Irish Saint Heads For Triumph Hurdle After Adonis Victory

Trial races can often be overhyped but the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle has provided a fountain of clues in recent years for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and Saturday’s renewal of the Kempton Park Grade Two may have helped paint a clearer picture of the four-year-old title, which takes place on the final day of this year’s meeting on Friday, March 15th.

Since the turn of the century, four winners have managed to use victory in the Adonis as a springboard to Triumph glory at Prestbury Park, with Snow Drop (2000), Penzance (2005), Soldatino (2010) and Zarkandar (2011) all etching their names in both crowns, but can Saturday’s winner Irish Saint emulate that quartet and progress to Cheltenham glory?

Sent off a 5/4 favourite for the Adonis, the Paul Nicholls trained Irish Saint appeared to have it all to do turning into the straight as Ruby Walsh became more and more active in the saddle, but the Ditcheat inmate gradually got rocking and rolling in the closing stages and eventually came upsides Vasco Du Ronceray.

Driven out after a good leap at the last flight, Walsh managed to cajole him past Nicky Henderson’s raider and he won by half-a-length which forced Bet365 to cut him to 12/1 for next month’s Triumph Hurdle, but with a strong bunch of four-year-olds set to line up at Cheltenham, he will need to produce a slicker effort than Saturday’s performance.

Outpaced in the middle of the race, Walsh had looked to be fighting a losing battle, but he showed he could well be a future stayer in the making as he was producing his finest work in the latter stages, as he reeled in Vasco Du Ronceray, who is 14/1 with Bet365 for the Triumph, and asserting late on.

A strong pace from the flag fall, the Triumph could well suit Irish Saint, but it’s debatable as to whether he possesses the required speed to be victorious in the race and there could well be a whole host of more attractive betting propositions in the current ante-post market for the 2m Grade One prize.

Irish Saint’s victory at the weekend saw Bet365 slightly trim Rolling Star’s price to 9/2 as he comfortably beat him in the Triumph Hurdle Trial on Cheltenham’s Festival Trials Day and Henderson’s premier challenger for the crown could well be one of the leading contenders for the race and along with Far West (4/1) and Our Conor (9/2) is one of a trio of horses who spearhead the market with just over two weeks to go.

Vasco Du Ronceray may have finished a close second, but Henderson may opt to send him down the Fred Winter route, whilst Alan King’s mare L’unique (33/1 for Triumph) lost her unbeaten tag and looks to face a difficult task in reversing the form.

A potential improver from the race is Courtesy Call, who was making her hurdling debut for Henderson after a decent career on the Flat for Mark Johnston and having travelled well until the second last flight was just outclassed by the front two, but he is sure to improve and at 25/1 in the latest betting with Bet365 could be scribed into a few notebooks.

For Non Stop Emerges As The First Talking Horse of New National Hunt Season

The Nick Williams trained For Non Stop was a hugely impressive winner of the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase at Aintree last weekend. The seven year old appears to have improved out of all proportion from last season, during which he enjoyed victory in the Grade One Betfair Novices Chase in February, before finishing third, 13 ½ half lengths behind the highly rated Sir Des Champs, in the Grade Two Jewson Novices Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Old Roan Chase was the first top quality race of the new National Hunt season and was contested by a number of highly regarded chasers which included the Philip Hobbs trained Wishfull Thinking, who finished second but some 23 lengths adrift of For Non Stop and the 2011 Jewson Novice Chase winner, Noble Prince, who had made the trip from Ireland for the Paul Nolan stable. He too was left floundering finishing a distant seventh place, while Pacha Du Polder, the 4/1 joint favourite along with the For Non Stop, from the Paul Nicholls yard was pulled up before the last fence.

There was no hiding the pleasure the victory of For Non Stop gave Williams, who is likely to be seriously considering sending his runner to Cheltenham for the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November. Any longer term plans will be shelved until after his next run but it is clear that he is still progressing and has yet to finish outside of the top three in any of the five chases since falling on his Chase debut just over a year ago.

