The Ryanair Chase reaches its 15th birthday this year and is firmly a part of the Grade 1 Festival roster. Those that still believe that it dilutes both the Gold Cup and Champion Chase are in a rapidly diminishing minority. Each is a demanding and very different test in its own right and Frodon will have his work cut out to defend his hard-won title from 12 months ago.
Result: 3/8, tracked leaders, not fluent 2nd, headway before 3 out, joined winner turning in, ridden after 2 out, one pace in 3rd approaching last, kept on under pressure flat, not quite able to get back on terms with front pair
Henry De Bromhead’s six-year-old was such a brilliant 16-length winner of the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase on the Old Course 12 months ago and returns now as an established top-class chaser following his defeat of Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown, over two miles and a furlong, in December.
That would have been deemed as a minimum trip for him and going back up in trip again should see him taking another big step forward.
De Bromhead has chosen not run him again and, having needed his run at Navan on his reappearance, the trainer is very happy with his preparation and he will line up as a worthy favourite in the hands of his regular rider Rachael Blackmore.
Has twice finished runner-up to Frodon on the New Course – in the December 2016 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and also in this race 12 months ago when he was still in front jumping the last. He can also boast a win over course and distance on New Years’ Day in 2019 when giving 18lb and a two-length beating to Happy Diva, so the track clearly plays to his strengths.
He reappeared with a very satisfactory third in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby but has been below par in two subsequent runs. He will need to up his game considerably to take the prize but can run creditably.
Stablemate of Aso who is officially rated 8lb his inferior and is also very much at home at Cheltenham where he has started five out of his last six starts on the New Course and won there very gamely last time.
He needs to improve but looks progressive and a look back at his defeat of Riders On the Storm (received 7lb) at Aintree looks even better now.
Stablemate of A Plus Tard who is better than ever this season and was a runaway winner of the competitive Troytown Handicap Chase over three miles at Navan. He then coped comfortably with the drop back in trip to land the Red Mills Chase at a foggy Gowran Park, giving Shattered Love 12lb and a two-and-a-quarter-length beating (the pair coming well clear).
Would be a big, big player if lining up here but his trainer seems to be favouring a programme of Aintree followed by Punchestown for this very exciting and progressive young chaser.
One of the most popular chasers around, whose battling win in this 12 months ago under Bryony Frost created an impression outside the racing world.
Came into last year’s race on the crest of a winning wave but this time it hasn’t been quite so easy and he needed a confidence-booster at Kempton last time to show he is still a force to be reckoned with after two below-par runs at Aintree and Haydock.
A five-time winner on the New Course, he is sure to be a factor again as he bids to become just the second horse since Albertas Run to win the Ryanair in successive years.
A very smart chaser who falls just a little short of the top level.
Runner-up in the Stable Plate under a big weight 12 months ago, he opened this season with a very smart performance in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November, his first start after being operated on for a kissing spine in the summer.
However, he has failed to build on that promise in four runs since and faces an uphill task here.
The five-time Grade 1 winner is a model of consistency, although he has yet to score at the Festival following seconds in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Champion Chase (both behind Altior) and then fifth in the Champion Chase again last year.
Gave his stablemate Chacun Pour Soi a race in the Dublin Chase last time, confirming that he is still a force around the minimum trip. Chacun will go for the Champion Chase for the Ricci’s, leaving Min to carry the famous pink silks in this and over a trip that may well suit him better these days. At two and a half miles, he boasts form figures of 12111.
This will be the grey’s fifth Festival, his best effort being posted last year when runner-up to Altior in the Champion Chase.
He then broke a blood vessel when thrashed 20 lengths by Min in the Melling Chase at Aintree on his next start (having beaten Min in the previous renewal in 2018). Those problems returned to haunt him last time in the Tingle Creek at Sandown behind Defi Du Seuil, who he had given much more of a race in the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham in November.
He’s very talented but clearly vulnerable these days.
What a bargain buy he has proved to be for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team! Lightly raced over fences, he just keeps getting better and better and even gained a Grade 1 in the Betfair Ascot Chase last time when Cyrname failed to fire and his nearest challenger Traffic Fluide fell at the last.
So, he may have been flattered but what is in no doubt is that he is clearly in fine fettle and the more rain that falls, the better. An interesting contender.
Well beaten on both his previous visits to the Festival, he has at least shown that he can handle the track with three very solid performances this season at Cheltenham.
Last time, he showed that this sort of trip is well within him too, when beaten millimetres by the in-form Old Grangewood (received 15lb) in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase on New Year’s Day. Has a tendency to hang left in the closing stages though and will need to raise his game further to feature here.
Winner of the Arkle in 2015, this race in 2017, then second the following year but only fifth last year, the chasing legend looks more likely to head off to the Champion Chase this time round with the stable flag being flown by Min.
The 10-time Grade 1 winner will be making his sixth Festival appearance. If he does divert here, however, the chances are that, now 12, he will fall a little short again as he goes for his third Festival win.
Although Min is going to be a tough nut to crack in his bid to break his Cheltenham duck, the choice has to be A PLUS TARD who managed to beat Chacun Pour Soi the last time we saw him.
The runner-up went on to hold Min at Leopardstown and although that might be a misleading form line, A Plus Tard is the younger horse by three years, is said by his trainer to have improved physically since last year and could have even more to offer after that thumping win in the Close Brothers last year.
Frodon will give his supporters plenty to shout about as he attempts to defend his title under Bryony, while Hell’s Kitchen could do better than most expect.
It should be another cracking renewal and it doesn’t take much to imagine Rachael and Bryony being involved in a ding-dong up the hill on A Plus Tard and Frodon with Paul Townend and Min in there pitching, too.
tracked leaders, not fluent 2nd, headway before 3 out, joined winner turning in, ridden after 2 out, one pace in 3rd approaching last, kept on under pressure flat, not quite able to get back on terms with front pair