The Ryanair Chase is the third race on the third day of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, and has been described as somewhat the easier option for trainers who take this route rather than running in either of the Champion Chase or Cheltenham Gold Cup, but this year’s renewal certainly looks as competitive as I can remember in recent years, that is of course providing they all turn up on the day.
Sadly, we won’t get to see the 2016 winner Vautour try and defend his crown after the Willie Mullins trained gelding sadly passed away late last year, but one expects he would have been campaigned towards the Gold Cup anyway had he not so tragically died, so the 2017 vintage will have a new champion to add to the roll of honour.
Ryanair Chase 2017
Un De Sceaux
Denham Red x Hotesse De Sceaux (April Night)
Notes: Has been exclusively kept to the minimum distance over fences so far in his career, but has been campaigned over, and more importantly won at this trip over hurdles at Auteuil. He is a strong-travelling sort who seemed more settled in his races this year than ever before, which gives cause for optimism about him lasting out this longer trip. I do however feel he is very short at the top of the market, especially with question marks over him staying this distance over fences, and the weak nature of his finish in last year’s Champion Chase which although a brilliant story for Sprinter Sacre lovers, was far from a vintage renewal.
Fragrant Mix x Jolisandre (Dear Doctor)
Notes: Was a most impressive winner of this very race two years ago, before side-lined with injury sporting the first-time visor he made every inch of the running at a strong gallop to come home 5 lengths to the good of some very nice horses in-behind. He made an eye-catching return over the shorter two-mile trip in the Clarence House (Grade 1) behind Un De Sceaux in January, keeping on well late in the day to finish second. The return to this longer trip will certainly suit him and it will be of most interest to see if the visor goes back on nearer the time and in my opinion would be very much the one they all have to beat.
Empire Of Dirt
Westerner x Rose Of Inchiquin (Roselier)
Notes: Has been someone of a revelation since teaming up with Gordon Elliott after previous trainer Colm Murphy threw in the towel at the start of the season. Firstly, winning the Troytown Handicap Chase off a mark of 148 with ease on his opening account, before finishing runner-up to Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup. There appears to be a conflict of views between his trainer and owners, with Elliott preferring the Gold Cup route for the 10-year-old but with owners suggesting this route would be preferable. An impressive winner of the Brown Advisory Handicap Chase off 142 at the Festival last year he has strong claims if he lines up in this based on what we’ve seen.
Brian Boru x Satellite Dancer (Satco)
Notes: A beautiful jumper of a fence and one who will certainly be suited to the tests that Cheltenham demands, and has definitely looked better than ever this term for new trainer Henry De Bromhead. A winner on his return, he followed that up with a success over Outlander (who later won the Lexus Chase), before finishing third to Djakadam in the John Durkan in December. He finished a gallant second to Sizing John in the Kinloch Brae in January at Thurles forcing a strong tempo, and only gave best late on. He is a horse I have a lot of time for and is an interesting contender if he pitches up in this.
Winged Love x Credora Storm (Glacial Storm)
Notes: Has been lamented in the past for his ability to jump fences on all-fours, very much like a snooker table but has certainly improved this term. A routine victory in a Graduation Chase at Kempton back in November, he followed that up with a win in the Peterborough Chase (Grade 2) at Huntingdon in December, before failing to get home behind Thistlecrack when last-of-5 in the King George on Boxing Day. Hasn’t been seen since which would be a concern for me going into this without a prep, but you couldn’t totally discount him despite a below-par eighth in the race last year when failing to take to the cheek-pieces he wore on the day.
Midnight Legend x La Perrotine (Northern Crystal)
Notes: Has certainly been revitalized for the switch to Jessica Harrington this season, and no doubt has improved for the step-up in trip also. An 8-length second to Douvan on his return at Leopardstown in December was swiftly followed by a cosy success over 20 furlongs in the Kinloch Brae. He then stepped out in the Irish Gold Cup in February over a further half-mile and again came out on top, getting the better of Empire Of Dirt and Gold Cup possible Don Poli in an exciting finish. Given the open nature of the 2017 Gold Cup it is hard to imagine he won’t be heading in that direction, so is doubtful to line-up here for which he would boast strong claims.
