Southfield Theatre set to star on racing’s finest
With just over a week to go, we’re nearing the five day declaration stage for the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, meaning moving swiftly in ante-post markets may pay dividends in terms of obtaining a value bet. The RSA Chase is next up in our ante-post previews, a race for staying novice chases over three miles on Cheltenham’s Old Course. At the second entry stage 26 horses remain with Ireland responsible for 17 of those.
There are still doubts about some of the race’s leading contenders, namely Coneygree and Don Poli, who may well run in other events. It’s a hard race to analysis from that point of view, but hopefully our man can steer you in the right direction here.
RSA Chase Preview
This year’s RSA Chase is really hard to get a handle on with regards suggesting a bet. Two of the race’s standout horses in Coneygree and Don Poli may be heading for the Gold Cup and National Hunt Chase, respectively. With that being the case it’s hard to recommend a bet on either of the two, but, equally, it’s hard to suggest a bet against them at this stage in case they run.
In Coneygree we have a highly-rated horse running for a small training set-up. Mark and Sarah Bradstock have done wonders to nurse this son of Karinga Bay back to his best given he missed the entire 2013/14 National Hunt season through injury.
Not only have connections got this eight-year-old back to the track, they have improved him. No doubt the challenge of chasing has suited this scopey type better than hurdling, but the handling from his connections has been outstanding; their time and patience is now being rewarded.
In a trio of starts this campaign the front-running brute has been spectacular. Two Grade 2 wins have been gained, but also a victory at the highest level. In the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton over the Festive period Coneygree gained his and his trainer’s first victory in Grade 2 company.
He put up a bold display and galloped his rivals into the ground, the ones who stood-up anyway. Under Nico De Bonville the pair went a hell of a gallop and the many horses that fell simply couldn’t jump at the speed Coneygree did.
In the Denman Chase at Newbury Coneygree would cement himself as Britain’s leading staying novice chaser heading to the Festival. In fact, his seven lengths beating of Houblon Des Obeaux in open-company suggested he wouldn’t be out of place in a Gold Cup.
That is the predicament connections now face; do they run in the RSA Chase or take on the very best staying chasers in the Gold Cup? For us, the novice route is always best given his inexperience. It’s much easier to sit here and say that, however.
You usually only get one proper crack at these Cheltenham Festival races and this year their horse is in rude health. Will he be in as good a form next campaign? The fact he also missed a full season through injury means they haven’t got many more chances to try.
Given his front-running style and early pace, the Old Course would suit better than the stiffer New track. The likely smaller field in the novice race would also be easier to dominate. Should he line-up in the RSA Coneygree would be hard to beat. It really is a tough call, but regardless of what happens really fast ground would be a worry.
We are faced with a similar situation with Don Poli who also holds multiple entries. Willie Mullins has made no secret of wanting to run his six-year-old in the National Hunt Chase on the opening day of the Festival.
Mullins is convinced the four mile race is tailor-made for his charge despite the Gigginstown horse already being a good Grade 1 winner this season. Should he line-up on the Tuesday of the Festival Don Poli would be taking a huge drop in grade from the top-level to listed class without carrying a penalty.
If Mullins get his wish the son of Poliglote would be extremely hard to beat and nearing the bet of the Festival. In the RSA, however, his chance wouldn’t be as strong, but he’d still be a leading contender given his early season runnings.
The form of Don Poli’s Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase success over Christmas has since been boosted in great fashion. In cosily beating Apache Stronghold, the subsequent Grade 1 winner of the Flogas Novice Steeplechase, the gelding is Ireland’s leading staying novice.
Even the form of his chase debut success looks strong. At Gowran Park back in November the likes of Wound Warrior and Smashing would be put in their place. The former has since scored in Grade 2 company while Smashing has solid form behind Un De Sceaux and heads to the Arkle as a live outsider.
There is little not to like about Willie Mullins’s horse. Don Poli jumps well, stays strongly and has a distinct touch of class so, wherever he goes he’ll be tough to beat. The only concern we’d have is he hasn’t run since his Christmas win and given he’s a lazy type we’d wonder how mentally sharp he’d be. This would be a bigger concern if running in the RSA given the faster tempo, but wherever he lines up, he deserves maximum respect.
Leading the way of horses who are certain to line-up in this race – all being well – is Kings Palace. Trained by David Pipe there is an awful lot to like about this son of King’s Theatre. He’s a big, beautiful horse and represents formidable connections.
