The RyanAir Chase, a partial replacement for the Cathcart, is the third race on the thrid day of the Festival. Initial fears the race would detract from the Queen Mother and Gold Cup fields have been dispelled, as the RyanAir Chase has been a complete success. It has shown in its five year existence to date, not only is there a crop of two and a half mile chasers but a number who specialize in such a trip. Open to 5yo’s and upwards, run over two miles and five furlongs and worth £250,000, let’s take a look through the main contenders of this years field.
Firstly, I am not a person who takes much interest in trends but even the most naïve of gamblers must know you can’t preview the Cheltenham Festival without outlining the key trends associated with each race. With that in mind:
1 winning favourite from 5 runs.
Paul Nicholls has saddled 2 of the 5 previous winners.
12 of the 15 horses to have won or placed came from the top 4 in the betting.
Only 3 of the 15 horses to have won or placed have been younger than 8.
With last year’s winner Gold Cup bound, the second and third return hoping to fair better. They are joined among others by the Irish Hennessey first and third, the Paddy Power front two and a representative for the Queen.
Lahint (USA) – Babolna (FR) (Tropular (UK)
Notes: A lightly raced French horse on the flat, he failed to set the world alight hurdling, but has developed into a nice chaser. Boasts a 50% strike rate, four wins from eight, since chasing, and three from five at Cheltenham. Favourite for lasts years Grand Annual, but to say he never landed a blow would be kind. However, since stepped up from two miles to two and a half, he has improved leaps and bounds. Opened the season with a comfortable success at the Prestbury Park venue and followed up by chasing home Tranquil Sea in the Paddy Power. Returned again in mid December to land a Grade 3 event without much trouble. Solid enough jumper, but I can’t make a clear case for him reversing the form with Tranquil Sea, and at the current prices, I think he is short enough.
Saddlers’ Hall (IRE) – Close Harmony (UK) (Bustino (UK)
Notes: Showed promise in his hurdling days, and finished a very close second to Big Bucks on chase debut. After highly tried in a three mile Grade 1, he found his feet chasing home Finger Onthe Pulse in a competitive listed event at Cheltenham, and returned there to chase home Imperial Commander in the Paddy Power, both over two and a half miles. Stepped back up in trip again, he took in a listed race on his way to a Gold Cup bid, but weakened in the closing stages of the Festival showpiece, to finish seventh. Beaten by Kauto Star, he was then beaten by Denman in the Hennessey, traveling as well as any, but fading away to finish fourth. The King George followed, where a solid enough third, but again stamina limitations were highlighted for all to see. Viewed by some as not quite top grade, I think that’s a mistake, and a drop back, to a trip that will clearly suit, makes him a serious contender.
Sea Raven (IRE) – Silver Valley (IRE) (Henbit (USA)
Notes: Useful hurdler who finished eighth in the Supreme two years ago, behind Captain Cee Bee. Caused a slight shock a month later when beating the talented Fiveforthree in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, when stepped up to two and half miles. Winner of a listed race on his first chasing appearance, he then struggled to land a blow in two Grade 1 events. Back at the Festival, he was a never nearer sixth in the Jewson. Back over two miles, he beat Joncol to win the Poplar Square Chase and a fortnight later, was a comfortable winner of the Paddy Power. Back in Grade 1 company, he was a well beaten second to Golden Silver and may have to settle for a similar position in this.
Bob’s Return (IRE) – Finemar Lady (IRE) (Montelimar (USA)
Notes: Lightly raced horse, which after showing good form in two NHF races, went straight to chasing. Winning his first three starts, including a Grade 2, he finished a close third in the Grade 1 three mile Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown. Solid second to Tranquil Sea in the two mile Poplar Square Chase, he won the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial over two and a half. Back up to three miles in the Lexus, he traveled like the winner and looked to indeed have it won, two from home, but was run down by What A Friend and Money Trix in the final half furlong. Two months on, and back at Leopardstown, he gained victory in the Irish Hennessey. Having traveled and jumped well, he joined Cooldine for a battle up the straight and came out on top strides before the line. Never raced outside Ireland and yet to encounter good ground, is respected by others preferred.
Joncol to skip the Festival in favour of Punchestown – 17.02.2010
Oscar Schindler (IRE) – Snipe Hunt (IRE) (Stalker (UK)
Notes: Dual Group 1 winner, and four times runner up, quite often runs a bigger race than his odds suggest. Fourth to Master Minded in the Queen Mother two years ago, he ran a cracker in this last year. Third to Imperial Commander and Voy Por Ustedes, he then went to the Melling Chase, behind winner Voy Por Ustedes again but by a narrow margin. Runner up to Notre Pere in the Punchestown Gold Cup, he then disappointed when fourth in the Amlin, with Planet Of Sound and Voy Por Ustedes ahead of him. A never nearer fifth in the Lexus Chase, he looked at one stage a possible winner of the Irish Hennessey. Tiring towards the finish, at the end of three miles in heavy ground, this trip will be absolutely ideal. Again priced a couple of points bigger than he should be, he has solid claims of at least matching last year’s effort. Although he has some good performances on ground soft or worse, he does look far more at home on a better surface, which he may well get.
Barker was denied the Powers Gold Cup by a narrow margin and made up for that when truly beating Forpadydeplasterer, last year’s Arkle winner, a race later. Unseating on his seasonal return, he could be an each way play but holds an entry to the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the whispers say, that will be his likely destination.
Planet Of Sound was a good third in last years Arkle and finished ahead of Voy Por Ustedes and Schindlers Hunt in the Amlin, but I’m still not sure about his stamina or his ability in this company.
Chapoturgeon was a good winner of the Jewson last year but has been plagued by jumping errors since. Will need a clear round in this company to possibly sneak a place.
Voy Por Ustedes’s Cheltenham Festival form is there for all to see, and having been runner up in his last two festivals, last year in this race, must be considered. However, his seasonal reappearance disappointed, and when trying three miles in the Lexus, he never landed a blow. Will hope to improve his claims when he takes on Master Minded later today but jumping errors in last few races will need to be left behind.
Deep Purple was a decent hurdler in his own right but has improved no end since, now chasing. Winner of three Grade 2s in a row, he was fancied in some quarters to give Kauto Star a race in the King George but burst a blood vessel. Will do well on the back of that, to feature here.
Voy Por Ustedes doesn’t look the same horse at the moment and although a dangerous move, I must look elsewhere. BARBERS SHOP has bumped into two of the best staying chasers the game has seen, on his two starts, and yet, hasn’t be disgraced over a trip he can’t quite get. There is no Denman or Kauto Star in this field, and with no worries about jumping, stamina, ground or ability, he is my likely winner, with Tranquil Sea his biggest threat. Schindlers Hunt similarly will be ideally suited by the trip, and if getting decent ground, should at least match his achievements here last year.