David Cleary's Cheltenham Notebook: Southfield Theatre underlines Festival contender status

A runner-up at the Festival in 2014, can Southfield Theatre go one better this year?
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A fantastic weekend of racing has just been staged with Cheltenham clues aplenty so David Cleary has split this week's Notebook into two parts - focusing here on the novice chases 

"Southfield Theatre's Cheltenham record stands close inspection, his short-head second in the Pertemps Final last year, showing a large field on this track holds no fears. Unlike one or two of the others mentioned, Southfield Theatre looks a definite runner in the RSA and he's the one to take for the race from the past weekend."


There's a school of thought that little of consequence or excitement happens over jumps between Christmas and the Cheltenham Festival. Hopefully, those of that mind were paying attention over the weekend and disabused of such nonsense, for there was no end of quality, competitive, exciting racing, with top cards at Newbury and Leopardstown supported by good action at Warwick and Exeter.

In terms of Cheltenham pointers, the races for which most clues were forthcoming were the novice chases, primarily the RSA Chase, with victories for Coneygree and Kings Palace at Newbury, Apache Stronghold at Leopardstown, Cogry at Warwick and Southfield Theatre at Exeter.

Kings Palace's race was reduced to a match and little new was learnt about him, though he clearly has the ability to make an impact at the top level. However, it is worth remembering he started a short price for the Spa Hurdle at last year's Festival and would have run well below form after being ridden far too forcefully in the largest field he's encountered. A similar scenario is possible in the RSA.

Certainly if Coneygree is in the RSA field, Kings Palace might have trouble leading, for Coneygree maintained a strong gallop all the way in seeing off some seasoned opposition in the Denman Chase, putting up a performance that would win many a running of Cheltenham's Grade 1 novice. However, Coneygree has an alternative engagement in the Gold Cup, which must be a tempting option for connections. Given his style of racing - and he's forced the pace on all but his second bumper start - Coneygree may not be seen to such good advantage in the Gold Cup, or even the RSA. His form at the moment stands out, but it may be a case of opportunity under conditions that were particularly conducive to his style of running that puts him top of the pile. There are better options at the prices, so far as the RSA is concerned than either of the Newbury winners.

Apache Stronghold got the better of Valseur Lido in a cracking finish to the Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown, gaining revenge for a defeat in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse in December. Neither lost any caste in defeat, Apache Stronghold's victory owing much to a classic Paul Carberry ride. The winner is set to contest the Golden Miller/JLT at the Festival, and will hold good claims on form, though this looks potentially a strong race, with quite a few refugees from Un de Sceaux's presumed Arkle set to line up (more on that race in part two of this week's Notebook).

Valseur Lido could well take his chance there as well, and would hold a plausible chance also, his sound jumping sure to be an asset, though his pedigree screams stamina and a step up in trip, for either the RSA or even the National Hunt Chase (in which he is also entered), could well pay dividends. His owner also has Don Poli, who is currently at the head of the market for both the RSA and the NH Chase, so Valseur Lido would make an able substitute in either contest. 

The staying novice chase at Warwick on Saturday was fought out by two further Festival entries, Cogry clinging on from Doing Fine. In form terms, this was a fair way below the level of the other races discussed, but this race has thrown up a winner and a third in the last two RSA Chases and either of the first two could enter consideration each-way for that contest. The emphasis on stamina will certainly suit Doing Fine, whose dam won twice over four miles at Punchestown.

Southfield Theatre was pretty impressive in adverse circumstances at Exeter, having to make the running over an inadequate trip, out-speeding a good two-mile hurdler in Melodic Rendezvous, though Val de Law looked a big danger when falling at the last. Southfield Theatre might have been slightly fortunate, but there's a lot to like about his jumping and he's sure to be much better served by a return to three miles and the likely strong pace in the RSA.

His Cheltenham record stands close inspection, his short-head second in the Pertemps Final last year, showing a large field on this track holds no fears. Unlike one or two of the others mentioned, Southfield Theatre looks a definite runner in the RSA and he's the one to take for the race from the past weekend.       


Notebook shortlist:
Au Quart de Tour: Champion Bumper
Black Thunder/Tenor Nivernais: 3m handicap chase
Carole's Destrier: handicap chase at 2m4f+ 
Eastlake/Savello: Grand Annual
Gilgamboa: JLT (Golden Miller)
Grand Vision: Kim Muir
Jezki: Champion Hurdle
L'Ami Serge: Supreme Novices'
Many Clouds: Cheltenham Gold Cup
Morning Run/Lyrical Theatre: Mares Hurdle
Old Guard: Fred Winter
Stellar Notion: novice handicap chase
Southfield Theatre: RSA
Thomas Brown: Albert Bartlett (Spa)
Top Wood/Southfield Royale (needs to qualify): Pertemps Final
War Sound: Baring Bingham/Spa

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