It was difficult to assess the performance of the rest other than they were well beaten by a very good chaser in the making on the day. Wishfull Thinking had attracted some support in the market but he is still far behind what was expected of him a couple of years ago leaving trainer, Philip Hobbs in a quandary as to where to run him next. There is no doubt that hopes had been high and the nine year old was expected to at least run up to the level achieved when second, seven lengths behind Champion Chaser, Finians Rainbow in the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree back in April. That clearly was not but there is no doubt that he and the winner have triggered early season speculation as to the potential of horses such as Finians Rainbow and Sir Des Champs both highly rated and who are both major candidates to win two of the big races at the Festival. Indeed , ‘Finians’ is 7/1 to successfully defend his Champion Chaser crown, while Sir Des Champs from the Willie Mullins yard in Ireland is 6/1 antepost favourite for the Gold Cup.

For Non Stop has been quoted as a 10/1 shot in the Champions Chase and is 25/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Five to Follow From Ditcheat This Season

The countdown is on! We’re just weeks away from the official start of the 2012/2013 National Hunt season and as such, I’m going to be doing a couple of previews of runners I like from the leading stables, starting with Paul Nicholls.

Champion National Hunt trainer, Paul Nicholls, knows that retaining his crown from his great rival Nicky Henderson will be a tough ask in 2013.

Anybody with an interest in racing will have recognised that a shift in the balance of power, particularly in the chasing division, has taken place over the last 12 months and it is now Henderson that holds the vast majority of the “ace cards” when it comes to graded races over fences.

Gone from Nicholls’ Ditcheat yard are the great Denman and Grand National hero, Neptune Collonges, who have both been retired and whilst no decision has been made about the future of Kauto Star, it has to be thought he won’t have more than a couple of races left in him, given he turns 13 this season.

Nicholls will however retain dual Champion Chase winner, Master Minded and the incredible Big Buck’s for the 2012/2013 National Hunt season. Bick Buck’s of course is on a 15 race winning streak over hurdles and looks pretty much unstoppable as he looks to extend that over the coming months in his ultimate bid to win a fifth consecutive World Hurdle.

Here are the five other Ditcheat inmates that I hope big things can be expected from during the forthcoming flat season.

Sanctuaire

The highest rated Novice Chaser ever stabled at Ditcheat, this six year old was a very good hurdler but he looks a real prospect over the bigger obstacles, winning all three of his starts. The latest of those was the Grade Two Celebration Chase on soft ground over 2 miles at Sandown where he had the highly regarded Somersby 17 lengths behind him in second place. He will be aimed at the Champion Chase this season but he is likely to be next seen in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December, a race that Nicholls has won seven times in the last ten years!

Zarkandar

Winner of the Triumph Hurdle as a juvenile in 2011, great things are expected of this half brother to Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, Zarkava. He was finishing best of all when fifth in the Champion Hurdle last season and looked the likely winner of the Aintree Hurdle when he fell three from home. He will be far more experienced this term and with further improvement like, he looks certain to be the choice of stable jockey, Ruby Walsh, for the Champion Hurdle again this season.

Themilanhorse

After four wins at Novice Hurdle level last season, a feat which very few achieve, it is likely that this six year old will be asked to take on bigger obstacles at some point this term for which his size and range looks tailor-made. His seasonal target will only be decided once his form is established but current thinking suggests that given his proven stamina, he could be aimed at the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next March.

Black Thunder

A couple of eye catching wins in Novice Hurdles last season saw me add Black Thunder to my note book as “one to watch” and I’ll be following him again during the Autumn and Winter. Whether he starts off over hurdles before switching to fences remains to be seen but he’s definitely got the profile of a chaser and is one of real note.

Rolling Aces

Anybody who backed this runner on his final two starts last season may have got their fingers burnt as he came across from Ireland with a big reputation and after winning his firs start for Nicholls in a Novice Hurdle at Wincanton, he was beaten when odds on at Taunton in December and again, disappointed at Wincanton last time out in a Handicap Hurdle.

He arrived at Ditcheat after winning a Point-to-Point in Ireland and I have no doubt that he’ll be running over fences this season and I’m happy to follow him as I think he’s got the makings of a good horse.

Neptune Collonges Grand National Success Marred By More Aintree Tragedy

In the wake of a second successive Aintree Grand National in which two fatalities were suffered, it is quite understandable that the public outcry would be at its loudest. The tragic deaths of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Synchronised and According To Pete could now spark profound changes to the race that could even result in the removal of its most notorious fence, Bechers Brook ahead of the 2013 Grand National.

