TOPOFTHEGAME - THE NEW DENMAN?
Ditcheat trainer Paul Nicholls evoked memories of the great Denman when describing 4/1 shot Topofthegame, who produced a superb performance to land the £175,000 G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase.
Ridden brilliantly by Harry Cobden, the imposing son of Flemensfirth, jumped superbly throughout the three-mile event and travelled powerfully into contention entering the home straight.
Topofthegame produced a superb leap at the last and kept on gamely up the Cheltenham hill to see off the persistent Santini (3/1), trained by Nicky Henderson in a thrilling finish to score by a half-length. Gordon Elliott's Delta Work, the 15/8 favourite, was a further length and three-quarters behind in third.
Topofthegame, owned by Paul Barber and Chris Giles, runs in the colours of Denman, who landed the 2007 RSA Chase, before going on to capture Jump racing's Blue Riband event, the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2008.
Nicholls, registering his 44th winner at The Festival overall, his first of the week and his third success in the RSA Chase (Star De Mohaison 2006 & Denman 2007), said: "Topfothegame is a very smart horse. He has not been the easiest to train but, on his day, he is good. I haven't said too much to Harry about how to ride him - I left it to him and just told him to take his time whatever he does - and he gave the horse an absolutely brilliant ride.
"I think if you replayed the Kempton race [second, Kauto Star Novices' Chase], he would probably win. That's taking nothing away from the winner but that's racing - Harry is learning all the time and the horse is a still a big baby, who is learning now.
"He is nearly 18 hands, he is massive, and is not the easiest to train because he is a light horse. I didn't want to go to the Reynoldstown, give him a hard race and leave it behind there.
"I just had to try and get the balance right - get him ready for here and not too light - and we have always believed that he would be a serious, serious horse.
"I knew the plan, I knew what Harry would do and have one go, and it just opened up nicely for him. He jumped really, really well just in behind, which was a brave route to go as you don't want anything to go wrong.
"That jump at the last showed how much energy he had left in the tank. He still doesn't do a whole heap in front but he did enough."
"For Paul Barber and Chris Giles, today was the only day that we trained him for. The next target will be the Gold Cup next year. Like Clan and those other young horses that we have got, it's really exciting to have them but Rome wasn't built in a day and we have to let them develop quietly."
Discussing Topofthegame's similarities with the mighty Denman, nicknamed "The Tank", Nicholls continued: "He is not unlike Denman. We're really excited to have him. He is rated pretty much the same as Denman was at this stage of his career. Denman was a grinder and this horse has plenty of boot. He travels well and jumps well - he is only going to get better."
Topfothegame earned a quote of 8/1 with Paddy Power for next year's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
2.10pm RSA Insurance Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 3m 80y
1 Topofthegame (Paul Barber & Chris Giles) Paul Nicholls 7-11-04 Harry Cobden 4/1
2 Santini (Richard & Lizzie Kelvin-Hughes) Nicky Henderson 7-11-04 Nico de Boinville 3/1
3 Delta Work (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott IRE 6-11-04 Davy Russell 15/8f
Time: 6m 17.26s
Distances: ½, 1¾
Tote Win: £4.30 Places: £1.60, £1.50, £1.60 Exacta: £14.90
Paul Nicholls - 44th winner at The Festival
Harry Cobden - 2nd winner at The Festival
COBDEN ON TOPOFTHEGAME
Topofthegame's G1 £175,000 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase victory got jockey Harry Cobden off the mark for The Festival™ presented by Magners 2019. It was his second Festival winner - he rode Kilbricken Storm to take the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle in 2018 for Colin Tizzard - and his first for his retained stable, that of Paul Nicholls.
The Nicholls-trained seven-year-old, a 4/1 chance, won by half a length from Santini, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville.
It was Topofthegame's second Festival appearance - he was only beaten a neck in the Coral Cup last year.
Cobden said: "I didn't want to get there too soon.
"Topofthegame travelled into the race great and I wanted to make sure I got two good jumps, and that's what I got, then he galloped up that hill. He won really well. He winged the last couple of fences, and he's only just got the confidence to do that - before he'd find a way to back out of it. He got it right at the last and it probably sealed the deal.
