The third race on Thursday will be the ninth renewal of the Ryanair Chase and the sixth renewal since it gained Grade 1 status. The race is open to horses aged five and above, run over two miles five furlongs, on the Cheltenham New Course, with a total of seventeen fences to be jumped.
The race was won last year by the Nicky Henderson trained Riverside Theatre, under an immense ride from Barry Geraghty to wear down the gallant Albertas Run, who was bidding to win the race for the third time in a row but was carried out on his shield in defeat in a thrilling finish.
Both horses look set to do battle again this year but it looks a much tougher renewal of the Ryanair to what we’ve seen recently and it’ll take probably a career best from both to win this.
A few key stats to keep an eye on before making a selection;
7/8 had previous winning form at Cheltenham
8/8 had no more than four runs since October
8/8 had an official rating of at least 152
6/8 had a top three finish last time out
5/8 had placed in either the Paddy Power or December Gold Cup
7/8 came from first three in the betting market
7/8 had winning form at 2m5f or above
Accordion (11.9f) — Holly Grove Lass (Le Moss (12.4f))
Notes: A grand old stager now at the age of 12, but has been campaigned rather sparingly in the last couple of years, he has won this race twice before and ran a mighty race in defeat last year. He hadn’t been seen since October so has proven ability of going well fresh, however this time he hasn’t been seen since last April when put firmly in his place by Finian’s Rainbow in the Melling Chase. Could yet return in the Betfair Chase at Ascot at the weekend and although he isn’t getting any younger he is sure to run another gallant race in his seasonal target, for what will probably be his last hurrah.
Tiraaz (USA) — Trinity Gale (IRE) (Strong Gale (12.5f))
Notes: Winner of the Champion Chase in 2012 he took the step-up in distance in his stride when easily winning the Melling Chase at Aintree on his next start. I think you can forgive his most recent effort at Ascot when last of four behind Captain Chris, the ground was bottomless that day and he has previously shown a liking for decent ground. The lack of a recent run is a slight concern and there is every chance he picked up a niggling injury on his last outing, holds a provision entry in the Betfair Chase at Ascot this weekend and that should tell us more – if he comes through that run okay, he would go to The Festival with a big chance and he shouldn’t have many problems in lasting the extra furlong.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Disallowed (IRE) (Distinctly North (USA) (7.9f))
Notes: Was given an absolutely immense ride by Barry Geraghty to win this race last year, having looked beaten for practically the whole way round Geraghty gathered in his mount for a fast and late charge to the line, picking up the gallant Albertas Run at the last and grinding out success. He had a hard race on his return in desperate ground at Kempton in the King George and looks to be heading straight to The Festival without a recent run which would work against him. I’m still amazed he won last year to be honest, and I think against a better class of opposition this time round I think the chances of him defending his crown appear slim at best.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Wicked Crack (IRE) (King´s Ride (14.0f))
Notes: Looked exceptional when blasting all his rivals out of the park at Exeter in the Haldon Gold Cup at the start of the campaign, and you can forgot his run in the King George (he actually ran a lot better than it suggests). He was very keen throughout and kept wider than most but travelled as well as I’ve seen him for majority of the race. The petrol gage began to flicker though given how much energy he used up in the early stages of the race, especially considering the state of the ground. He is due to run at Ascot the weekend like a few of these in the Betfair Chase, although considering the hard race he had at Kempton I’d rather see him head straight for The Festival given he has proven himself to go well fresh. Taking all his form into account he certainly looks a leading player in this year’s renewal and is high up on most shortlists one would imagine.
Pistolet Bleu (IRE) (11.2f) — Jennie Dun (IRE) (Mandalus (12.3f))
Notes: Looks likely to head in this direction to avoid the likes of Sprinter Sacre, and comes to this race in good heart after four impressive successes over a variety of trips this campaign. He isn’t getting any younger at the age of 11 but has shown the fire still burns brightly, and has proven ability to act at the track having won a Arkle Chase and Queen Mother in recent years. Second in the Queen Mother last year in a thrilling finish to Finian’s Rainbow (surrounded by controversy) he looks likely to appreciate this longer trip and has to be regarded as one to keep on side.
