Matt Tombs / Wednesday 27th February 2013 / 14:00
1pt For Non Stop to win the Ryanair @ 20/1 NRNB
I couldn’t resist a few quid on 66/1 shot Lambro for the Ryanair earlier in the year. As with most 66/1 shots, that quickly went up in flames when he couldn’t win a hot handicap on his reappearance and we’ll get a better gauge on him when he runs at Thurles tomorrow. Timing wise it makes sense to look at the Ryanair again now because there are so many doubtful runners. If the race is going to cut up, there should be some value at this stage.
Cue Card (4/1) looked really good when bolting up by 26l in the Haldon off 157 (extended 2m1f, good to soft.) He didn’t stay 3m in the mud in the King George and I’m not convinced he had enough left to have held off Captain Chris in the Ascot Chase last time (extended 2m5f, soft) had Phillip Hobbs’ charge not lost all chance 2 out. Recent winners Imperial Commander, Alberta’s Run and Riverside Theatre have been stayers at the trip and this hasn’t looked a race for 2 milers stepping up. I think he’s little more than 50:50 to run so if you want to back him I’d take the 7/2 non runner, no bet (NRNB).
Sizing Europe (6/1) has been a wonderful servant having been in the first 3 in all 21 chase starts and he’s still looked a quality performer this season. He’s 11 now though and it’s rare for any horse of that age to win a Grade 1 at Cheltenham, (Moscow Flyer is the only one I can think of in the modern era.) He has similar stamina questions to answer as Cue Card, for all his Irish form over further than this trip. This is a different ask and I get the impression when push comes to shove connections will decide to stick with the tried and tested 2m route. If you fancy him, he’s another to back NRNB (5/1)
The original plan probably was to run Finian’s Rainbow (20/1) here or in the Gold Cup to keep him away from stablemate Sprinter Sacre. He followed up his narrow Champion Chase defeat of Sizing Europe last season by hacking up in the Melling over 2m4f at Aintree. That’s a real test of speed at the trip though and having bombed twice in the mud at Ascot it’d be a huge ask to test his suspect stamina out in this. He’s the defending Champion Chaser and surely will be allowed to defend his crown given the way his season has panned out.
I still can’t fathom why Mouse Morris wants to run First Lieutenant (5/1) in the Gold Cup. If you watch the Lexus again and ignore Flemenstar, you can see First Lieutenant stopping after the last and that was only 3m. If you watch the Hennessy again, he was in front going to the last but faded to be beaten 8¼l by an eased down Bob’s Worth (who gave 1lb), and Tidal Bay (who gave 7lb) ran past him on the run in to finish 5l ahead of him. That probably makes Tidal Bay about 12lb better at the Gold Cup trip than First Lieutenant compared to their form at 3m. Assuming Sir Des Champs lines up in the Gold Cup I expect First Lieutenant to run in this and I think he’s got every chance. Again though there’s too much of an element of risk to back him at 5/1. He’s 4/1 NRNB but we might easily get a better price on the day.
The other classy horse who can’t be backed now is Grands Crus (25/1). If he came back to his Feltham form he’d have a first rate chance but he’s bombed 3 times since, and put in an average run in the King George. Bad ground can’t be to blame in his case as he’s always liked lots of cut. He’s a talented horse with problems and it’s rare to see an open Grade 1 at the Festival won off this sort of preparation. He could well bounce back next season.
Looking at those that probably will run, wonderful horse though he is, I can’t see Alberta’s Run (20/1) winning this as a 12 year old on his seasonal debut. Similarly, Riverside Theatre (8/1) was an amazing winner of this last year as he never looked happy and only his guts and a brilliant ride got him ahead close home. He’s run appallingly twice since and whilst he probably wasn’t over his win in this when pulled up at Aintree, he was disappointing in the King George. It’s possible he didn’t act on the heavy ground, but it’s also possible winning this last year has left its mark. On a track that doesn’t suit he’s easy to oppose at a single figure price.
Champion Court (10/1) has run two fair races on heavy ground, to be 2nd to William’s Wishes (who received 20lb) over 2m1f and 17l 4th in the King George. He was then hugely disappointing when turned over at 4/9 in a 3 runner graduation chase last time. He should improve for better ground and this is his trip but he’s taking on the profile of a horse who keeps finding a way to get beaten and doesn’t look a Grade 1 performer.
Menorah (12/1) has really looked to relish a step up to around 2½m, beating Cristal Bonus by 7l in the Grade 1 novice at Aintree and Hunt Ball (who received 2lb) by 3½l in the Peterborough. He was thrashed by Cue Card in the Haldon but he looked really rusty over his first few fences so perhaps he should be forgiven that. The jumping problems resurfaced when upped to 3m in the Denman last time though and he’s a chancy proposition. He’s a feasible winner as he has the class and likes the track and likely ground, but this is usually a tough jumping test and the percentage call is to assume he won’t be up to it.
China Rock (25/1) is an interesting wild card. He was travelling well for a long way in the Gold Cup last year before his stamina ebbed away and then was apparently transformed by a first time tongue tie at Punchestown when landing the 3m1f Grade 1 chase on unsuitably heavy ground. It may well have been a case of him seeing the trip out better than several non-stayers and I’m always suspicious of that sort of late April Grade 1 form. He made a reasonable enough belated seasonal debut in the Lexus but folded tamely again at the business end. That may have blown the cobwebs away and whilst the case for backing him really rests solely on that end of season Punchestown win, there’ll be much worse 25/1 shots during the week.
The other interesting outsider is 33/1 shot Roi Du Mee who’s also benefited from being fitted with a tongue strap. He’s been a revelation in Ireland this season, winning 5 out of 6, including a level weights beating of Prince De Beauchene last time at Fairyhouse, (3m1f, soft). The issue with him is that he looks to need very soft ground. He’s one to have on a shortlist of horses to back nearer the day if it looks like there may be a lot of rain.
For Non Stop (20/1) was a hugely impressive 23l winner of the Old Roan off 151, (2m4f, good). It’s hard to weigh up how fit a lot of his opponents were in late October, but visually that’s as good a performance as any of his likely opponents have put up this season at this sort of trip. Importantly, the furious pace the Old Roan was run at more accurately replicates the sort of test the Ryanair will present, than just about any other piece of form on offer here.
He then emerged the best horse at the weights when failing by 3¾l to concede 6lb to subsequent King George runner up Captain Chris at Ascot (2m3f, heavy,) before trailing in a disappointing last behind Menorah at Kempton. You have to forgive him that but it may have been the case that he went through the heavy ground once but not twice. If you do then he’s closely matched with Cue Card on running against Captain Chris, if anything a pound or two clear – yet Cue Card is 4/1 and he’s 20/1.
He likes really good ground, is being aimed at the race and crucially given how well he goes fresh, will have had a 77 day break. If you look at his first two runs then he should be disputing favouritism, so I think he’s value at 20/1 if these all line up - and it’s possible lots of those at the front of the market won’t run, in which case I can see him going off a single figure price on the day.