Aintree Racecourse spent £250,000 on safety improvements after receiving thousands of complaints following the deaths of Ornais and Dooney’s Gate last year. It is clear however, that the improvements have failed, particularly those made to “Bechers” as it was at this fence that Synchronised (on the first circuit) and According To Pete (on the second circuit), both fell as had Dooney’s Gate 12 months before them. In fairness to the fence, Synchronised actually got to his feet after depositing jockey, Tony McCoy and ran on until falling rider-less at the 11th where he then broke his leg.

The deaths sadly marred the outcome of the race, where grey, Neptune Collonges and jockey, Daryl Jacob, not only defied the 33/1 odds against him, he defied the trends and stats of the race proving in the process that there is no substitute for sheer class to get up by a nose to finish ahead of Sunnyhillboy. At his peak in 2009, the 11 year old was rated at 174, making him easily the best horse in the race. He had won two Grade One races inIrelandand would have won more in theUKhad it not been for the presence of his two superior stablemates, Kauto Star and Denman. In winning, he became the first grey horse since Nicholas Silver in 1961 to win the race and the first since Red Rum in 1977 to carry 11-06 or more to victory. Neptune Collonges win also meant a first ever “National” success for champion trainer, Paul Nicholls.

Whatever the outcome it was certainly not to be a day for the JP McManus the Jonjo O’Neill team, who not only lost their prized Gold Cup winner Synchronised but also had to suffer the agony of watching O’Neill’s second entry, Sunnyhillboy lose the race in the run-in. Ridden with great gusto by Richard McLernon, the nine year old was overhauled in a thrilling battle with Neptune Collonges before being beaten on the line by the shortest possible margin. It was the closest ever finish to a Grand National and one that will live very long in the memory.

As usual, thebookmakers had a superb day after sending off Seabass and Shakalakaboomboom as 8/1 joint favourites. Despite brother Ruby Walsh turning down the ride on him, a huge gamble on Katy Walsh and Seabass was witnessed beforehand with the general buzz indicating that she was about to become the first ever female to ride the winner of the race. In the event, having ridden the horse superbly throughout, where he remained prominent, he just did not have enough stamina to take on the first two on the run in. Nonetheless, his third place earned Katy the accolade of finishing the race in a higher position than any other female before her. Shakalakaboomboom, who also rode with great prominence faded at the last finishing in 9th place.

Fourth place went to the Evan Williams trained Cappa Bleu giving the trainer a fourth consecutive place finish in the race, while fifth home was 100/1 rank outsider In Compliance who was just over two lengths clear of last year’s winner, Ballabriggs. Only fifteen of the forty runners finished the race.

2012 Cheltenham Festival Highlights

It was Idarah, the final finisher in the final race that effectively brought down the final curtain of the four day 2012 Cheltenham Festival and in so doing closed another chapter in the meeting’s history books but this year’s Festival has to go down one of the most exciting for years.

Searching for talking points and highlights at the Festival any year is easy but 2012 had so many it is difficult to know where to start and for that matter how to prioritise them.

Certainly one highlight that should stick in the mind of all National Hunt racing fans was the huge round of applause handed out so spontaneously by the 60,000 crowd after the Kauto Star was pulled up in the Gold Cup by jockey Ruby Walsh. Their reaction probably was suitable acknowledgement that the dual Gold Cup and five times King George VI Chase Champion will not be seen competitively on a racecourse again and that he will now be retired to the luxurious pasture he so richly deserves given that he arguable rates as one of the best Steeplechasers the world has ever seen!

Kauto Star’s Stablemate, Big Bucks, however, did not disappoint, once again proving too good for his rivals in the World Hurdle, winning the race for a record breaking fourth consecutive year and in the process winning his 16th consecutive race. His confirmation as the greatest staying hurdler of all time came two days after the Willie Mullins trained Quevega had won the three mile Mares Hurdle also for the fourth consecutive year. Her win confirmed her as the greatest staying mare of all time and possibly the only horse capable of taking Big Bucks on.

