Originally established in 1946 as the Broadway Novices’ Chase, the RSA Chase has grown in stature to become one of the highlights of the second day of the Cheltenham Festival each March. It is a Class A Grade 1 chase that covers three miles and half a furlong on the left-handed turf of the Old Course, featuring jumps over nineteen fences.
Open to novices aged five years and older, the weight to be carried by five-year-olds is 11 stone 3 pounds, while horses aged six and up are allotted an additional pound. The allowance for mares is seven pounds. Although as many as 30 starters appeared in 1986 and as few as eight in 1993, present-day fields tend toward the current safety limit of 20.
This has been a sponsored event since the mid-1960s. The Tote took up the title role from 1964 to 1973 and called the race the Totalisator Champion Novices’ Chase. Its subsequent backer was Sun Alliance in 1974~96, which continued after a merger as Royal & SunAlliance in 1997~2008.
When the company evolved into the RSA Insurance Group in 2009, the event’s name was changed once again, this time to its current designation—the RSA Chase. The London-based insurance company is one of Cheltenham’s longest-running sponsors and was the first outside racing to back an event at the Festival.
In over six decades of contests, the jockey with the most RSA Chase wins—five of them in total—was Pat Taaffe (1930~1992). His first victory came aboard Coneyburrow in 1953 and his last on Proud Tarquin in 1970, but he is best remembered as the rider of Arkle, winning this race with his customary championship form in 1963 at odds of 4/9. He also crossed the line first on Solfen in 1960 and Grallagh Cnoc in 1961.
Other notable riders at the RISA Chase include two-time winners Richard Dunwoody (1997/1998) and Ruby Walsh (2007/2009). And no one will ever forget eight-time Champion Jockey Peter Scudamore, who pulled off a hat-trick in this race from 1991 to 1993 atop Rolling Ball, Miinnehoma, and Young Hustler.
Among trainers, Fulke Walwyn claimed the most RSA Chase wins with four. They include the 1948 division-two winner Mountain Prince followed by On View in 1951, Glenbeigh in 1954, and Mandarin in 1957. More recently, Willie Mullins has trained three winners: Florida Pearl (1998), Rule Supreme (2004), and Cooldine (2009).
No horse has ever repeated here in the winner’s circle. Although favourites have won three of the last four runnings, shocks are certainly not unusual in the Chase’s history. Canny Danny in 1983 and Hussard Collonges in 2002 share the longest winning odds at 33/1. Mullins’ Rule Supreme came home at 25/1 in 2004.
A total purse of £130,000 has been established for the 2011 running, down somewhat from a high of £150,000. The 2010 winner, Weapon’s Amnesty, rode away with £85,515 from the prize pool and paid 10/1.
Experience counts in the RSA Chase, as indicated by some telling statistics. All of the most recent eleven winners had raced over fences at least three times in the past. Of the last 23 winners, all but one finished first or second the last time out.
When it comes to ages, the seven- and eight-year-olds fare best here, winning 14 of the last 16 runnings. Only a brace of six-year-olds have triumphed since 1978, although there has been one five-year-old winner—the Paul Nicholls-trained Star De Mohaison in 2006.
This run over the Old Course is a tough venue for novice chasers. A fast pace is always expected, and stamina is a huge factor in deciding which horse will be in position to challenge on the final uphill run. In fact, the RSA Chase has such a reputation for difficulty among trainers that many are passing it by to target other events later in the year for their best staying novices.
That said, seven horses have won both the RSA Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup since 1959. It is a true test of champions and well deserving of the respect it is accorded.