got the chance to show what he could do in the Champion Hurdle and Punchestown on decent ground could show him to good effect.

Bellshill put in an abject jumping display in the Gold Cup and was pulled up before halfway but has shown repeatedly that Cheltenham isn’t his track along with an ability to bounce back from bad efforts there in the past. His relative freshness could leave him in good shape for Punchestown.


Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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