A second act of unadulterated spontaneity was witnessed when Hunt Ball won the Pulteney Land Investments Novices Handicap Chase over 2m4f, the final race on the first day. Owner, Anthony Knott, who had accused the Official Handicapper of getting it all wrong with his horse all season, became almost uncontainable when the seven year old romped home by eight lengths carrying 12 stone on his back. His win yet again defied the handicapper and had his owner making that point to everybody on the boisterous but jovial walk back to the winners enclosure. The win was greeted with so much enthusiasm by the crowd, many of which had taken Knott’s advice and backed the 13/2 favourite that it prompted the official handicapper himself to make his way to the winners enclosure to acknowledge that he had got it wrong by shaking Knott’s hand. It was a great and magnanimous and one of those episodes that that go a long way towards making the Festival what it is today. Hunt Ball in fact has earned himself a 50/1 shout for the Gold Cup at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

With the exit one Festival superstar in the form of Kauto Star a potential replacement announced his arrival on the chasing scene in the form of Sprinter Sacre. The six year old became the first of trainer Nicky Henderson’s magnificent seven winners at this year’s Festival after his seven length victory in Arkle Challenge Trophy. It was a run of such awesome quality, that had jockey Barry Geraghty confirming that he is the best he has ridden and had bookmakers installing him as the 2/1 favourite to win the 2013 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Hendersoncould not have had a betterCheltenham; Sprinter Sacre became his 40th Festival career winner to equal that of Fulke Walwyn, which he was then to shatter with six more, taking him to a new record of 46. His other winners:

Simonsig – Hugely impressive winner of the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle over 2m5f.

Bobs Worth – First home in the Grade 1 RSA Chase and now an 8/1 quote for the 2013 Gold Cup.

Finian’s Rainbow – New Queen Mother Chase Champion after coming on top in a controversial but epic battle up the hill with defending champion, Sizing Europe who went off the 4/5 favourite.

Une Artiste – 40/1 winner of the Grade 3 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. His win completed a 3,382 four timer on the day for the Seven Barrows trainer. It was the first time in the history of the Festival that a trainer had saddled four winners on a single day.

Riverside Theatre – Held on to win a terrific battle in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase over 2m5f with Albertas Run, winner of this race for the previous two seasons.

Belvano – The 20/1 winner of the Johnny Henderson Grand annual Chase and the race named to honour Nicky’s father. There could have been a no more fitting end to the Festival and was made even better when his Tanks For That finished second and Anquetta fourth.

The one surprise defeat of the Nicky Henderson cam was that of Long Run in the Gold Cup who could only finish third, behind winner, Synchronised and the 50/1 outsider, The Giant Bolster. Although this race is not considered a highlight this year due the fact that it was a worryingly low class renewal with only Kauto Star and Long Run being rated more than 180 in the field. Synchronised, in fairness has won at Grade One level and did run a stormer under Tony McCoy to win. However, how the 160 rated runner up The Giant Bolster got so close is something that should not really happen in the country’s most prestigious steeplechase.

Other surprise defeats came in the Champion Hurdle where Hurricane Fly could not justify his 4/6 price, finishing third behind the Paul Nicholls trained Rock on Ruby.

Boston Bob Backed For Cheltenham Glory: 2012 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle Preview

It is always a curiosity why sometimes “out of the blue”, a horse is singled out by Bookmakers and with no real evidence available, the odds of that horse are slashed for a particular race.

This has happened over the past few days with the Willie Mullins trained, Boston Bob, halving in price from 5/1 to 5/2 favourite to win the Grade One, Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, over 3 miles at next week’s Cheltenham Festival. His price was cut despite Mullins making it absolutely clear to the media and punters alike that he has not decided if the horse will run in the Albert Bartlett or the Neptune Novices Hurdle over 2m5f on Wednesday.

Notwithstanding, the Albert Bartlett now has a far more competitive feel to it and should Boston Bob participate, he will renew rivalry with the Gordon Elliott trained,MountBenbulben. The two met in the Grade One, Navan Novice Hurdle, on soft to heavy ground over 2½ miles back in December where Boston Bob proved to be far superior, winning by over four lengths after Mount Benbulben, who went off as the 5/6 odds on favourite, failed in his attempt to make all. By winning that race, Boston Bob was completing a third straight win from three starts over hurdles.

Elliott believes his charge will benefit hugely from that run and will also be suited by the extra half mile atCheltenham, although question marks have to be raised about his ability to cope with the better ground he is likely to find at the Festival. There are no such question marks needed raised as far as Boston Bob is concerned, he too has the pedigree to get the three mile trip and has won a Bumper on good to soft ground in the recent past.

