The RSA Chase has an illustrious list of previous winners, with nine going on to land Gold Cup glory at subsequent Cheltenham Festivals. The 2017 renewal boasts a talented crop of up and coming chasers, from which, it would be no surprise if a future Gold Cup winner was to emerge.
The leading protagonist at this stage is Bellshill, who, after just starts over fences, has been backed from 12/1 prior to the seven-year-old's winning chase debut, in November, to 4/1 clear favourite for the Festival's three mile novice event, following his most recent win at Limerick on Boxing Day.
Trained by Willie Mullins, Bellshill could provide his handler with his fifth winner of the RSA Chase, and after two easy wins, it is no surprise to see the market support for a representative from Cheltenham's most feared trainer. However, anyone rushing to snap up the 4/1 should remember that this horse has never won outside of Ireland! Two previous runs at Prestbury Park saw the Graham Wylie owned runner finish down the field on both occasions - 10th in the 2015 Champion Bumper, before winding up 13th in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle. He was seen in a much more favourable light over three miles at Aintree, when second to Ballyoptic, 12 months ago - before a career best effort to land the Grade One, Daily Mirror Novices Hurdle, at the Punchestown Festival to end the campaign, back home in Ireland.
Bellshill's flops at Cheltenham could well be down to his need for a longer trip, but it is a factor that cannot be overlooked for would-be-backers and bring the others in the field in to play. However, two good rounds of jumping and a combined winning distance of over 13 lengths from two starts over bigger obstacles, make a solid case for him ending his wait for a victory outside of the Emerald Isle.
The horse Bellshill beat last time out was stablemate, Haymount, who may not be one of the County Carlow operation's flag-bearers, but looks to have taken well to chasing and whilst only a moderate hurdler, it would be no surprise to see him feature in a race at the Festival. He holds an entry in the RSA (20/1), alongside the National Hunt Challenge Cup (16/1) and JLT Novices' Chase (20/1), so wherever he lines up, he is worthy of a second glance.
Another horse which makes up the army of six Mullins trained runners entered in the race, is Bleu Et Rogue, who also holds a number of Festival entries, the least likely of which is to be the RSA (20/1) but it cannot be ruled and if he does take his chance, his chase-debut win ahead of Gangster, at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting, offered enough encouragement to put him at the forefront of the reckoning for this or any other race he runs in.
The other three Mullins entries are; Yorkhill (current 6/4 favourite for the JLT), Up For Review (yet to make its chase debut under rules but has P2P experience) and Benie Des Dieux (French Import, easy winner on debut for yard in December and literally could be anything).
Back Irish Eyes To Be Smiling - Just Not Mullins'
Six years ago, this race was won by Jessica Harrington with Bostons Angel and in the form of Our Duke, Ireland's leading female trainer could have one to emulate that RSA Chase success. Back-to-back wins from two starts over fences, including the Grade One, Neville Hotels Chase at Leopardstown, in December, makes Our Duke the stand out pick for this race on form, alongside Bellshill. That win came over Coney Island, who had previously finished three and a half lengths behind Haymount, over two and a half miles.
With so little form to go off over fences for most of these runners, the fact that Our Duke has a chase win over three miles, makes him a better value bet at 10/1 when compared to the 4/1 about Bellshilll.
Coney Island is rated next best, behind the two market leaders, at 12/1, but the fact that the Edward Harty trained six-year-old has trailed behind Our Duke, Bellshill and Haymount, in the past twelve months, is enough to think that he may find one too good come the 15th March.
The pick of the English contingent is the Nicky Henderson trained, Might Bite, who looked set to be a hugely impressive winner of the Grade One, Kauto Star Novices' Chase, at Kempton on Boxing Day, when falling at the last - 18 lengths clear! Despite the fall, the market spoke and the eight-year-old has since been supported from 20/1 in to 10/1!
Had Might Bite won at Kempton, he would have been much shorter but the question about his jumping and how he will respond in his next race, is enough to remain cautious about his chances of winning the RSA Chase, at this stage.
One final runner that could emerge as popular choice as the race nears is Alpha Des Obeaux. The Mouse Morris trained seven-year-old boasts the best hurdles form of the entire list of entries, having finished second to Thistlecrack, in last year's World Hurdle. He has won twice over fences this term, but inconsistencies would need to be ironed out was he to make his presence felt.
Overall, Our Duke looks the pick of the market at present. The Grade One win, together with a win over three miles, is enough to suggest that Jessica Harrington's charge is the best value, at this stage.
Our Duke to win the RSA Chase (each-way) at 10/1 with bet365