3m½f RSA Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – Wednesday 11th March 2020
There are two types of people in this world; those who are big fans of Champ, and those who cannot have him at all. I’m certainly in the latter camp. Some Horses come along and you just never warm to them, but this Nicky Henderson Horse has done himself no favours this season over fences. A very novicey winning Chase debut at Newbury in early November was followed with another average round of jumping at the same course later that month, when he narrowly avoided going through the elbow to see off Black Op. Saved for the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, Champ did jump better in the main but highlighted his IQ level once more when absolutely crashing through the second last fence. He completely lost all focus that day when in the lead, and you’d be a braver man than I if you didn’t think something similar could happen in the hustle and bustle of the Cheltenham Festival. Nicky Henderson does of course have previous experience with these nutty three-mile Chasers, with Nico de Boinville somehow guiding Might Bite to success in 2017 – but that was a weaker renewal than this. To compound my scepticism surrounding his chances, Champ missed his scheduled Cheltenham preparation at Kelso last month due to adverse weather, meaning he comes into the race off the back of a fall – and having his first attempt at three-miles over fences. As I’m making comparisons, even Might Bite had a confidence booster around Doncaster before his RSA run (having previously fallen in the Kauto Star).
Away from the market leader, Copperhead has been confirmed by the Tizzard’s and deserves to take his chance here. Whilst I admire his improvement and attitude, the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase has been a graveyard for RSA contenders over the past ten years with O’Faolains Boy (2014) the only Horse to complete the double. I’d also worry that the terrible ground at Ascot was in part owing to the manor of Copperhead’s victory – especially as Horses such as Pym (Pulled up) simply couldn’t jump out of the mud. You cannot blame connections for wanting to try their hand in the RSA, but the NH Chase looks a much more suitable and ultimately easier race. Conversely to my opinion on Copperhead, Willie Mullins’ Allaho is a Horse I would be all over if turning up for the Marsh Novices’ Chase over the shorter trip of 2m4f. This buzzy six-year-old was beaten by a fitter Horse in stablemate Easy Game over Christmas, but made up for that run under no uncertain terms when scoring by twenty-one lengths on his next start at Fairyhouse. Both of his runs this season have come over 2m5f, and I would have concerns about him stepping up in trip to three-miles at the Festival – especially as on his last two starts over this trip, he has been beaten by Minella Indo.
This juncture brings me perfectly onto Henry de Bromhead’s seven-year-old, who has been my idea of an RSA winner since impressively winning the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle twelve-months ago. In fact, this was highlighted in my National Hunt Horses to Follow 2019/20 guide which stated; ‘All roads for this Horse will surely lead back to the Cheltenham Festival; namely the Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase’… and this is exactly how Henry de Bromhead has mapped out his season. It’s an old cliché that the Knockeen handler improves his Horses bundles when sending them over fences, but it’s clearly something he excels in. Although not perhaps undertaking an orthodox route back to Cheltenham, there’s only ever been one race in mind for Minella Indo this season.
Starting out in a 2m4f Beginners Chase at Gowran back in November, this Novice went dramatically out to his right at the first fence he jumped in public – but he has been near enough foot perfect ever since. Putting in a fine jumping display after 206 days off the track, Minella Indo simply didn’t have the speed to go on with impressive winner Laurina – who was clearly on a going day. Leopardstown was the next port of call for the 3m Grade 1 Novice Chase on the 29th December, but connections were forced to pull this Horse out on the day due to rapidly drying ground.
Minella Indo was last seen in another Beginners Chase, this time at Navan in January. At the time the race looked fairly innocuous with this seven-year-old sent off the 2/5 favourite; and he jumped exemplary throughout the contest. There was no pace on at Navan that day however and Rachael Blackmore was forced to make the running. Although Minella Indo is comfortable enough in setting the pace, he seems to be at best effect when taking a lead, just like he did in the Albert Bartlett last year. Minella Indo was probably getting a bit lonely when still tanking along between the last two flights, but He was forced to work for his victory by a fast finishing Captain Cj. At the time this useful Horse had some decent form in the book such as when third to Carefully Selected in November, but Captain Cj (142) boosted the form no end when winning the Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan last month. It’s not just this strong form that makes Minella Indo look like a stand-out bet in the RSA however; the way that he jumps is fantastic. When he meets a stride with Rachael he flies over the fence, but he is also able to pop one when not quite meeting it right. He seemed to love going left-handed last time and was extremely quick through the air, but arguably the most pleasing jump he put in was the last at Navan when under pressure – where he came up out of Rachael Blackmore’s hands and showed he can be brave when required. Minella Indo has undertaken an enterprisingly light campaign over fences to date, but as such his preparation means he will be in prime condition for Cheltenham, and I think he will take a lot of beating at a track he seemingly enjoys.
Minella Indo 3pts Win @ 4/1 (NRNB)
Good luck! – Jake Price