There are 72 entered in the RSA Chase, run on Wednesday, March 11, with What A Friend, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, the current favourite. His trainer Paul Nicholls has won two of the last three runnings (including with Denman in 2007) and he is also represented by Breedsbreeze and Kicks For Free. Jeremy Scott’s stable star Gone To Lunch and Carruthers, owned and bred by Lord Oaksey and trained by his son-in-law Mark Bradstock, are others with solid form.
“Carruthers ran as we hoped he would do last time at Fakenham,” said Bradstock. “It wasn’t a particularly strong race but it was nice that he won in such style. What A Friend is certainly a good horse and a deserving favourite for the RSA Chase but we have improved since Uttoxeter. Carruthers pulled a muscle in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last year and the ground appeared to be too tacky for him. The going when he won at Fakenham, when it rode on the easy side of good, is probably ideal. Carruthers has always struck us a chaser but you start over hurdles and work your way up.”
The 26 entries based in Ireland include five trained by Willie Mullins, who won the race in 1998 with Florida Pearl and in 2004 with Rule Supreme. His team includes the high-class Cooldine while other notable entries from Ireland include Casey Jones and Trafford Lad, who finished well clear of their rivals in the Grade One Knight Frank Novice Chase at Leopardstown on December 28.
The Festival’s longest contest, the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup for amateur riders, has closed earlier than in past years and has attracted 85 entries, easily the highest number in the modern era. Local trainer Jonjo O’Neill has won four of the last six runnings and his four entries include Wichita Lineman, winner of the 2007 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival. Trainer Alan King and owner Trevor Hemmings, who teamed up to win the 2008 renewal with Our Benny, are represented by Pangbourne, a winner at Taunton last week in fortuitous circumstances.