The move to a four day Festival led to the creation of more opportunities at intermediate distances, one such addition being the evolution of the Cathcart Chase into the Michael O’Leary-sponsored Ryanair Chase.
At two-miles-and-five-furlongs the Ryanair sits between the speed test of the Champion Chase and the outright battle of an extended three-mile-and-two-furlong Gold Cup, offering a chance for classy horses like Our Vic and Albertas Run to showcase their talents on the big stage. The obvious downside of creating this race is that it is likely to take numbers away from the feature races on Wednesday and Friday, especially when the likes of Sprinter Sacre are (likely at the time of planning) to be in attendance. Given that this race offered a more clear cut winning opportunity, It was unfortunate for connections of Cue Card – an outstanding winner of the 2013 renewal of this – that their sportsmanship in aiming for the Blue Riband will go unrewarded this season. Imperial Commander – the subsequent Gold Cup winner – clearly stands out as the best horse to have won the race in its nine-year history, although many will look back just as fondly on the exploits of Jonjo O’Neill’s dual winner Albertas Run, and success at the age of 10 for the enigmatic Our Vic. Overall the addition of the race has been a success, supporting the World Hurdle on what is otherwise a fairly low-key Thursday.
- Despite the good record of horses towards the sharp end of the market, there have been only two winning favourites. This reflects the open nature of the race.
- The Irish are yet to train the winner – added to their Gold Cup record, it’s been a lean time for Irish staying chasers.
- Two trainers have won the race twice – Paul Nicholls (2005, 2007) and Jonjo O’Neill (both with Albertas Run, in 2010 & 2011)
- There has been one winner aged six, one aged seven, two apiece aged eight and nine and three at the age of ten.
- Course form is important – only one winner hadn’t previously won at Cheltenham
- Interestingly the last six winners all competed in the King George
The King George stat is an intriguing one, and there a few qualifiers running in this season’s Ryanair.
(Martaline x Bellissima De Mai) OR: 169
Notes: A David Pipe-trained grey novice sent off favourite for a novice chase at the Festival – Dynaste could quite easily be confused for the enigmatic Grands Crus. The latter’s form has fallen apart since he seemed to fail to get home in the RSA a couple of years back, and that effort may have influenced Pipe’s decision to send Dynaste to the less brutal Jewson (now JLT) last term. He was beaten there by Tony Martin’s unconsidered Benefficient, before moving on to Aintree where the former solid staying hurdler was an impressive winner back up to three miles. He got closest to Cue Card on his seasonal appearance at Haydock – again over an extended three – on soft ground but was subsequently sent off a disappointing joint-favourite for the King George, where reportedly never went a yard. It is a bit of a surprise to see him heading the market back over 2m5f on what is likely to be good-ish ground, and it probably says something about the openness of this season’s renewal. Clearly a smart animal on his day as his Betfair Chase effort showed but it’s hard to recommend him at the current prices.
2012 – 2nd 2m5f G2 Novices Chase (RPR 154)
2011 – 8th World Hurdle (RPR 128)
High class novice and second in the Betfair Chase some of the best form on offer
Beaten miles in the King George and looked to be beaten fair and square in the Jewson.
AL FEROF (P.F.Nicholls)
(Dom Alco x Maralata) OR: 165
Notes: John Hales caused a bit of a stir at the Betfair preview evening when giving off the impression he was miffed that his star chaser wouldn’t be heading for the Gold Cup in preference to this race. Defeats in soft/heavy ground in the King George and the Denman Chase haven’t conclusively proved either way whether the son of Dom Alco would get home in a good-ground Gold Cup, which seems to be the basis of Hales’ argument that the horse should be allowed to take his chance. The way he was successful in a desperate ground Paddy Power does suggest that there are stamina reserves there, and throw in the likelihood of a steadily-run Gold Cup and the owner may just have a point. As it is the 9-y-o will face the starter on the Thursday instead, and that Paddy Power effort 18 months ago off a mark of 159 (RPR 172) would give him a major chance in a less than stellar field, as long as his Newbury efforts haven’t left a lasting mark on him. It is fair to say that he’s not really had the opportunity to show his best yet this season and it would be no surprise to see him take this race by the scruff of the neck.
2012 – 4th to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle (RPR 148)
2011 – WON Supreme Novices Hurdle (RPR 155)
Fine performance to win the Paddy Power over C&D off 159, and has an excellent course record in general having also won the Supreme Novices.
Two races over 3 miles on deep ground were not an ideal prep, and there’s a slight concern that one of those was only last month.
(Beneficial x Supreme Breda) OR: 157
Notes: The conqueror of Dynaste in last year’s Jewson, Benefficient had been miles below that form at Punchestown and Wetherby (Charlie Hall Chase) before coming good in the 2m1f Dial-A-Bet at Leopardstown over Christmas. The horse has won Graded races at 50/1 and 20/1 – as well as being 9/1 fifth favourite of seven when winning at Leopardstown – so it’s clear that he’s been overlooked on occasion in the past, however he’s now right there challenging for favouritism over the same C&D as his Festival success. His Dial-A-Bet success was a narrow one over fellow Ryanair entry Hidden Cyclone- so much so that the result was debated for some time in the Stewards’ room before it was allowed to stand- since when the runner-up has been beaten a fair way by Sire De Grugy and third-placed Arvika Ligeonniere is quite clearly better going right handed (won well since). It was however a good effort to win over a trip that isn’t his optimum, and on the figures it suggests he is still improving. The horse is clearly at home on left-handed tracks, and having beaten Dynaste fair and square last season he comes into this race with a solid chance of giving Ireland their first win in the contest.