"We've done a lot of schooling at home and outside, and he seems a different horse to Kempton [he finished second in the G1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase on Boxing Day]. It was probably just immaturity that got him beaten that day, rather than getting there too soon. Today he galloped right the way to the line. He's changed a lot mentally. There were no signs of him stopping today. He's a top staying novice, isn't he, and jumping like a really good horse now.
"He is a beast; probably the biggest horse I have ridden. He's only just growing into himself and improving all the time. We have got a lot of good horses back home now, and it is lovely for the owners, Chris Giles and Mr Barber."
BARBER THRILLED BY TOP
Paul Barber, the proud joint owner of the Paul Nicholls-trained Topofthegame (4/1), the half-length the winner of the 2019 renewal of the G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase,spoke about the race in the winner's enclosure.
"Harry[Cobden jockey] did it to perfection! I couldn't have done it better myself." stated Barber.
"I have enjoyed every second of the race, I have a few people here, and I am absolutely thrilled.
"He was going so well. He is so big and he just lollops along, pops over the fences. He made it look easy.
"We didn't want to hit the front too soon because he can nod his head in the air and say I have done the lot.
"Anthony Bromley bought him at the sales at Liverpool.
"We have had a very lucky time with him and I can't wait to walk up for the prize."
Asked about Topofthegame going for the Magners Gold Cup in 2020, Barber said: "I have got one this year (Clan Des Obeaux). We will see what happens, let's hope he is in one piece tomorrow, then the next day, the next week, next year. You know how difficult to keep these horses in one piece.
"Topofthegame is 17.3 hands. I can't measure him - I can measure all the other horses, but he is too tall for me."
SANTINI RUNS SO WELL AFTER FOOT ISSUES
Britain pulled a one-two back on Ireland in the 888 Prestbury Cup when the Paul Nicholls-trained Topofthegame held off a sustained bid from Santini, representing Nicky Henderson's stable, in the G1 RSA Novices' Chase.
That took the score between the two countries to 5 - 4 in Ireland's favour.
Santini (3/1) has been suffering from some well-publicised foot problems since pulling a shoe off in a work session at Newbury ten days ago, and he lost the same shoe during today's race, in which he finished half a length behind the 4/1 winner. A further length and three-quarters behind was Delta Work (15/8f).
Henderson said of Santini: "It's been a very long 10 days, but we got here, and that was thanks to everybody who did a brilliant job at home. We have no excuses, but it's not been easy and it's not been an ideal preparation.
"After the Feltham [in which Santini finished second, one place behind Topofthegame] we all said these are the two horses who could be for the RSA. He's a lovely big horse and his life is in front of him."
Nico De Boinville: "He's run well, jumped well and did everything right. I'm pleased with that."
ELLIOTT'S SPIRITS LIFTED BY DELTA WORK'S FINE THIRD
Gordon Elliott had a disappointing first day at Cheltenham, and saw the strongly-fancied Battleoverdoyen (3/1 favourite) pulled up in the opening race of day two, but his spirits were lifted considerably by the close third behind two market rivals of Delta Work (15/8 favourite) in the G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase.
Elliott, who has topped the trainers' table at the last two Festivals, said: "We are in the winner's enclosure after a rough week, so it feels like a winner just getting in here. It's a long week though and we'll keep our heads up and keep going.
"He's a nice horse and he didn't disgrace himself."
This looked a particularly hot RSA Chase and jockey Davy Russell agreed.
Russell, who was top jockey at last year's Festival but is still awaiting his first winner of 2019, said: "It was a competitive race and the main protagonists battled it out. His jumping was a bit sloppy at times, but he's still a novice and there's plenty of time to work on it."
Colin Tizzard was delighted with fourth-placed Mister Malarky, who has improved no end this season. He said: "He's a stayer and has improved massively over the season. It's almost unbelievable what he's doing now compared to what he was doing last season.
"He's got great wind and he stayed on behind some very good horses. He beat some good horses too. We are happy to be in the winner's enclosure after a very good RSA. Robbie (Power) thought he'd improved from Ascot, and I think so too."
The going changed before the first race to Soft, Good to Soft in places (from Soft)