With Barack Obama recently being sworn in for a second term in the White House, thoughts will soon be turning to how history will view America's first black President. There are no odds being offered that it will be kinder than to his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush. Bush will be remembered for two things: initiating the now-inescapable 'war on terror' and dropping more oratorical clangers than seems either safe or reasonable for a man with his finger on The Button.
We all have our favourite Bush quotes, whether it's "Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?" or this utter masterclass in sombre PR. One of Bush's most famous gaffes involves him mangling what he termed "an old saying in Texas" (it's more likely to be a Chinese proverb) popularly understood as 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me'.
The sentiment of that phrase is felt when one looks at the entries for this year's RSA Chase, which has an eerily similar look to the race which gave more than a few punters burnt fingers last March. In case you need reminding, Grands Crus was sent off at 6/5 for the RSA last season, only to finish a dismal fourth to a resurgent Bobs Worth, presumably due to the same breathing problem that saw him flounder when a hot favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup eight months later.
This time around, there is once more a Pipe-trained novice who took high order among last year's staying hurdlers and has swept all before him thus far over fences. This time it's Dynaste, who wouldn't have been as good a hurdler as Grands Crus but has been just as spectacular over fences to this point having taken an almost identical route. Dynaste's latest run came in the Feltham, which although surely not as strong a renewal as Grands Crus' was won as impressively as you could have wished for. That level of form is only 6 lb shy of what Bobs Worth showed in an above-average renewal of the RSA last year, so the standard Dynaste currently sets is a very high one.
Those with a foreboding feeling of déjà vu may point to the fact that a tongue strap was deemed necessary for Dynaste's ultimately disappointing tilt at the World Hurdle last season, but the weight of evidence is firmly against Dynaste struggling over an extended three miles at Cheltenham. Indeed, there are more question marks over those nearest Dynaste in the market than the favourite himself.
Currently second in the betting is Boston Bob, whose sole defeat for trainer Willie Mullins came in the Spa at last year's Festival behind the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze. His form prior to that was strong, though the unknown with Boston Bob is his experience over fences. He's had just one start to date, though we should know more soon given the entries he holds in the coming days and weeks. Wherever he turns up, he'll certainly have to go some if he's to seriously threaten the standard currently set by Dynaste.
Boston Bob's stablemate Back In Focus has had more racing over fences thus far. Although he missed the 2011/12 season after leaving Howard Johnson, he's wasted no time in improving for Mullins, winning all three chase starts including the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas by a head from Aupcharlie. There is already a perception that Back In Focus is best when the mud is flying, which although not difficult to see, is based on limited evidence and, if bogus, could make him look a superior betting proposition over Boston Bob, who is currently half the price of his stable-companion.
The RSA is one race at the Festival in which Paul Nicholls looks to have a greater arsenal than Nicky Henderson, his main hope being December Gold Cup winner Unioniste judging by the betting. Although Unioniste's victory last month was impressive, the level of form is a notch below what is required to win most renewals of this race, so the step up to three miles will have to improve him if he's to justify such a lofty position in the market.
A better option so far as Nicholls is concerned could be Rocky Creek. The sort of horse trainers like to describe as a 'big baby' over hurdles, Rocky Creek is still very much treated as one for the future, with talk of skipping Cheltenham this year still circulating. It'd be a shame were he to be rerouted from the Festival, as all indications up to now would suggest that Rocky Creek is already beginning to blossom. He's got appreciably better by the run over fences, his latest success coming in a competitive event at Warwick, which he would have won easily even before two of his main rivals exited two out. It was a highly impressive performance and it's easy to see Rocky Creek improving again, potentially into a very smart staying chaser and just the type that does well in this race.
There is plainly still a lot of water to run under the bridge between now and mid-March; much can and no doubt will change regarding the picture of the RSA Chase. However, at the moment the hype surrounding favourite Dynaste seems justified, with nothing else looking up to the task of matching his level of form. A price of 3.3512/5 seems a fair reflection of his chance as things stand. If you find that sort of approach against the spirit of ante-post betting, then the recommendation is to side with Rocky Creek, who, as a certain former US President might say, isn't to be misunderestimated.
Back Dynaste @ 3.3512/5 and Rocky Creek @ 13.5 in the RSA Chase