Champion trainer, Paul Nicholls, also has a very good looking prospect in this race this year with Rocky Creek, winner of the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle Trial over 3m1f on good to soft ground at the end of January. He won that race by over 3 lengths from the Emma Lavelle trained and highly regarded three time hurdle winner, Gullinbursti. Ruby Walsh should be able to provide a decent clue as to who he thinks will win as has he will have the choice of Boston Bob and Rocky Creek but the price of his mount will sure contract once the announcement is made.

Others that have been backed include the Charles Byrnes trained Sea Of Thunder, but on his form shown against Boston Bob back in January he would have an awful lot to find. Brindisi Breeze from the Lucinda Russell stable has also been supported after a very impressive 12 length win in the Grade 2 Haydock Park Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle Trial over 3 miles on heavy ground last month. That win was his fourth from five starts this season and has given rise to hopes that a horse trained north of the border can snatch a rare Cheltenham Festival win. Brindisi Breeze can be backed at a best price of  10/1 currently. As it stands though, everything will have their work cut out to finish ahead of Boston Bob if the money talks…

Grand National Trial At Haydock Should Provide Some Useful Aintree Pointers

With the weights having being revealed for the 2012 Aintree Grand National, particular attention will be paid to the Betfred Grand National Trial over 3m4f which takes place this Saturday at Haydock Park.

After the five day declaration stage made on Monday, 23 runners stood their ground with Neptune Collonges from the Paul Nicholls stable topping the weights with 11-12 with Grand National favourite, Junior, from the David Pipe stable set to carry 11-6 in the race.

This will be the first run of the season for Junior, who demolished his rivals in the Kim Muir Fulke Walwyn Challenge Cup over 3m2f at the Cheltenham Festival last March and then subsequently ran at Royal Ascot where he failed in his attempt to win back to back Ascot Stakes on the flat. The style of his Cheltenham Festival win however, is the principle reason why he is the antepost favourite for the Aintree Grand National in which he will carry 11-2. He won the ‘Kim Muir’ by a staggering 24 lengths looking a very commanding horse in the process and clearly one who has a lot more to come and the handicapper looks to have given Junior a huge chance ahead of the Aintree feature.

Up against him on Saturday is Welsh National winner, Le Beau Bai from the Richard Lee stable who is likely in fact to go off as the favourite should the going remain heavy. He finished third in this race 12 months ago behind Silver By Nature but never went on to run at Aintree. After a mediocre start to the season, this 9 year old has come on leaps and bounds with the Welsh National victory his biggest success to date. He is an absolute mud lark and the worse conditions the ground is in the better and if they turns in to an extreme test of stamina, you can be assured that Le Beau Bai will be in the shake up at the end.

Topping the Irish challenge is the Charlie Swan trained, Start Me Up, who comes to the race with only one win in a Beginners Chase but the form of that run has worked out well and stable optimism for a big run is high.

Cappa Bleu third behind Le Beau Bai in the Welsh National will be representing the Evan Williams yard who will expect him to improve considerably for his Chepstow run. A former winner of the Foxhunters Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the ten year old is an excellent jumper and a very thorough stayer.

Neptune Collonges is still looking for his first win since taking the 2011 Argento Chase and will have the burden of top weight, although that did not hamper him too much last time out when he was a very creditable second place behind Hold On Julio in the 32Red Handicap Chase at Sandown in January but the weight may way hold him back from winning this.

Giles Cross, second in the Welsh National is slightly better weighted to reverse form with le Beau Bai and trainer, Victor Dartnell, was a little frustrated by a second successive second in the Welsh National but is sure to be confident that his 10 year can make the frame at the Lancashire track on Saturday.

All in all, this is a very open Grand National trial with a host in with chances. One to possibly watch out for who is well handicapped is Evan Williams second entry, Deep Purple. This 11 year old looked a very decent Gold Cup prospect a couple of years ago after winning both the Grade 2 Charlie Hall and Peterborough Chases. However his form evaporated after efforts in the 2009 King George Vl Chase and the 2010 Ryanair Chase failed. However, he returned to winning ways in December, when taking the London National over 3m6f at Sandown, when carrying top weight. This race is altogether a higher quality but with only 11-7 to carry this time, the odds 16/1 look decent each way value for a horse with proven quality.

Whatever the outcome, this Grand National Trial should provide a number of useful pointers ahead of the big race on 14th April.