Given his size and scope chasing was always going to be his game, but that didn’t hinder him from showing a fair level of ability in his last discipline. He was a Grade 2 winner over the smaller obstacles where his quick, fluent jumping was a real trademark.
The seven-year-old went to the Cheltenham Festival last season a leading contender for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle where he was sent off a 5/2 second-favourite. Sadly he took a heavy fall at the last when well-beaten, having run out of petrol after an over-aggressive ride in the most competitive field he had faced.
Thankfully the fall didn’t knock his confidence as the gelding has looked a complete natural since running over fences. An exuberant jumper with the ability to put himself right, this will stand to him in the RSA.
Kings Palace is a very alert horse, a forward-going type so the switch to the Old Course should suit his style better than the New track where the Albert Bartlett was run last season. Two of his wins this campaign have actually come at Cheltenham; one on each course.
In both wins his razor quick jumping was seen. Kings Palace would beat the same horse – Sausalito Sunrise – twice at Prestbury Park. In terms of form, it would be a worry turning over the same horse in the two victories, but it must be said, the second win looked highly progressive.
You couldn’t say that about his Cheltenham prep run, however, which came at Newbury. Under Tom Scudamore Kings Palace would beat a 138-rated animal of Paul Nicholls’s by a length. That isn’t RSA winning form, but he was much more value than the distance suggests, and, after all, it was a prep run.
That should tee David Pipe’s charge up nicely for a crack at the three mile novice event. His jumping and staying power will see him run well for a long way, but there are little questions about his form. We also wonder will be get away with being so keen in a race against, what will probably be, proper Grade 1 horses?
Faster ground may also be a concern giving his high knee action and how hard he hits the ground? He looks a real relentless galloper. While those are concerns, there is certainly a lot to like about him.
Paul Nicholls horses should always be respected in the novice chase discipline. The master of Ditcheat won back-to-back RSA Chases with Star de Mohaison and Denman in 2005/06 and he relies on Southfield Theatre for the 2015 running.
After finishing a gallant second to Fingal Bay in last season’s Pertemps Final at the Festival the seven-year-old’s trainer was relishing the prospect of getting him over fences. No doubt, from that day, this race has been the long-term plan for Southfield Theatre.
He’d kick this season off in good style at Chepstow before following up in a Grade 2 at Wincanton, in the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase. While winning both races, at times the son of King’s Theatre was awkward and/or not high enough at his fences.
It didn’t stop him from winning wither race, mind, but it was a trend that we noticed on both days. Furthermore, while the latter victory came in a Grade 2, it was only a three runner average race, for the grade, with the raw form flattering him.
Another Grade 2 contest beckoned next time out, this time at Newbury in the Worcester Novices’ Chase. On ground he wouldn’t appreciate and carrying a penalty he was turned over at odds of 4-11. Once more, the trend of him not lifting his feet high enough and being awkward at obstacles was evident. In fact, it would cost him at the final fence when he blundered away his winning chance.
With soft winter ground not suiting we’d have to wait three months for his next start. It was good to see the overall profile of his jumping improve which was probably down to the first time noseband he was sporting. The application of this apparatus, and possibly Noel Fehily being aboard, helped his jumping. We did see him being awkward at a couple of obstacles, but in terms of jumping, it was his most accomplished performance.
Overall in terms of form Southfield Theatre has a bit to find with the leading protagonists which would be a worry. Then again, he may not have to be concerned about the likes of Coneygree and Don Poli if they don’t run here.
The doubt we’d have is how his jumping will hold-up in a fast run race? He’ll need to improve his raw form to score, also, but at least he comes here in good form and, the application of the noseband may eke out further improvement in his jumping. If he gets that right, on good ground, he can run well.
Neil Mulholland’s The Young Master was a horse surrounded by controversy earlier in the season. Having won the Badgers Ales Chase at Wincanton, despite not being qualified, the race and prize-money was eventually retracted. It was a sad state of affairs, a clerical error from those at Wetherbys costing connections over £34,000.
It was good to see him score next time out at Ascot, however, in the Silver Cup Handicap Chase where he picked up over £56,000. It was a tonic for his owner and trainer, but, potentially, a greater one lies in winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.
The market suggests he holds a leading chance and, should Coneygree and Don Poli not run here, the son of Echo Of Light would be nearing favouritism. It’s an amazing story, from start to finish.
While he was surrounded in controversy earlier in the season, his pedigree suggests he hadn’t a prayer of winning a race under national hunt rules, never mind a RSA. It’s nearly freakish truth be told, that a son of a Group 2-winning miler has won over three miles, and fences.
