Our racing expert has one ante-post tip for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
As always seems to be the case with this Grade 1 2m4f contest, it rather has a confused look to it with the Festival less than two months away and that’s one of the main reasons why there could be some mileage to be had in delving a little deeper into the parameters of the likely contenders to see whether we can unearth some value at this early stage.
A Plus Tard has been chalked up as favourite with most firms and while this race still remains a likely target, there’s also a strong possibility he may drop back half a mile and go for the Champion Chase a day earlier. A good deal depends on how he fares in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown’s big two-day fixture next month, but if he were to win there - and its race he’s as short as 5-2 to win -then the temptation would be to stick to the minimum trip and try and win a contest for which his trainer has already landed twice in recent times with Sizing Europe and Special Tiara.
Defi Du Seuil has looked imperious over two miles so far this season, so unless there’s a dramatic change of heart by connections – and let’s not forget they altered their plans nearer the time here last year – it would be a huge shock to see him come here rather than stick to the Champion Chase route.
Min seems best suited by 2m4f nowadays, but he has had three goes at trying to win at Cheltenham and failed, so while it would be dangerous to rule him out completely, it might well be that we once again see the best of him, similarly to last season, at Aintree and Punchestown.
Stable mates Douvan and Footpad are also respected because of their class and previous Festival form, but both are rather fragile individuals nowadays and it would a slight surprise if one of them proved good enough to win given their recent backgrounds.
Frodon looks almost certain to make the gig baring accidents and following a confidence-boosting win at Kempton recently, his bid to retain his crown looks back on track. A proper Cheltenham specialist who jumps soundly and goes particularly well for Bryony Frost, Paul Nicholls’ gelding is a must for the shortlist at this stage. Stable mate Cyrname is less likely and even if he does make the line-up, it’s fairly easy to come to the conclusion that Cheltenham doesn’t suit him as well at Ascot.
As you can see, with so many negatives about most of the aforementioned horses who are mainly quoted at single-figure prices, it makes sense to look outside the box for a viable challenger. The one that springs to mind is RIDERS ON THE STORM (best price 12-1), who seems a reformed character since switching stables at the beginning of the season.
Making his debut for new connections in a handicap off a mark of 140 at Aintree in November, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ inmate made mincemeat of a useful field that contained the likes of Cepage and Oldgrangewood (won twice since) and, as a result, he was well-backed to follow up in the Caspian Caviar Chase at Cheltenham a month later. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error, he was unable to take chance at Prestbury and instead, he was sent to Ascot to contest a conditions event a week later against more established and senior chasers. Similar to how he did at the Liverpool-based venue, he tanked his way through the early stages of the prize, so much so, that by halfway he’d pulled his way to the head of affairs. At that point, there had to be a question mark as to whether he would get home having expended a good deal of energy, but he simply chucked that theory out of the window by staying on incredibly strongly to score by a comfortable seven lengths. Bumped up to a rating of 162 as a result of that imperious display, the son of Scorpion finds himself among the higher echelons in the 2m4f division and it comes as no surprise to hear connections are willing to have a crack at the Ascot Chase back at the Berkshire venue next month. Providing he comes through that test with flying colours, and he’s likely to be taking on Cyrname at his happy hunting ground, the seven-year-old is very likely to be primed for a tilt at the Ryanair. A faller when one of the favourites for last season’s Close Brothers Handicap Chase on his only previous start at Cheltenham, form around Prestbury Park is the only thing that counts against this rapidly-improving chaser, but other than that, he has all the attributes you would look for in a Ryanair winner and with the prospect of him being even better off a strong championship pace, he makes plenty of appeal at his current 12-1 quotes.
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