It is hard to believe that 11 Cheltenham Festivals have passed since the mighty Denman provided Paul Nicholls with a second straight success in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase. The wait for a third win in the race for the master of Ditcheat may soon come to an end, with the deeply promising Topofthegame fancied in a fascinating renewal of the race.
In the key Boxing Day trial, the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (named after another legendary Nicholls chaser), Topofthegame split the pair of unbeaten and now dual Grade One-winning mare La Bague Au Roi and current RSA favourite Santini.
Held in high regard by champion trainer Nicky Henderson, Santini was said by many to have run the ideal prep race in finishing a staying-on third. Indeed, there is little doubt based on that evidence that the stiffer test of Cheltenham should suit Santini.
A further look at the race, however, shows that Topofthegame travelled easily the best and probably got there soon enough for such an inexperienced horse by leading three out – only to be headed by the eventual winner after an error at the last. Topofthegame’s odds of 7/1 are heavily influenced by some doubting his stamina for 3m after Kempton. In a stronger run race with a bigger field at Cheltenham, however, his strong travelling and bold jumping should stand him in good stead and allow Harry Cobden to deliver him later in the contest.
On chase debut, Topofthegame gave the field fully 20 lengths at the start, running quite a remarkable race to finish just three-and-a-half lengths adrift of subsequent Grade One winner Defi Du Seuil at Exeter. That was a run praised by social betting network betconnect, which allows bettors to follow the advice and selections of pro punters when choosing runners and riders. Further strong evidence in his favour can be found at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, where he ran an excellent race in finishing second in the Coral Cup (2m5f) over hurdles and he also won over 2m7½f at Sandown in deep ground earlier in the campaign, further suggesting that stamina doubts were ill-founded.
Although we’re still over four weeks until the Cheltenham Festival itself, the advice is to back Topofthegame now. With La Bague Au Roi likely to go to Aintree and several others also engaged in the JLT a day later, he looks likely to be near the head of the market. He holds an entry in Ascot’s Reynoldstown but it appears as though that event will be passed over as Nicholls sends his young star straight to Cheltenham.
Delta Work for the all-conquering Gordon Elliott heads the Irish challenge. The winner of last year’s Pertemps Final at the festival, Delta Work is three-from-three over fences. He beat subsequent dual Grade One winner Le Richebourg over 2m4f early in December and gained his second Grade One next up over 3m at Leopardstown. Holes, therefore, are hard to pick in Delta Work’s form, but his jumping hasn’t always been fluent. The hustle and bustle of the RSA on the undulating Prestbury Park course will find any chinks in this department, and that is the nagging doubt over him.
Source: Harry Derham via Twitter
In what promises to be one of the races of the festival, Topofthegame is selected to come out on top for Paul Nicholls ahead of the more fancied duo Santini and Delta Work.