The last two renewals of the RSA Chase have produced two winning favourites, Don Poli in 2015 and Nigel Twiston-Davies' Blaklion who obliged at a skinny 6/4 last year. At the time of writing there are 55 entries for the race and the ante-post market is struggling to separate Bellshill 5/1 (Willie Mullins) and Might Bite 11/2 (Nicky Henderson).
Both are worthy of their position at the top of the market, Bellshill was a grade one winner over hurdles last season and is two from two over fences after he beat stable mate Haymount at Limerick on Boxing Day. Might Bite had the Kauto Star Novices chase at this mercy on Boxing Day at Kempton, 10 lengths clear before he fell at the final fence.
There have been five Irish trained winners of the RSA Chase in the last 10 years and the Emerald Isle looks like mounting another strong assault on the race. As well as having one of the favourites, Mullins has another six entries for the race and there are a further 19 entries coming from the Irish trainers.
Behind the two market principals is one of those Irish charges, Coney Island. Eddie Harty's six-year-old gelding is currently 7/1 on the Sportsbook for the staying novice chase crown. He's always looked a decent stayer and showed good character when he battled to a half-a-length second behind Bellshill in a Grade One novice hurdle over three miles at Punchestown last April.
But none of these fit in with some very strong trends for this race:
• Ten of the last 10 winners were rated 144+
• Nine of the last 10 winners were seven-year-olds
• Eight of the last 10 winners did not run at the previous Punchestown Festival
• Five of the last seven winners ran in the Albert Bartlett at the previous Festival
That leaves a shortlist of just two runners:
• Champers on Ice (though currently rated 143)
• Shantou Village
Applying another level of less strong trends:
• Seven of the last 10 winners had won a Graded hurdle race
It leaves just one horse:
• Shantou Village
Shantou Village actually went off favourite for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at last year's Festival off the back of a demolition job of Champers on Ice in a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle. He is very well regarded and despite being pulled up in the Albert Bartlett he looks to have benefited from not going to either Aintree or Punchestown last year.
This season he's won well at Fontwell and then at Cheltenham in October, in the process getting valuable lessons around the chase course, before falling behind a well-weighted Frodon at Wincanton when booked for second. That was over two-and-a-half miles on good ground on a track which wouldn't have played to his strengths. Better still, Frodon's subsequent performances have well and truly boosted the form of that run.
I like the fact that Shantou Village hasn't raced since as he clearly goes well when fresh and I think the stable will have wanted to come to the RSA on the back of a rest. Given how well-backed he was on the day of last year's Albert Bartlett it can only leave you with the conclusion that the stable think he's a Grade 1 winner in the making and that three miles shouldn't be any problem for him. At 33-1 in the Sportbook he's has to be backed, even if only to small stakes.
I also want to back Champers on Ice to small stakes too. He put in an eye-catching display when staying on really well having not jumped a twig when behind American at Warwick. He then went to Cheltenham over a clearly inadequate two-mile-five furlongs and ran a strange race. He's been given a mark of 143 and connections could be tempted to go down the Ultima Handicap Chase route - and he is prominent in the betting there - but I don't think the big field and the hustle and bustle of proven chasers will help his jumping at all. He'd be far better in the smaller field of the RSA, which is normally a stamina-sapping race, where he can get a proper cut at his fences. He's huge at 50-1 and worth a small stakes bet.
1pt Win Shantou Village @ 33/1 and 1pt win Champers on Ice @ 50/1
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