Irish eyes have often looked towards the RSA Chase in recent years as one of their best chances of landing a Cheltenham Festival success, having bagged four of the last five renewals of the Grade One, and this year’s running will see a strong battalion head over from the Emerald Isle to try and sparkle at Prestbury Park on March 12.
Willie Mullins will no doubt carry a lot of the Irish money as the Co. Carlow maestro unleashes a multitude of class acts at this year’s national hunt extravaganza and the legendary handler will hope that Ballycasey can take his place in the line-up this year and he currently heads the betting around the 5/1 mark.
He was pulled out at the eleventh hour at last year’s festival when a major player in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, but he has come back firing on all cylinders and dispatched of some decent rivals in the Dr P.J. Moriarty Novice Chase and was immediately trimmed to an outright favourite for this three-mile event.
A facile winner on his chasing debut, the seven-year-old was stepped up to Grade One class in early February and he could’ve been classed as workmanlike as he got the better of Don Cossack and the last fence faller Carlingford Lough, but with only two novice chases on his CV he’s sure to improve and warrants the favourite tag, albeit a tad too short at the current 5/1 with Coral.
The aforementioned Don Cossack headed into that clash with Ballycasey on the back of a one-and-three-quarter length success over Carlingford Lough in the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase, so Gordon Elliott’s Irish star can produce the goods at the highest level and having beaten Carlingford Lough in his last two starts, the value certainly lies with Don Cossack at 20/1 with John Kiely’s Galway Plate winner Carlingford Lough a paltry 12/1.
Morning Assembly will be another flying the Irish flag and he will be putting his hefty reputation on the line and after beating Don Cossack in the Florida Pearl Chase in November he was expected to beat Carlingford Lough in the Topaz Novice Chase, but Kiely’s raider outbattled him in the closing stages, so it just adds more intrigue to the Irish form with a host of rivals seemingly have an abundance of collateral form which is tricky to decipher.
Whilst it’s a real minefield to work out who are the leading challengers for the Irish, there will be a host of homegrown talents looking to sparkle at Prestbury Park and Alan King’s former Ladbrokes World Hurdle third Smad Place could be one of the prominent figures for the British contingent and the gutsy grey has impressed so far.
The Barbury Castle raider unseated on his first start over fences at Huntingdon, but he has since excelled over the larger obstacles and built on a seven-length Exeter win by beating the classy duo of Sam Winner (16/1) and Mendip Express (40/1) in a cracking Newbury event and following on from that win he was slashed to a 7/1 second favourite.
A proven stayer at the highest level he will have to come under consideration if the ground is testing in a few weeks, but if the ground were to dry up over the next few weeks then he may find it tough to deal with a few potential speedier opponents and it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see the aforementioned Sam Winner reverse the placings come March 12 and the 16/1 could be each-way value for some punters.
Donald McCain’s Corrin Wood has progressed leaps and bounds for a switch to the chasing arena and he has impressively worked his way up the ladder and a cracking two-and-a-half length victory over the classy Black Thunder (25/1) saw the seven-year-old cut to 10/1 and if he can continue to progress then he could well be the one to beat.
He has somewhat slipped under the radar with a number of the Irish stars being classed as major RSA players, but the manner in which Corrin Wood has won his three chases has certainly caught the eye and even though he hasn’t been tested in top notch Graded company he should be able to put up a real positive showing next month and at the odds is the value play in the win market.
Rebecca Curtis’s O’faolains Boy finally captured the winning thread over fences when comfortably beating Many Clouds in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot and the former has taken a tumble in the betting and if repeating that Berkshire effort would be of interest, whilst Martin Keighley’s Annacotty has been progressing with aplomb this year, but could be outclassed at this elite level.
Jonjo O’Neill’s Taquin Du Seuil showed when beating Oscar Whisky that he can produce the goods on his day, but it’s still unknown whether he will be sent over the longer trip of three miles and take in this RSA task or will drop back to 2m 4f and tackle the JLT Novices’ Chase on the third day of the ‘Greatest Show On Turf’.
Emma Lavelle’s Le Bec has winning form at Cheltenham this year and is available at 16/1, but on his last start he was beaten at the Gloucestershire by Paul Nicholls’s Sam Winner and will struggle to turn that form around should the pair clash in what is a devilishly difficult conundrum for punters to work out on the second day of the festival.
Attempting to work out the Irish form is certainly a tricky process and the RSA Chase holds a host of head-scratchers, but the travelling Emerald Isle team may have to settle for the minor honours, and if Donald McCain can get Corrin Wood to improve again and with the former Grand National-winning trainer leaning towards the 3m test rather than stepping him up to the four-miler then he could be the value flutter at 10/1, with Ballycasey and Don Cossack set to make up the one-two-three.