Much of the early talk so far this National Hunt season has concerned Long Run’s bid to hang on to his King George Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup crowns.
The six year old who defied most expectations last season by winning two of the sport’s most prestigious prizes has of course tasted defeat already this term, going down by eight lengths to Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase. Long Run must bounce back from that performance when he meets Kauto Star again in the King George at Kempton Park on Boxing Day but that is likely be a completely different race. Kauto Star of course is a four time winner of the King George and his trainer, Paul Nicholls, will be looking to break the record he shares with Desert Orchid by claiming a fifth win in the race. It is also anticipated that the two will also meet, probably for a final time in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
There will no doubt be plenty of other chasers who will come to prominence as the season moves forward, however, there are a number of other key races at the Cheltenham Festival and one that is capturing plenty of attention is the RSA Chase.
This race is run over 2m5f and is aimed at producing the best staying novice chaser and is usually contested by horses who have earned big reputations over the smaller obstacles and who are now in their first season as Chasers.
The race this season is looking like a particularly high class affair, due mainly to the many top quality hurdlers from last season who are now chasing and who making a very good job of the transition.
The antepost favourite to win the RSA Chase is the David Pipe trained, Grands Crus, who was a very impressive 10 length winner of his first attempt over fences a fortnight ago at Cheltenham which was run over the RSA course and distance. He followed that up this week by winning the Grade 2 GPG Novices Chase over 3 miles at Newbury where although he had to work hard for the victory, the win was not the most convincing finishing only two lengths clear of the Paul Nicholls trained Sonofvic. Nonetheless a win and a clear round was more than enough to make his handlers happy and it also encouraged most Bookmakers to trim his odds from 4/1 to 3/1 for the RSA. Although there has even been some bold claims that Grands Crus may head straight to the Gold Cup at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival! However, that would be a surprise with the feature event of the Festival a more realistic target in 2013.
The horse most likely to challenge Grands Crus for favouritism in the RSA Chase is Bobs Worth, trained by Nicky Henderson, was the winner of the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, which completed an unbeaten record of four wins over hurdles. A six year old with all the quality in the world, Bobs Worth, has the look of a future Gold Cup contender, particularly if he takes to fences as well as he did with hurdles. His debut run at Newbury last weekend result in victory but wasn’t as emphatic as many would have envisaged, finishing just a short head in front of Cue Card, himself making the transition to bigger obstacles. Much will depend on how he improves for that first experience but as it stands Grands Crus is firmly the one who has looked most impressive thus far.
Donald McCain has been extremely pleased with his Peddlers Cross, who was the runner up to the great Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle back in March. He has had two runs over fences, both at Bangor-On-Dee, which he won easily. However, Peddlers Cross is most likely to head to the two mile Arkle Chase at the Festival for which he is the 5/1 antepost favourite but is still in the betting for the RSA Chase.
The biggest challenger from Ireland for RSA Chase honours is the Mouse Morris trained First Lieutenant, winner at last season’s Festival in the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Hurdle. He has already notched up two wins over the bigger obstacles, taking two Grade 3 Novices Chases, latterly at Cork earlier this month and also on his chasing debut at Tipperary in October. He was beaten into second place in between those races in an EBF Novices Chase when he finished a nose down in second place behind Di Valera. However, in all three races he jumped superbly well and he already looks a huge danger to any rival who lines up against him at Cheltenham.