But since the switch to the National Hunt game, all he has done is thrive. He improved over hurdles, but the six-year-old has really upped his game jumping fences where, if he hadn’t been disqualified for ‘winning’ the Badger Ales, he’d be unbeaten.
While not jumping too clever at Cheltenham three runs back, he has really improved in this department since; no doubt the adding of Barry Geraghty being a key factor. At Ascot last time out he showed his stamina for three miles, albeit in a race that wasn’t run at an end-to-end gallop.
The only issue we have The Young Master is, is he good enough to win a Grade 1 Chase at the Cheltenham Festival? He jumps well, appears to stay and is young enough to be improving, but all his form is in handicaps. The gelding will meet much tougher opposition in March and, the fact he’ll run from a long lay-off is also off-putting. He’s a little hard to weigh-up, but deserves his place in the field.
Best of the Rest
Plenty of the remaining runners entered in the RSA are real head scratchers, just like Coneygree and Don Poli, in that we don’t know who and what will run where. Owner/trainer politics with regards the running of Gigginstown horses is making a selection in this race near impossible.
The vibes suggest Willie Mullins wants to run Don Poli in the National Hunt Chase, as he feels it’s the race best suited to him. We can see Mullins’s angle given Don Poli is a lazy sort who conserves his energy allowing him to stay. Given his extended break from the track, this may be the best option?
That said, it would also appear Mullins wants to split-up his classy battalion of novice chasers so they don’t run against each other. Again, from a training point of view that makes perfect sense. Why would you run your best horses against each other? The Carlow-based handler and his embarrassment of riches are now giving him major headaches.
With Un De Sceaux Arkle bound, working out in trip with Valseur Lido, Vautour and Don Poli is annoying the Irish Champion trainer. He clearly wants the above trio not to clash meaning Vautour goes to the JLT, Valseur Lido to the RSA and Don Poli to the National Hunt Chase.
However, Gigginstown have their hearts set on running Valseur Lido in the JLT (with Vautour, who is owned by Rich Ricci) and Don Poli in the RSA. While we feel Don Poli could easily take in the National Hunt Chase or the RSA, the JLT looks the right race for Valseur Lido.
Michael O’Leary’s outfit must also juggle other horses with other trainers. For example with Noel Meade, Gigginstown also have Very Wood and Wounded Warrior and the likelihood is they will avoid each other, too, but, the punters, and indeed the owners/trainer, don’t know where they will run. Can you see our predicament? It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
The BetBright Verdict
With doubts about Coneygree and Don Poli running here suggesting an ante-post bet on the either one can’t be done. If one or both run they looks comfortably clear of the chasing pack. The one worry with Coneygree would be quick ground while one concern about Don Poli would be that he hasn’t run since Christmas.
Wounded Warrior would be of interest at 25/1 if we knew this was his likely destination. Cut in the ground will help him. Noel Meade’s other entry, Very Wood, and last year’s Albert Bartlett winner also takes the eye at 20/1, but again, we don’t know if he will line-up in this race. Wherever he goes, the better the going the better his chance.
At this moment in time, it looks safe to stick with the trio of Kings Palace, Southfield Theatre and The Young Master.
There is little between the three on official handicap ratings. As named above, respectively, the BHA go 156, 154 and 151. With the aforementioned pair having the stronger form and being that year older The Young Master is the horse will put to the side here.
Neil Mulholland’s inmate has had a fantastic season so far, but the fact all is form has come in handicap company is a concern. Six-year-olds also have a far weaker record in the RSA than seven-year-olds, and, that tied in with his flat pedigree, means this may come a year too soon.
The call between Kings Palace and Southfield Theatre is a trickier one to make. At the prices, given his better Cheltenham Festival record, we’re going to suggest a tentative each-way bet on SOUTHFIELD THEATRE. The worry with him is his jumping, but the application of a noseband last time out appeared to improve his jumping.
Like Kings Palace, the Paul Nicholls horse is a forward-going type, but crucially, he appears to be more relaxed. This may prove vital on the climb to the line – better energy distribution – as Kings Palace can be keener than ideal sometimes.
We wonder will the Festival atmosphere get David Pipe’s horse more on his toes pre-race meaning, he wastes valuable energy. With Southfield Theatre being a bigger price, we’ll stick with the Nicholls runner.
We must stress it’s a tentative selection given we don’t know the race Coneygree or Don Poli will run in. They are the class acts of this field.
0.75pt each-way SOUTHFIELD THEATRE @8/1
The RSA Chase goes off at 14.05 on Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 11th.