EVEN the briefest glance at the roll of honour for the RSA Chase (2.05pm) proves that this race has long been a stepping stone for horses with the potential to go on and triumph in a Gold Cup.
In fact, three of the last eight winners (Denman ’07, Bobs Worth ’12 and Lord Windermere ’13) have subsequently landed National Hunt’s most treasured prize.
Looking at the nine declared runners for this afternoon’s Grade One, it’s hard to imagine any of this year’s competitors, other than DON POLI, Kings Palace and The Young Master, having the class to eventually be considered as Gold Cup-winning material.
Willie Mullins has made no secret about the regard in which he holds Don Poli, and even nominated yesterday’s four miler as his long term Festival target as far back as last Christmas.
However, the sheer volume of Gigginstown Stud’s staying chasers has meant there has been a juggling of the pack in recent weeks. As a result, the National Hunt Chase’s loss is now the RSA’s gain.
Don Poli relished every yard of the extended three mile trip of the Grade One Topaz Chase at Christmas, and the very fact that connections have no fear about him staying an extra mile suggests that today’s trip will be perfect.
His abundance of stamina coupled with his ability to quicken late on makes him the call at 15/8 with Betway this afternoon.
Kings Palace fans will be delighted by the fact that Coneygree has elected to tackle Friday’s Gold Cup instead, as there is every chance he may now get an uncontested lead.
However, I’m put off by the ground today being far better than he’s encountered so far this term and the fact he bombed out at this meeting 12 months ago. I will be opposing David Pipe’s runner in a Sporting Index match bet with Don Poli.
Paul Nicholls has been making bullish noises on the preview circuit about Southfield Theatre. But he’s another that doesn’t scream out of the page as a Gold Cup winner in waiting. I’m sure he’d appreciate more cut in the ground and I’d be shocked if he beat Don Poli.
If there is something lurking in the pack that could upset the favourite, it’s likely to be the Neil Mullholland-trained The Young Master, who is climbing the jump ranks at a rate of knots.
He handles decent ground, has won at the track, and his comfortable defeat of Gold Cup-bound Houblon Des Obeaux reads well in the context of this race.
DON POLI 2.05pm Cheltenham