Matt Brocklebank has already nailed 33/1 and 12/1 winners this National Hunt season and kicks off his 2019 Cheltenham Festival portfolio with a bet in the RSA Chase - Sky Bet have enhanced the NRNB price to 16/1.
Recommended bets: RSA Chase, March 13
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Testing times for ante-post players on the National Hunt scene, but not impossible times.
The favourite for the Unibet Champion Hurdle is 6/4 at best despite bombing out at 1/4 in the Christmas Hurdle and the favourite for the Magners Gold Cup is just 9/2 with a single firm, having yet to be sighted in public this season at the time of writing.
Other major races at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival are in a state of flux, at best – the Racing Post Arkle looking a mess and the head of the Sky Bet Supreme market a myriad of Nicky Henderson prospects, who aren’t particularly easy to rank at this stage in the season.
A handful of firms offering the non-runner no-bet concession is something of a safety net, but that in turn squeezes prices all over the place and identifying those retaining a bit of juice becomes even harder.
The Dublin Racing Festival, two days of top-class action at Leopardstown at the start of February, will shed more light and obviously reveal a great deal when it comes to the merits of the Irish challenge in general, but the temptation is to focus on a particular Cheltenham race which appears to have taken plenty of shape already – namely the RSA Chase.
Delta Work, last year’s Pertemps Final winner, has taken to fences superbly this season and is already challenging for favouritism here.
However, there’s not a great deal more he can do in the Flogas at Leopardstown next month to force his price in any shorter and 5/1 is probably already tight enough given he clearly also has the option of the National Hunt Chase at the Festival.
Trainer Gordon Elliott has referred to Delta Work as “bone idle” and while that probably means we’ve yet to see the very best of him, it also lends itself to the idea of him being perfectly suited to the extended four-mile trip of the National Hunt Chase. It will be very interesting to see how the rest of his campaign plays out.
In Britain, Santini and Topofthegame look nailed on to be aimed here and their Kauto Star Novices’ Chase form could be given a big boost if La Bague Au Roi – who is being campaigned with Aintree at the forefront of her spring plans – manages to beat Delta Work at Leopardstown.
Both showed themselves to be high-class chase prospects in the Kauto Star – Santini reaching top gear all too late in the piece off a relatively slow gallop, and Topofthegame looking novicey when asked to go and pull the trigger with La Bague Au Roi seemingly at his mercy approaching the last.
His antics at Exeter on his seasonal return underline the notion Topofthegame still has some maturing to do and while Paul Nicholls is certain to extract the very best from him before long, we might not really get to see him reach maturity until races such as next season’s Ladbrokes Trophy, and beyond.
With Santini so skinny in the betting (generally 3/1), Topofthegame a significant work in progress and La Bague Au Roi set to be rerouted, the obvious home hope is VINNDICATION, who appears as much of a future Gold Cup contender as all of the above and is still available at 16/1 (General, NRNB Sky Bet) for the RSA.
He's only six – Don Poli (2015) is the only six-year-old winner since Star De Mohaison (aged five) struck in 2006, while another potential negative being levelled at Kim Bailey’s challenger is the fact he’s yet to race at Cheltenham, or on any left-handed track for that matter.
Bailey claims that to be coincidental more than anything and the inclination is to agree with him.
Vinndication is unbeaten from six racecourse appearances, starting in a Ludlow bumper over two miles, featuring novice hurdle victories over Champ (when conceding 6lb) and Western Ryder, and most recently taking his chase record to 2-2 in the Grade Two Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot.
That came over two miles, five furlongs – as far as he’s gone over hurdles or fences – but the way in which he goes about his business strongly suggests he’s crying out for three miles and will improve for it when his stamina is thoroughly tested.
That will have to wait for Cheltenham as a clash with Plumpton scorer Master Dino is first up in the Scilly Isles at Sandown. It’s an exciting potential match-up but Vinndication looks more than ready for that kind of examination and the current RSA prices will be long gone if he comes through that with the unblemished record still intact.
Elsewhere, Ok Corral still has a little way to go to match the form of the aforementioned contenders, but his chasing debut victory at Plumpton was promising to say the least.
Very lightly raced for a nine-year-old, he wasn’t too far off the best staying novice hurdlers around last season (second in the Albert Bartlett) and he could take high rank if everything continues to go to plan.
What that plan is exactly, is unlikely to be known until the week before the Festival, though, and it’s the fear of a switch to the four-miler, or one of the handicaps, which puts me off him at 25/1 (the 14s NRNB makes only limited appeal).
Delta Work is clearly the standout from Ireland but Joseph O’Brien’s Mortal – in the same Gigginstown House ownership – was seemingly about to give him a real race before a bad blunder at the last in the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase over Christmas.
He’s been a slow burner since winning a Limerick bumper on debut in March 2017 but he’s another to have blossomed for the switch to the larger obstacles, having beaten Any Second Now first time out at Fairyhouse – there were 15 lengths back to the third that day.
There’s more to come from him at the highest level and he looks less likely to be stepped up to four miles this term. The 20/1 with Betfair/Paddy Power is perfectly reasonable, but he doesn’t quite possess the same level of potential as the unbeaten Vinndication, who looks a good place to kick-off the Festival portfolio.
Posted at 1300 GMT on 07/01/19.