Denman and Bobs Worth are just some of the subsequent Gold Cup victors to land the Festival highlight for the staying novices in recent years, while Santini and Delta Work – second and third last year - might just have a big say in the blue riband in March.
Who wins the Grade One contest this time?
We consider five key questions before the Cheltenham showdown, live on Racing TV on March 11.
Is Champ a worthy favourite?
It is hard to knock the horse named after 20-time champion jockey A P McCoy given a glance at his form figures, while this Grade One winner over hurdles has ultimately taken well to fences.
We could be looking at an unbeaten chaser too as he was jumping the best he has so far last time out before crashing out at the penultimate fence when well on top in the Grade Two Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Champ looked set to win the Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham before falling
Champ is unbeaten over three miles and is seemingly unexposed at staying trips. But is 3m1f in the RSA the test he really wants?
His Grade One win at Aintree was impressive after settling the best he ever had to that point, but that race was steadily-run. This season, he looked like running out late on his second chase start at Newbury but showed real agility and essentially speed to correct himself and win going away when seemingly in trouble.
Nicky Henderson had a team deep in novice hurdle talent last season with subsequent ramifications on how to best deploy his arsenal at Cheltenham, yet Champ was firmly set for the Ballymore throughout and he was presumably seen as a speedier type with plenty of boot.
I am not sure much has changed this campaign, and while RSA winners need class, he doe not look the more ‘lumbering’ type for an examining test in the RSA. Champ was beaten by a keen-going City Island last season in the Ballymore when travelling best and that lingers in the mind, too.
Champ’s fall last time was unfortunate. It was a novicey mistake from a lack of concentration rather than issues hinting at technical deficiencies questioning his aptitude for chasing.
However, that in itself is hardly ideal and no horse has won the RSA after falling on their subsequent star (12 have tried).
Eight-year-olds don’t have a tremendous record here either, with 3 winners from 53 runners and this age bracket performing below market expectation (0.83 A/E). However, Might Bite was a winning eight-year-old favourite for the same stable three years ago.
How is the Irish challenge shaping up?
Minella Indo (7-1) takes top billing in the ante-post market. The dual Grade One winner was successful at the Festival last year and got off the mark over fences last time out.
This stout stayer’s jumping has proved more than adequate so far, though he didn’t impress all observers with a workmanlike success at Navan last time after missing his assignment at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival because of drying ground.
Minella Indo has been trained with the RSA in mind all season and his trainer suggests he needs a few runs to get fit.
He is highly likely to improve again, but he is light on experience with just seven starts under rules. Ultimately, he is just the winner of a Beginners’ Chase so far and you would like a shade more substance about him at this stage, despite his exploits over timber last term.
Battleoverdoyen (8-1) has achieved significantly more as an unbeaten Grade One winner over fences, and he beat far more experienced rivals – including 150-rated Festival winner Any Second Now – on his second chase start at Punchestown.
Of the top market contenders, the seven-year-old has the most solid profile over fences and he is adept on quicker ground, as well as slower conditions. He is a smooth, easy and no-nonsense jumper with scope, able to correct himself in close and equally adept at flying over fences when seeing a stride. He can make the running plus he can also take a lead.
Perhaps his price is being held up by his finishing effort at Punchestown and, to a greater extent, at Leopardstown last time. Seemingly all-out from Champagne Classic, he was reported to be blowing after that race. The runner-up has shaped promisingly in two starts this term and looks a live candidate for the National Hunt Chase.
Another run at Grade One level at the Dublin Racing Festival would appeal even more with an RSA profile in mind, but Battleoverdoyen did blow out spectacularly at Cheltenham last year and that’s harder to forgive. Gordon Elliott’s string were not fully firing at the last Festival, but that performance is still a big question mark.
Allaho jumped left but shaped nicely on his chase debut at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. He could potentially take a big step forward with many Willie Mullins runners needing their first outing this season.
Third in the Albert Bartlett last term, that was a fine effort early in his career and Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins were very bullish at the back-end of last season about his prospective chasing career.
Allaho is an exciting horse for the future but he is inexperienced. The record of six-year-olds does not inspire here, either – 2 winners from 42 runners, performing 60 per cent below market expectation (0.4 A/E). Florida Pearl did it, while Don Poli beat a small field in what subsequently proved a weak renewal in 2015.
Will the second-season novices make an impact?
Might Bite landed this race as a second-season novice in 2017 and we have two Grade One winners in different guises bidding to repeat the trick this time.
Slate House (12-1) is likely to arrive here after top-level success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and the horse blowing out miles from the finish in races last season is now a distant memory.
Our experts analyse Slate House's victory in the Kauto Star
His jumping has looked its quickest and most accurate in his last two starts and while an older, stronger horse after two bouts of wind surgery, Robbie Power’s cool, confidence-instilling style can’t be underestimated, and he is important in assessing the eight-year-old’s RSA chance.
While his eight chase starts may look off-putting, that sort of profile can’t be viewed as a negative for this race and he is improving plus producing strong form. He looks a stayer, should enjoy this test and looks overpriced.
Black Op (20-1) had an aborted chase campaign last season but did little wrong in hindsight, beaten by the subsequent JLT and RSA winners on debut at Exeter while never getting into a rhythm in the Dipper next time behind Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation.
His return at Stratford was significantly easier, but he looked sharper through the air and hit a lovely rhythm down the back in Grade Two company behind Champ at Newbury.
He rallied gamely after the last in the King George and the RSA promises to suit as a test. Slate House looked much the best despite the narrow margin of victory at Kempton and Black Op looks more of a place contender against this opposition.
Who is the bet at this stage?
Champ should travel well down the hill and is sure to be involved in the finish, but his price tells you that and he looks one to take on at the current quotes.
Let’s be honest, Battleovedoyen put up a terrible display in the Ballymore last season but his chasing feats this season read favourably among the current market protagonists and he looks slightly overpriced at 8-1.
Slate House has looked pretty good this season and may well have won the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham despite falling at the second last. He has achieved plenty over fences, certainly more than most here and the 12-1 does not reflect that.
Master Tommytucker might just prove something of a lurker at 33-1.
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