Halling x Gandia (Danehill)
Notes: Didn’t get any further than the start in the JLT Novices Chase last year when unseating as the tapes went up. He went to Punchestown after and won the Champion Novices’ Chase beating Outlander in a good renewal. His return this season has been mixed, firstly finishing fourth behind Sub Lieutenant on his comeback before beating Kitten Rock at Gowran Park on a day where the McManus runner was strong in the market. He was then a well beaten 7th in the Lexus Chase behind Outlander, looking like he didn’t get home on the day after being in with every chance two from home. Holds entries in this and the Gold Cup and you’d suggest this would be a more logical option for the gelded son of Halling, but is he quite good enough and more importantly consistent enough to get the job done?
Taquin Du Seuil
Voix Du Nord x Sweet Laly (Marchand De Sable)
Notes: Winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup handicap chase over this distance in November off a mark of 156, he has followed that effort up with an 11-length fifth in the Lexus Chase over the Christmas period, and more recently a 19-length fourth to Cue Card in the Ascot Chase last month. Sixth in the race behind Vautour twelve months ago suggests he isn’t quite up to this level at the top grade but should we get any appreciable rain during Festival week his chances will increase, and at prices couldn’t be discounted.
Village Vic has been running with credit over this C&D in handicap grade this seasons from marks in the high-150’s and if he can make the switch to Graded company you’d have to think he can run a race full of credit, but he was beaten 25-lengths by Vautour in this race last year and that’s probably as good as he is in this company.
Irish Cavalier is a previous Cheltenham Festival winner, having won the Novices’ Handicap Chase back in 2015, he was fifth in the Gold Cup last year beaten 22-lengths by Don Cossack, and after promising start winning the Charlie Hall Chase back in October he has failed to fire on three occasions since. Holds entries in also the Gold Cup and Brown Advisory Handicap Chase, and it’s likely he’ll have another attempt at the Gold Cup you’d imagine given its open nature.
Ballycasey has been to Cheltenham a few times now over the years and this 10-year-old grey just doesn’t seem to fire on the big stage. Has looked as good as ever this year winning a couple of Grade 2’s over at Gowran Park but one would imagine that’s as good as he is bossing smaller fields.
God’s Own is an appealing conveyance over this longer-trip but hasn’t quite fired to me this season. He has been the staple-diet of the each-way thief at the Festival for the last two years in both the Arkle and Champion Chase and could again head down that route, especially if the latter cuts up considerably. A horse which in my opinion is better going right-handed he is high-class on his day and would have to be respected.
Certainly an open and competitive renewal of the Ryanair Chase which will no doubt provide an excellent spectacle for race fans on the day. Whilst we won’t witness the brilliance of Vautour putting inferior rivals to the sword this year, we will witness bravery, courage with a few thrills and spills thrown in for good measure.
Un De Sceaux is a high-class operator at this level and as always must be respected, and certainly seems more settled in his races this year than ever before. However, the big question I can’t find an answer for is that can Ruby hold onto him for another half-mile, given the buzz around Cheltenham that week will Un De Sceaux be able to keep his cool, or will the petrol tank be on empty approaching two out? At the prices for me he is certainly short enough.
Sizing John would be of significant interest but it looks almost certain he will be running in the Gold Cup instead after an impressive win at Leopardstown last month.
Empire Of Dirt has graduated from handicap company and ran a race full of promise when second in the Irish Gold Cup last time, and his trainer and jockey have been pretty vocal about taking their chances in the Gold Cup instead, with the owners seemingly preferring this option. A late bloomer at the age of 10 but one which has really found his stride later in life and one of the forerunners to this conundrum.
The jumping prowess of Sub Lieutenant will stand him in good stead in a contest of this nature, and his slick ability to clear his fences will give him every chance of taking this prize and he too can be expected to give a bold sight to the owners, and sponsors of this race.
However I cannot get the impression made by UXIZANDRE in the Clarence House out of my head on his return from an almost 2-year injury enforced lay-off, and trainer Alan King will for sure have left something to work on. He was a most impressive winner of this race in 2015 when sporting the first-time visor, and one assumes they will again opt for that accoutrement given it worked so wonderfully last time.
He is high-class, can do things the hard way and will keep grinding away when others have cried enough and for that very reason he will be my selection in this year’s renewal.