Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan looks at a racing trend for the RSA Chase as well as examining some of the Dublin Racing Festival's handicap entries and what that might tell us about their Cheltenham targets.

  • Wednesday 22 January
  • Blog
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RSA Chase Warning

January is a time in the jumps season when we can get into paralysis by analysis, breaking down performances to the nth degree, when in reality many races are uncompetitive with the better horses having run over Christmas and due to have (or not, in some cases) a final prep for the spring festivals in February.

One such uncompetitive race, judged by the market at least, was the beginners’ chase won by Minella Indo at Navan on Saturday, the dual Grade 1 winner sent off 2/5 but he had a harder job than the betting suggested, winning by only won by a length and a half from Captain CJ whose jumping doesn’t always help him.

The race was pretty evenly-run and produced a reasonable time-figure so is likely a fair reflection on those that took part and Minella Indo’s jumping was fine without blowing anyone away while he may have been idling in the finish.

But the interesting stuff came post-race with Henry De Bromhead saying ‘it’s job done and he’ll go straight to Cheltenham for the RSA Chase next’ which would leave him thin on experience for a race of that nature.

It is interesting to consider where these comments fit in with what the trainer had said previously. Back in October as part of a stable tour on this site, he commented that Minella Indo is ‘a notably laid-back horse at home…so it might take him a run or two to hit top form this season.’

He got one of those runs at Gowran when second to Laurina and in between that and Christmas, De Bromhead said ‘we'll aim at the three-mile Grade One novice in Leopardstown, subject to ground. He's a three miler, and do you want to drag the guts out of him over three miles in a beginners’ chase when there's a Grade One to play for? He's had his run over fences now.’

His proposed Christmas engagement didn’t happen with the ground coming up too fast, a situation that could also impact Carefully Selected as he needs a qualifying run over three miles to make the National Hunt Chase, but a light campaign did work well for Minella Indo in the Albert Bartlett last year.

Then he went to Cheltenham as a maiden with two runs over hurdles but 2018/19 was a strange season with the fast ground and this is a different race too, lightly-raced chasers having a poor record in the RSA. Below are the respective RSA Chase records of horses by previous chase runs going back to 1997:

Number of Chase Runs Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Actual/Expected
1-2 runs 3 48 6.3% 12 25.0% 0.47
3 or more runs 19 210 9.0% 54 25.7% 0.99

The more experienced types win at a higher rate though the place rates are very similar but what seems more relevant is that the unexposed ones are overbet, returning an actual over expected of 0.47.

Don Poli was one such lightly-raced winner in 2015 but the most recent one before him was Florida Pearl in 1998 and both had won graded novice chases, something Minella Indo has not. Santini went close last year after just two chase starts but there have been many more short-priced disappointments with this profile, among them Our Vic, Punchestowns, Long Run, Time For Rupert and More Of That.

An interesting aside to all this is that Minella Indo is quite an unusual horse for De Bromhead to train, who typically handles speedier types, at the top-level at least. Since starting his career, De Bromhead has had 19 Grade 1 winners over fences with 16 of those at or around the minimum distance and only one at three miles, Valseur Lido in the 2016 Champion Chase at Down Royal.

The trainer is doing things these days he hasn’t done before (having barely trained a juvenile hurdler of note before this season, he now has the Triumph Hurdle favourite) so that isn’t a major worry while Minella Indo has already won at three miles (twice) so the trip is hardly an issue.

A bet on him for the RSA does seem based on his hurdle and Cheltenham form however and the top price of 7/1 for that race (and likely to get shorter if anything) hardly seems generous with more battle-hardened ones sure to line up.

Dublin Racing Festival's Handicaps

The entries for the five handicaps at Dublin Racing Festival don’t attract as much attention as their Grade 1 equivalents but they tend to be fiendishly competitive and can provide an early indication of what connections may be thinking about the handicaps at Cheltenham.

That isn’t really the case with the entries for the Matheson Handicap Chase over 2m1f however which is a collection of the usual suspects from similar races all season with a handful of interesting novices mixed in like I’m A Game Changer and Jan Maat along with a wild card in Paloma Blue.

There is a much heavier novice representation in the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle at the minimum trip amongst them Janidil, Embittered, Soviet Pimpernel and Unexcepted. This race could provide an early test of what this novice cohort is like in open company with some of these connections perhaps signalling with entries that they think their horses are more suitable to races like the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe than graded contests.

It is no surprise to see Willie Mullins dominate the handicap hurdle for mares named after his father with 14 of the 39 entries and 11 of the top 20 in the weights; My Sister Sarah may not be an obvious one for this trip as a three-mile winner already but she shaped better than the result here at Christmas when making a big move in the hottest part of the race.

The William Fry Handicap Hurdle can be ‘mix ‘em and gather ‘em’ race and it looks that way this year with a few chasers like Alpha Des Obeaux and Jury Duty perhaps building towards the Grand National amongst more obvious staying handicap hurdlers, some of whom (Silver Sheen, Tout Est Permis, Treacysenniscorthy) are qualified for the Pertemps Final but may not be high enough in the weights to make the cut.

Gordon Elliott has used this race to good effect as a Cheltenham prep in recent years, Delta Work and Dallas Des Pictons running here in 2018 and 2019 respectively, with perhaps his most interesting entry being one that can’t run in the race, The Bosses Oscar. He doesn’t have the requisite number of runs having been taken out of Navan last weekend but might be a Martin Pipe type.

The final handicap is the Gaelic Plant Hire Handicap Chase and again Elliott is a name to note with a pair of novice entries Galvin and Dallas Des Pictons. The former ran fourth in what has proved one of the stronger beginners’ chases of the season at Fairyhouse in November and is rated 140 while the latter is off 137 here which seems a more realistic assessment of what has been a disappointing chase career to date than the 147 awarded to him in the UK this week.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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