2013: WON Jewson Novices Chase (beating Dynaste, Module, Captain Conan – RPR 158)
2012: 10th to Simonsig in the Neptune Novices Hurdle (RPR 116)
C&D Festival winner, beating the Ryanair favourite. Likes going left handed and drying ground will hold no fears.
Not sure about his record fresh, and he’s put in a couple of poor efforts in his last four outings.
FIRST LIEUTENANT (M.F.Morris)
(Presenting x Fourstargale) OR: 164
Notes: Favourite for this race when beaten nine lengths by the outstanding Cue Card last year, First Lieutenant has done all of his running since over three miles, and with mixed results. Gigginstown’s potential Gold Cup ‘replacement’ for Sir Des Champ’s after the latter’s injury, those plans look likely to have changed with the emergence of the exciting Last Instalment although it’s still up in the air which race this horse will turn up in with the Last Instalment soap opera still running on. Around 5/1 but as big as 6 (NRNB) he’s a much bigger price than he was last season and without the obvious threat of a Cue Card-esque performer lurking in the line up, although other than his second to Bob’s Worth at Leopardstown he’s had a generally disappointing season having been only third to Toner D’Oudairies and fourth to Roi Du Mee. His festival record is hard to ignore, with a short head verdict over Rock On Ruby in the 2011 Neptune, a second to Bob’s Worth in the RSA & another second to Cue Card in this last year, although on each occasion it is fair to say he’s come into the Festival in better form. His RPRs (a decent guide) last spring were in the 170s, and although he’s failed to get close to that since it may be that he’s a better horse in the spring and he has a decent chance to give Michael O’Leary a first win in ‘his’ race.
2013 – 2nd to Cue Card in this race (RPR 169)
2012 – 2nd to Bob’s Worth in the RSA (RPR 165)
2011 – WON Neptune, beating Rock On Ruby (RPR 151)
Very solid Festival form over C&D, including a good second in this behind a better horse than he’ll face this season.
Some pretty disappointing efforts this season so far, including quite heavy defeats at 4/5, 9/4 and 7/4. Would probably be in the Gold Cup if it wasn’t for Last Instalment.
According to the current Betfair market, “the rest” might not number very many…
Positive/s – Ran a cracker to be beaten 3/4l by First Lieutenant at Aintree last season over a trip (3m) that would’ve asked a fair bit of his stamina. Ran another strong race to give C&D specialist Champion Court 17lbs and again only be beaten 3/4l in April.
Negative/s – Pulled Up in the King George after a shoddy round of leaping (not the first time he’s not been clean at his fences). Pulled Up in this last year – again his jumping wasn’t up to it.
Summary – At 14/1 he may be worth an investment on good ground, but take cover behind the sofa and prepare for him to miss a couple out.
HIDDEN CYCLONE (J.J.Hanlon)
Positives- Ran well off a light weight when third in the Paddy Power (RPR 158) and improved on that when second to Benefficient and then again second to Sire De Grugy at Ascot. Trainer think’s he’s better left handed and Good ground isn’t a problem.
Negatives- Yet to put up a performance that really screams Cheltenham Grade 1 winner, although he may have been unlucky in the stewards room at Leopardstown.
Summary – Seems as though he’ll need to find a few lbs from somewhere in order to win, although on Leopardstown form it’s a surprise he is 16/1 and Benefficient. Has place claims but not sure he’s good enough to win.
BOSTON BOB (W.P.Mullins)
Positives- Grade One novice winner (by a nse) having finished second in the Albert Bartlett over hurdles. Debatable whether he’d have won the RSA had he not fallen last term but obviously goes well around Cheltenham and has a fair chunk of ability.
Negatives- A few! doesn’t look blessed with pace, and in fact that’s being very polite. Fell at Cheltenham then again at Punchestown, and after winning an egg and spoon race back over hurdles in Ireland he was beaten miles (last) in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Summary – Talented but lacks tactical speed, and in what could be a small field he’s likely to fall short there. Would be quite the turn around to come and win here after being beaten 50 lengths over hurdles in January, although should he line up it’s unlikely a horse with his connections will be 25/1 on the day.
A tight betting heat, and despite the lack of likely runners 4/1 the field is freely available. With so little between the front four at the prices it’s pretty much a case of backing the horse you think is the best of them, and the best piece of form in the field could be the handicap effort registered by AL FEROF. Paul Nicholls’ grey looked a hugely promising chaser when running away with the Paddy Power on terrible ground, and after a potential tilt at the Gold Cup has been aborted conditions here should be spot on for him to make it two from three at the Festival. Dynaste showed he is capable of high class form when second to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase but was never going in the King George, and looked to have been beaten on merit by Benefficient last season anyway. The Irish raider is an interesting contender but hasn’t always fired after a break, and is a much shorter price than Hidden Cyclone who he only beat 1/4 of a length last time yet is available at 16/1. First Lieutenant was a shorter price in this last term but hasn’t been at his best since, while Menorah would be interesting on his recent figures if the ground comes up good and he turns up with his jumping boots on.