The Down Royal Champion Chase, the first Grade 1 of the British and Irish jumps season, takes place on Saturday (14:25).
The exciting Delta Work looks a worthy market leader to get the better of Clan Des Obeaux in the prestigious 3m contest.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Don Cossack and Kauto Star feature on an illustrious roll of honour for the Down Royal contest, and leading owners Gigginstown House Stud have three of the five runners in this year’s renewal.
The clear pick is the Gordon Elliott trained Delta Work, a winner of the Pertemps Final at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, who developed into one of the best novice staying chasers last season when winning four of his five starts.
After showing a willing attitude to beat Niven by three-quarters of a length on this card 12 months ago, the six-year-old took the scalp of the highly regarded Le Richebourg by half-a-length in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices’ Chase over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse.
Delta Work then relished the step up to the 3m trip of this when landing the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown, where he put in an assured round of jumping and forged clear to easily beat Mortal by eight lengths.
Gold Cup contender in the making
That taking success saw the son of Network sent off the 15/8 favourite for the RSA Chase at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and he ran a cracker to finish third to Topofthegame in what was a red-hot renewal.
Delta Work got headed at the second last, but was rallying when getting slightly checked approaching the final fence. He then had to be switched and kept on well to go down by just over two lengths.
It was a fine effort in defeat and he went on to round off the campaign with an easy 12-length success over Discorama in a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival.
Those efforts marked out Delta Work as a potential contender for the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup and he is currently a top-price 12/1 for chasing’s blue riband contest next March.
Although officially rated 7lb inferior to Clan Des Obeaux, he remains open to stacks more improvement and hails from a yard in good form that won five races at Down Royal on Friday.
So, taking everything into account, Delta Work is taken to land the spoils at 15/8 with BetVictor and further enhance his Gold Cup claims.
Clan Des Obeaux top on ratings
Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls is the most successful in the history of the Down Royal Champion Chase, having won it four times courtesy of Taranis (2007), Kauto Star (2008 and 2010) and Kauto Stone (2012).
His sole representative is the classy Clan Des Obeaux whose official rating of 170 is the highest in the line-up. It gives him 4lb and upwards in hand on his rivals.
This seven-year-old enjoyed his finest hour last season when beating Thistlecrack by 1 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton.
Clan Des Obeaux challenged on the bit three from home and, after taking up the running approaching the last, only had to be driven out to register a cosy success.
He was value for more than the winning margin and the front two pulled 12 lengths clear of the third home, so the form has a rock solid look to it.
The son of Kapgarde then followed-up in effortless fashion in the rearranged Grade 2 Denman Chase at Ascot when quickening clear to slam Terrefort, who is a very smart performer himself, by 11 lengths.
Clan Des Obeaux then seemingly found 3m 2f beyond him when fifth of 16 to Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, before finding Kemboy nine lengths too good in the Grade 1 Betway Bowl when down in trip at the Aintree Grand National Festival.
There is no doubt that on the pick of his form he is a massive player in this. However, runners from the yard have tended to need their first outing this season – so, for that reason alone, Clan Des Obeaux looks worth taking on at a best-price 9/4 with Ladbrokes.
Road To Respect bidding to retain Down Royal Champion Chase crown
Road To Respect ran out the easy 16-length winner of this 12 months ago and is a 7/2 shot with Paddy Power to retain his crown.
This Noel Meade trained eight-year-old, who also carries the famous maroon and white silks of Gigginstown, finished an excellent fourth to Native River in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup and went on to post some really solid efforts in defeat after his victory here last term.
In the first of those, Road To Respect shaped far better than the bare result suggest when a 7 3/4 lengths third to Kemboy in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown.
The son of Gamut stumbled badly and nearly came down after jumping three out, before keeping on strongly from an uncompromising position to be gaining all the way to the line.
Road To Respect then went down all guns blazing when beaten a short-head by Bellshill in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at the same venue, before posting a fine effort when a three-length third to Frodon in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Once again his cause was not helped by a bad blunder three from home when travelling well.
Although then not at his best when behind Clan Des Obeaux when fifth in the Betway Bowl, Road To Respect could well have been feeling the effect of some hard races.
He has a tremendous record fresh, so is likely to be tuned up for this by his handler, who has a superb strike rate with his runners at the venue in the past 12 months.
Road To Respect is also the second-highest rated in the race off 166, so it’d be folly to underestimate his chances. A bold bid of keeping his Down Royal Champion Chase title looks assured.