Pearl Swan & Grumeti Confirm Triumph Hurdle Credentials After Event Cheltenham Battle

In terms of tactics Ruby Walsh rode a master class of a ride on Pearl Swan in the Triumph Hurdle Trail at Cheltenham on Saturday which sadly for him, was marred by the horse hanging to the right and bumping into the leader Grumeti coming up the hill. Although Walsh still managed to get his horse in front at the line by a short head he was later demoted into second place after the Stewards Enquiry confirmed the contact affected the result.

Nonetheless it was a very revealing trial for the Triumph Hurdle itself in March, for which neither of them have been made the favourite. Indeed the Bookmakers found it difficult to split them in the market quoting the pair at around the 8/1, with Sadler’s Risk from the Phillip Hobbs stable holding sway at the top of the Triumph Hurdle market with odds of 7/1.

Walsh held the Pearl Swan up at the rear of the field until unleashing a furious attack two from home managing to pick off the leader Grumeti on the line, crossing a short head in front. It was not a great way to lose a race of course, and it also led to a 3 day ban for Walsh, but despite his hanging, the manner in which he completed the last half mile of the race was extremely impressive. Moreover, trainer Paul Nicholls believes he will improve hugely for the run and believes he is a very real contender to win the ‘Triumph’.

Grumeti had gone off in the Trial as the 7/4 joint favourite and while he justified the betting, Baby Mix, who he had shared favouritism ran poorly, finishing last of the six runners. Baby Mix had previously ran over course and distance back in December and won in cracking style by 7 lengths and had many pundits believing that he was the Triumph Hurdle winner designate. However, Tom George’s charge failed to maintain the pace and faded rapidly from two out and finished like a horse way out of his depth. Notwithstanding, the plan is still to run him in the ‘Triumph’ at Cheltenham for which he now has odds of 20/1.

Sadler’s Risk rose to prominence with an outstanding performance in a competitive Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton Park a fortnight ago winning as he pleased by 17 lengths. He will of course need to confirm his potential by stepping up to graded company but on the evidence of his Kempton Park run, then he should be able to take that step comfortably.

Surprisingly bookmakers are reporting plenty of support for the Dessie Hughes trained Minsk, who has yet to race over hurdles, but who has been a good winner on the flat taking the honours by over five lengths in the Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh back in October. Hughes intends to debut him over hurdles in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in 12th February, a race won in 2011 by the Dermot Weld trained, Unaccompanied, who went on to finish second in the Triumph Hurdle behind Zarkandar. Currently Minsk is a 10/1 shot to win the 2012 Triumph Hurdle.

Sizing Europe and Big Zeb Bid To Join Elite Champion Chase Club

When last year’s winner Sizing Europe lines up for this season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, trainer, Henry De Bromhead and connections will be will hoping that he can join a highly illustrious group of just ten horses that have won this very prestigious race twice. That same wish of course will also be made by trainer Colm Murphy and the connections of Big Zeb who won the race back in 2010.

The two head the antepost market for the race that decides who will be the season’s champion two mile chaser; but even the best of racing tipsters would not necessarily be able to split them at this stage in the build up.

Both have been out this season, with Sizing Europe having his first spin in the Grade 2 PricewaterhouseCoopers Champion Chase over 2½ miles at Gowran Park back in October. He won that race by just under two lengths from Coolcashin but he had to be grateful to the final fence fall of subsequent Grade 1 John Durkan Chase winner, Rubi Light. The 10 year old followed that up with a second place behind Quito De La Roque in the Grade One, JN Wine Chase at Down Royal, but that was over three miles which is not his favoured distance. However he made amends for that defeat when returning to the two mile trip in the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park which he won in great style by 8 lengths. The win encouraged the Bookmakers to clip his odds into 9/4 favouritism to retain his crown.

Big Zeb meanwhile has been seen out twice this season, winning firstly the Grade 2 Fortria Chase over 2 miles at Navan, beating last season’s Arkle Trophy Chase winner, Noble Prince by a couple of lengths. That win was followed up by victory in the Grade One Paddy Power Dial A Bet Chase over 2m1f at Leopardstown towards the end of December, where once again the now 11 year old proved too good for Noble Prince, winning this time by 1¼ lengths.

These two wins by Big Zeb if nothing else has showed that he retains the zest that was very apparent in his final race last season when he made some amends for his Cheltenham reverse by defeating Sizing Europe in Boylesports.com Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival. A race considered by the sport as the Irish National Hunt’s equivalent of the ‘Queen Mother Chase’. He is considered a best price of 9/2 to regain his champion chaser crown.

