Fingal Bay: 11-8 favourite to win the opening race at CheltenhamPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
RSA stars set for Open meeting curtain raiser
CHELTENHAM'S Open meeting starts on Friday with a thrilling contest between Britain's two leading hopes for the RSA Chase, Fingal Bay and Dynaste.
The Steel Plate And Sections Novices' Chase boasts an extremely rich past but its latest running looks more than up to scratch with the big two being joined by a former Cheltenham Festival winner over hurdles in Carlito Brigante, a highly-regarded Paul Nicholls import from France named Unioniste, and a far-from-useless resident of Jackdaws Castle, Thehillofuisneach.
It is, however, Fingal Bay and Dynaste on which most of the pre-race attention will focus given that they already trade no bigger than 10-1 and 14-1 respectively for the novices' Gold Cup.
Of the pair, only Fingal Bay has jumped a fence in public with the Grade 1-winning hurdler having got off to a fine start at Chepstow in October.
"He seems in very good form," said trainer Philip Hobbs. "He jumped really well first time out at Chepstow and we were very happy with that but it obviously doesn't help that we're giving weight to a horse like Dynaste."
Fingal Bay does indeed concede 5lb to Dynaste, who tried unsuccessfully to beat Big Buck's on three occasions last term but nonetheless revealed himself to be a high-class performer.
Trainer David Pipe, who won the race 12 months ago with Grands Crus, said: "He was obviously a very good hurdler and we hope he'll be as good a chaser, if not better. He's schooled well at home. It's a hot race with Fingal Bay and Unioniste but two and a half miles is a good starting point, although he'll eventually get three miles."
As most definitely will Unioniste, in whom John Hales invested some of his own John Smith's Grand National winnings prior to the four-year-old's solid victory at Aintree, where Carlito Brigante - a winner over fences at Cheltenham last month - was 30 lengths back in fourth.
Nicholls said: "A lot of the fences were bypassed at Aintree, which was a shame as he jumps really well. He also stays well and he'll want to go over further in time but this is an ideal race for him now. He's already beaten Carlito Brigante but Fingal Bay and Dynaste are tough opponents."
Read previews for all the Channel 4 Racing action in Friday's Racing Post - plus get the day's best bets from Pricewise's Tom Segal