Cheltenham tips: Ruby Walsh and Frank Hickey reveal antepost picks for Festival Novices’ Chase

The Festival Novices' Chase is one of the highlights of Wednesday at the Cheltenham Festival

Ruby Walsh & Frank Hickey

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Ruby Walsh and Frank Hickey have taken an early look at what was formerly known as the RSA Chase ahead of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival – where Paddy Power is non-runner money back on all races.

Speaking on the second episode of the special Countdown To Cheltenham podcast, our dynamic duo analysed the antepost market ahead of the extended 3m Festival Novices’ Chase.

You can listen to the full show BELOW.

Ruby Walsh

The Festival Novices’ Chase (fomerly the RSA Chase) has this hoodoo about it, that horses aren’t quite the same after they run in it, but I’m not sure about all that. Florida Pearl won it, and won a lot of big races after, but didn’t quite get the trip in the Gold Cup. I won the RSA on Cooldine, and he didn’t go on to win too many races after but it certainly didn’t affect Denman.

Topofthegame beat Santini and Delta Work in 2019, and it didn’t do either of those any harm. We haven’t seen Topofthegame since, but he got injured, and we haven’t seen 2020 winner Champ but it hasn’t harmed Minella Indo and Allaho. People always say things like this about different races, but I wouldn’t mind owning the winner of the Festival Novices’ Chase leaving Cheltenham.

Champ came from way off the pace last year, where stamina won it for him. You need to stay. If you don’t stay, you get found out – and Allaho got found out last year.

Champ Barry Geraghty Cheltenham March 11, 2020



MONKFISH is a very polished chaser already, and he does everything that you would want a horse to do. He’s a good jumper, he travels nicely and his times are favourable compared to the Savills Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas. You have to like what he’s done. He beat LATEST EXHIBITION in the Albert Bartlett last year and then again in the Neville Hotels Chase. Everything Monkfish does, he seems to do right.

If you look back at last year’s Albert Bartlett, the one thing he did wrong was that he raced a bit keenly – he was in Paul Townend’s hands all the way. Again, he did make it all in the Neville Chase and I imagine he will be ridden good and close to the pace, letting him gallop along. NEXT DESTINATION, Latest Exhibition and maybe even PENCILFULLOFLEAD will provide more meaningful opposition to him in this than Envoi Allen is going to have in the Marsh Chase.

He will have to come back to 2m 5f for the Dublin Racing Festival and the Flogas Novice Steeplechase on the Sunday, but he has started working with all the other horses for that weekend so I don’t see why he won’t go there.


Frank Hickey

THE BIG BREAKAWAY is the biggest loser in the antepost book for Paddy at this stage while MONKFISH is the second biggest. They’re the two that most people have been interested in. I wouldn’t be that worried about The Big Breakaway but Monkfish has been backed at as big as 12/1 earlier in the season so some people are sitting on some very nice dockets.

Since we’ve gone non-runner, money back the best-backed horse is PENCILFULLOFLEAD. He’s the only real loser in the non-runner, money back book which is interesting.

I think it was one of the better Albert Bartlett contest last season, and the runners have done plenty for the form. Thyme Hill has been doing really well in staying hurdle races, while Fury Road has been a little disappointing at Leopardstown but he has run disappointingly there before and gone to Cheltenham and run well, so I wouldn’t give up on him.

Monkfish has got the better of LATEST EXHIBITION twice now – can he make it a hat-trick? Probably. A lot of people are putting up Latest Exhibition each-way, particularly on non-runner, money back. You can see the case for him, but it’s very hard to see him reversing the form.


Looking for a bet at this stage, the one that makes a bit of appeal at the prices is Pencilfulloflead. An interesting thing to consider is Gordon Elliott’s record in the race. Considering his record with staying chasers – he’s won a Gold Cup and several Grand Nationals while he’s won the National Hunt Chase three or four times – he’s never won the RSA.

In 2020 Battleoverdoyen was fourth at 7/1, Delta Work was third at 15/8 in 2019, he had Dounikos pulled up in 2018, No More Heroes was fourth when 5/2 second-favourite in 2016, Don Cossack fell in 2014 and Jessies Dream went close – beaten a neck by Bostons Angel – in 2011.

Pencilfulloflead only made his debut in a bumper at Down Royal in November 2019 and did win that day. He had three runs over hurdles last year, finishing second well-beaten behind Asterion Forlonge over 2m at Naas and then won at Punchestown when stepping up to 2m6f. He ended the season with a fourth, beaten three lengths in a novice hurdle at Navan but he’s definitely improved for going chasing.


He began the season winning a beginners chase at Galway over 2m 6f in a race which the likes of Battleoverdoyen, Presenting Percy, Don Cossack and Last Instalment have all won in the past. He followed that with a comprehensive defeat of Latest Exhibition in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novices Chase at Punchestown in November. Court Maid was back in fourth and has franked the form so it looked a really good renewal. He was then dropped to 2m 4f at Limerick for the Grade 1, but was just never in his comfort zone at that trip.

He was being niggled along for most of the way and his jumping was a little bit sticky, but he was only beaten a half length by Colreevy. He’ll need to improve but the step up in trip will definitely help. At 16/1, with non-runner, money back, he’s the interesting one.

ROYALE PAGAILLE is a massive player in this race, even just on figures alone. He’s bolted up off a rating of 156 at the weekend. It wasn’t the strongest renewal, particularly with Sam Brown coming out of the race. If he had won in that fashion, with Sam Brown second, you could really say there is substance to the form.

But on pure numbers, he will go up to a mark of 165 and that could win the RSA every single year. But I imagine the only way he will end up running in this race, if something happens to Monkfish as Rich Ricci owns both

RSA Chase bet summary – Wednesday, March 11

Ruby Walsh – Monkfish

Frank Hickey – Pencilfulloflead

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