Won last year by the enigmatic Might Bite in what proved to be one of the races of the festival, this years renewal of the RSA has a lot to live up to! The market though does suggest a competitive race with the top pair in the market very closely matched.
Starting with the marginal favourite, Presenting Percy, he has had a bit of a mixed preparation for this race. He won his chase debut before being soundly beaten by Jury Duty, then he went into a handicap over 3m5f and duly hacked up. His next assignment was then back over hurdles where he won again before his second to Our Duke in the Red Mills Chase most recently. To me, his preparation has seemed a bit disjointed and for some reason I’m just not entirely convinced by him for the RSA, I actually think he’d be better suited to the 4 miler. He was a good winner of the Pertemps Final last season, but this contest will be stronger than that and I think he could have his work cut out.
A horse that I liked throughout his novice hurdle season and into this campaign is Monalee for Henry De Bromhead. He’s been a model of consistency for his handler, having been second in both his bumpers and only finishing outside of the top 2 once over hurdles. I was really taken by his chase debut at Punchestown back in November, he jumped really well and looked all class. A horrible fall over Christmas was a little worrying, but he hit back with a Grade 1 victory in the Flogas Novices’ Chase and displayed his jumping prowess once again. Second in last seasons Albert Bartlett, there are no track concerns for the son of Milan and with his jumping a huge asset, I see him as the one to beat.
Black Corton has been an absolute revelation for Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost over the past year, winning 8 of his last 10 chase starts. However, I do have my reservations about him in this company. He did gain his first Grade 1 victory in the Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day, but I myself am pretty confident that Fountains Windfall would have comfortably got the better of him that day if he’d of been able to stay on his feet. On a side note it is devastating to have lost Fountains Windfall, he was a great horse and I’m sure there was still much more to come from Anthony Honeyball’s star. Back to Black Corton, I’m also not sure that the general quality of fields he’s been beating has been close to that of the Irish Novices. As good as he’s been, I think he still has plenty to find with the likes of Monalee and Presenting Percy.
Willie Mullins has both Invitation Only and Al Boum Photo as possibilities to run here, if having to choose between the two I think I’d be siding with the latter. However they both have a bit to find with Monalee as they were behind him in the Flogas, I also think Monalee will be better over 3 miles so to me the Mullins pair have it all to do.
A couple of Mares could take their chance in here, the first being Shattered Love. A winner of 4 of her 5 chase starts including a Grade 1 last time, she is very much entitled to her place in this field. Given the allowance she gets I wouldn’t rule her out as a viable each way contender. Alan King’s Mia’s Storm was mightily impressive on her first 2 starts over fences and was sent off favourite for the Grade 1 Kauto Star at Kempton when last seen. However we didn’t see her anywhere near her best that day as the ground went against her. The better the ground the better she’ll be I think and if getting some nice spring ground at Cheltenham I believe she’d be capable of out-running her odds.
Colin Tizzard has a couple of options for Elegant Escape but I believe this is the preferred route. Only beaten a length by Samcro in his Point to Point, he has quite a reputation to live up to! Himself and Black Corton are pretty closely matched having both gained a small victory over one another. I’m a little surprised at the price differential between them to be honest with as big as 33/1 available for Tizzard’s charge and at the prices he looks like much the better value of the pair. He was however some way behind Monalee in the Albert Bartlett last year so will need fences to have brought out some drastic improvement in him.
Ballyoptic is a very solid yardstick for Nigel Twiston-Davies, always giving his all. A winner of the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree back in 2016 does highlight the class he possesses. He has been a tad inconsistent in 4 starts over fences to date though, readily putting Elegant Escape in his place at Exeter before losing out to Black Corton at Cheltenham after a mistake at the last. He wasn’t seen at his best at Kempton over Christmas, not jumping with any fluency and just not looking himself. A Grade 2 win at Wetherby when last seen was much more like it, but I think he has plenty on his plate here and will need to improve again.
In my view, the Irish hold all the aces in this contest and the market agree’s with Presenting Percy and Monalee at the top. I think this race is perfect for Monalee and he can get the better of Presenting Percy when also taking into account that the latter had a touch race on heavy ground not long ago. Nothing at the bigger prices particularly excites me, but if pushed then Elegant Escape looks a bit overpriced and can run well along with the 2 Mares.