Ryanair Chase - Cheltenham, Thursday 17th March (2.50pm)

As Uxizandre and Vautour proved on day three at last year’s festival, getting to the front and dominating is no barrier to success over fences on the New Course (Smad Place, Annacotty and King’s Odyssey all raced in the first two on trials day), so with that in mind, VILLAGE VIC (best price 20/1) makes most appeal at the prices in the ante-post lists given his prominent-racing run-style.

Unbeaten in four starts this season, Philip Hobbs’ charge began his meteoric rise up the ranks with a notable victory in a competitive handicap at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day and he followed that up with another impressive display at Musselburgh a month later. Neither performance, however, suggested he was ready for Graded company, but two subsequent successes at Prestbury Park have slightly altered that view. Making all for a resounding victory in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in December was bettered by another dominate display over the same C&D on his most recent outing 29 days later and it’s that performance which points towards the son of Old Vic being a significant contender for this prize.

Not only was the time of the race decent, the third home that day, Top Gamble, has gone on to prove the value of the form with a notable win at Newbury next time and having had plenty of time to recover from that punishing test, he arrives here fresher than most with his confidence sky-high.

Moreover, he’s one of the few horses towards the top end of the market who seems guaranteed to run whatever the conditions. Current favourite, Vautour seems more likely to run in the Gold Cup and with the same comments applying to Valseur Lido, Don Cossack and to a smaller extent Road To Riches the quality of the field could be significantly diluted. Add to the list of likely defectors, Vroum Vroum Mag, who’s as low as 4/1 with some firms, and the nine-year-old’s current odds of 20/1 become even more appealing.

Another who looks certain to run and is worth an interest for the same reasons as the main selection is JOSSES HILL (best price 14/1). Good enough to finish runner-up to Vautour in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle two seasons ago, Nicky Henderson’s charge has hit a few bumps in the road since switching his attention to fences and that can be put down to a technique which is very much a work in progress. A heavy fall on his return to action at Sandown would have done little for his confidence, so it was good to see him jump with much more aplomb when arguably posting his best performance over fences so far to date at Kempton last time out. In dishing a sound beating to the smart Gods Own at the Surrey venue, the son of Winged Love went some way to resurrecting his career over the larger obstacles and while it takes more than one swallow to make a summer, at least the eight-year-old will go into his biggest test of his career mentally in a much better place. Clearly forceful tactics that allow him to eye up his fences better is the best policy to adopt with this talented individual and if he gets somewhere near good ground and a smallish-size field on the day, the more his chance will increase.

For those interested in my 2016 Cheltenham Festival speed figure service, covering all 28 races, please send an email to aholding@aol.com.
Village Vic - 0.5pt e/w @ 20/1
Josses Hill - 0.5pt e/w @ 14/1