In the past it has proven much easier to win the race back to back rather than miss out a year, a feat which has been achieved by only Royal Relief in 1972 & 1974 and the great Moscow Flyer who won in 2003 and 2005. The other eight dual winners all did so in consecutive years, the most recent being Master Minded, winner in 2008 & 2009. This might count against Big Zeb of course who also could be making his attempt without his first choice jockey, Barry Geraghty on board. Geraghty has not ridden him this season so far due to his commitments as retained jockey to Nicky Henderson who at present is undecided whether or not his Finians Rainbow runs in the ‘Queen Mother’. Effectively if Finians Rainbow runs, then it will be Geraghty on board, if not the ride will once again go to substitute jockey, Robbie Power.

Should 6/1 shot Finians Rainbow run then he would have to be considered a decent enough threat to the big two, particularly as he appears to have progressed significantly this season. However he did finish second at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival behind Noble Prince, who, as pointed out above, is held by Big Zeb, a fact which would mean that Finians Rainbow would have to improve even more to become the champion chaser this season.

Others which might yet influence the market once final declarations are made could be the Paul Nicholls pair of Al Ferof, winner of two chases over two miles this season and Kauto Stone, although the latter is likely to go for the Ryanair Chase.

Join Together Could Be The Darkhorse In RSA Chase

The RSA Chase is widely recognised as one of the major races at the annual Cheltenham Festival and is a leading Novice chase at the meeting aimed at producing the best staying novice chaser in the country.

It is run over a slightly extended three miles and for reasons that are not always obvious the race has produced a fair amount of shocks, with favourites, at least until recently not really justifying themselves.

Possibly and even more significantly perhaps is that only very few winners have gone on to bigger and better things which in some ways downgrades the overall value of the race although this could be a tad unfair. However, it is interesting to note that not one of the last three winners, Bostons Angel in 2011, Weapons Amnesty in 2010 and Cooldine in 2009 have won a race since. Indeed, Bostons Angel has failed miserably in two starts this season, Weapons Amnesty has not run since his win and Cooldine simply never progressed.

That said, it is not all doom and gloom, the 2008 winner, Albertas Run for instance has come back to the Cheltenham Festival to win the Ryanair Chase over 2m5f in both 2010 and 2011, while Denman who won the RSA in 2007 became the first horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following season since Looks Like Trouble 2000. In fact only seven past RSA Chase winners have ever gone on to win National Hunts most prestigious prize which considering the aim of the race is a very surprising fact.

The antepost market for the 2012 renewal has the David Pipe trained Grands Crus as a relatively short priced favourite with odds around the 7/2 mark. However, it is known that the owners, Roger Stanley and Yvonne Reynolds are in favour of taking their chances with him in the Gold Cup instead and Pipe does not disagree with them. Should that be the case then the race will become a very open affair, with the Nicky Henderson good thing, Bobs Worth the likely favourite.

Bobs Worth of course was no match for Grands Crus when the two met in the Grade 1 Feltham Novice Chase on Boxing Day, but proved a very tenacious sort when holding off the challenge of Cue Card in Grade 2 London Pride Novices Chase at Newbury over 2m4f at the end of November. He has already proven his staying credentials by winning the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over three miles at the 2011 Festival and providing Grands Crus does defect to the Gold Cup then Bobs Worth with odds currently of 5/1 certainly looks the one to beat.

Irish challengers have usually performed well in the RSA Chase, with fifteen past winners, including the last three mentioned above and they have a very lively raider this year in the form of Last Instalment. Trained by Phillip Fenton, this 7 year old has progressed beautifully this season winning all of his three starts over fences. These included a terrific performance when defeating First Lieutenant by six lengths in the Grade 1 Fort Leney Novice Chase over three miles at Leopardstown at the end of last year, a win which marked him down as a big player this year. He is currently around the 8/1 mark.

Paul Nicholls who has saddled two winners of the RSA Chase and has an interesting entry this time in the form of Join Together, who is a very clear staying type who has won his last two starts over fences. Certainly his 12 length success in the Rymans Stationer Novice Chase in December had Nicholls purring and which forced bookmakers to shorten to around the 10/1 mark to win the race. He could be the one to monitor as the race draws ever closer.

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