Court Cave (IRE) — Mooneys Hill (IRE) (Supreme Leader (12.4f))
Notes: Second in the Jewson Novices Chase last year, this Martin Keighley trained gelding has run with credit this campaign without winning. Starting off at Ascot he attempted to give away 20lb to Williams Wishes (who has since proven to be about 20lb well in himself) so the margin of victory of six lengths looks a fair effort considering. His next run in the King George really bought him to my attention in regards this race, as after being taken on for the lead by Junior in the early exchanges he was forced to continue an honest pace in bottomless ground throughout the contest. Alain Cawley decided to kick him on and he looked to have them all in trouble in-behind four from home, but his exertions began to take its toll at the third last and he gradually weakened back into fourth (beaten 17L) a mighty run in the circumstances really. His next effort has left me scratching my head, and it could be the race on Boxing Day has taken more out of him than connections realised, but despite it being a tactical affair he was giving away 7lb to a horse rated 17lb inferior and you would have thought his class would have got him through. He does seem to like truly run races which would suggest he doesn’t have much in the way of a turn of foot (he grinds out his races) so it is worth forgiving him that recent effort I’d say. A brief glance at his profile suggests he doesn’t win very often but when you factor in he has come second to Sir Des Champs, Silviniaco Conti and Williams Wishes (now 18lb higher) his form does have a fairly solid look about it. He is high up on my shortlist and I expect him to go well.
Presenting (14.2f) — Fourstargale (IRE) (Fourstars Allstar (USA) (11.9f))
Notes: A very likeable son of Presenting who is a fantastic jumper of a fence, if I’m honest I had thought they’d be sending him for the Gold Cup in a two-pronged attack with Sir Des Champs but in recent days it looks like they’re going to revert him back to the Ryanair instead, to give the owner Michael O’Leary a chance of winning his own race for the first time. Third in a fantastic run in the Hennessy Gold Cup in November, he returned in the Lexus Chase only to be narrowly denied by a late thrust from Tidal Bay and an inspired Ruby Walsh. He looks like having a fantastic chance in this race, with the drop back in trip being no concern for a horse which clearly has plenty about him – his jumping will also giving him every chance on the big day and I am a big fan of this one.
Flemenstar looks like going for the Champion Chase but it wouldn’t surprise me if they changed their mind and went for the Gold Cup. Either way it appears to me this is the race neither owner nor trainer wish to go for, so I think it’s safe to cross him off our lists for this.
Menorah is a former high-class hurdler who has taken to fences fairly well. He was beaten convincingly in the Denman Chase at the weekend over a trip slightly further than he wants, but prior to that looked in good heart when beating Hunt Ball amongst others at Kempton. He was thumped by Cue Card at Exeter though and the more I look at him the more I think he won’t be good enough in this race in March, but could pop up again at Aintree in the Melling Chase a month later.
Somersby is a high-class horse on right handed tracks (namely Ascot) and was well beaten in this race last year – looks up against a better field this time round and you’d have to think he wouldn’t be good enough.
For Non Stop is a horse that will improve for better ground and a return to a left-handed course and could well run into a place at big odds. Not entirely sure what connections have planned with him though at this stage.
It is certainly going to be interesting to see just how much ability the old boy Albertas Run retains going for this race for the fourth time. He only narrowly failed last year in his attempt to win three on the spin and he will certainly have his fans this time around again despite his current huge price (33-1).
Cue Card comes here with a tall reputation and obviously has every chance of adding this race to his curriculum vitae, and I do think his run at Kempton reads better than the form suggests.
Finian’s Rainbow shouldn’t be discounted off the back of that one poor effort in bottomless ground, and with Sizing Europe also heading in this direction it’ll be interesting to see the two lock horses again having done so in last year’s Champion Chase.
Riverside Theatre still needs to prove he retains all enthusiasm and part of me still wonders how on earth he won last year despite looking beat all the way round, and repeat of that this time will surely give him no chance whatsoever turning for home.
Which leaves me with the pairing of First Lieutenant and Champion Court who I think are the main two to focus on, both at very decent prices.
The latter of which hasn’t been winning too often but boasts solid seconds to Silviniaco Conti and Sir Des Champs (both at the forefront of the Gold Cup market), and was only beaten 6 lengths to Williams Wishes attempting to give him 20lb (WW is now rated 18lb higher). He has previous Festival form and if you forgive him his most recent effort he looks overpriced at his current odds of 14-1.
I’m going to side with FIRST LIEUTENANT though at around the 10-1 mark. His run in the Hennessy was fantastic earlier on in the campaign, and went toe-to-toe with Bobs Worth (Gold Cup favourite) for some way before stamina gave out approaching the last. His most recent effort in the Lexus is decent form and was unlucky not to have won that but for an inspired Ruby Walsh aboard Tidal Bay.
He has solid form around Cheltenham, a winner of the Neptune Investment Management Hurdle back in 2011 (over subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby), he ran a gallant race in defeat when second to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase last year only giving way at the last.
The drop back in trip here looks sure to suit him and his running style and fencing ability will give him every chance at grinding it out up the run in. I would suggest having a small saver on Champion Court at around the 14-1 mark though as he with a better end-to-end gallop he’ll be a lot more effective.
That’s what I think! What do you think?