PRIORITY BOARDING TO PAY OFF IN RYANAIR (Updated 16th February) The second Thursday in March features two wide open renewals of both the World Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase and it is the latter that is the focal point of our attentions. With top British trainers Nicky Henderson, David Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Jonjo O’Neill all boasting a brace of winners in the contest in the last decade, it is sure to be a competitive race, with each of them likely to field at least one runner. Interestingly, Irish runners have not performed well in the race and in fact have never emerged victorious. Further key trends reveal that each of the last 7 winners had run in the King George at Kempton that season. In addition, nine of the last ten winners had also won at Cheltenham previously, with all but one of those winners going off at 6/1 or shorter in the race itself. For more information on betting on the Ryanair and other Cheltenham Festival races, make sure you keep up to date with the latest Paddy Power Cheltenham betting previews. The Ryanair Chase is another race in which it can pay to get involved ante-post, since the race can cut up markedly in the run up to the Festival with a field of only 8 to 12 runners in recent years. Indeed, if we look at the current market principles one would have to question the participation of Champagne Fever (Champion Chase), Djakadam (Gold Cup), Al Ferof (Owner’s obsession with the Gold Cup and multiples entries) and Hidden Cyclone (Champion Chase) at the very least. With that in mind there does seem to be some value in the remaining candidates, especially towards the front of the market. Balder Success has looked a potential contender in recent times judged on some of his best runs over the last 2 seasons, not least in winning a Grade One novice chase at Aintree last season after bypassing the festival. He was also very impressive at Kempton last time out in a Listed Chase, but only beat Fox Appeal and Hunt Ball in a race ridden to suit. There was also a suggestion earlier in his career that he was a better horse going right handed and whilst he has arguably put that to bed with wins at a number of left handed courses such as Aintree and Warwick, he has never really delivered on a track as testing as Cheltenham and the way in which he bypassed Cheltenham last season coupled with the manner of his victories to date suggest to me that Cheltenham will not play to his strengths, putting aside whether he is in fact good enough which is also open to some debate. He has run three times at Cheltenham and has fallen or unseated on each occasion. For those believing in horses for courses, it would be hard to put this information to one side and with only negative memories for the horse himself, he looks one to rule out. John’s Spirit has some useful form at Cheltenham but does not look top class. All of his course form is in early season handicaps and he simply doesn’t seem to carry his form through to the spring. He proved his limitations in running 4th in an average Byrne Group Plate at the festival last year. In my opinion he simply isn’t good enough, although he will likely travel well for a long way. Colin Tizzard’s Cue Card would be a very tough horse to beat if returning to his best form of the last few seasons such as when winning the Betfair Chase last season, before looking the likely winner of the King George, only to run out of steam in the closing stages. He is also a previous winner of the race having bolted up in 2013 in what appears, on reflection, to be one of the weaker renewals of recent years. It will however be a huge challenge for his trainer to bring him back to his best, having looked a good 10lbs below his best on his performances so far this season. Whilst it isn’t inconceivable, my preference is to side with horses that seem to be heading in the right direction and not the wrong one. To this end Don Cossack looks to have a fantastic chance to win the race for Ireland for the first time. Gordon Elliot’s gelding has been hugely progressive this year, winning his last 4 races in good style and beating some high class horses. He showed fantastic resolution to draw back alongside Champagne Fever going to the last at Thurles last time out and had Champagne Fever not fallen at the last fence it is still likely that he would have come out on top. He will need all of that determination and more up the Cheltenham hill in March, but the way in which he has been finishing off his races over 2m4f against decent opposition can give us a good deal of confidence that he is up to the challenge. Another possible Irish contender Champagne Fever, would have a huge chance if taking part, given his two course victories in the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices Hurdle and also his narrow defeat in the Arkle last year. The trip would seem to me to be perfect for Champagne Fever, especially after travelling so well for a long way in the King George. However, every indication suggests that he will be heading to the Champion Chase. Likewise Hidden Cyclone would be an interesting contender having been second in the race last year, but he also looks set to step back in trip and go for the top prize. The leading contender for the Ryanair this season had appeared to be the David Pipe trained Dynaste. He was an impressive winner last season and appeared to be at least as good this season, having stayed on extremely well in the King George before being asked to turn out again fairly quickly in the BetBright Cup Chase at Cheltenham where he again ran a strong race, with his Kempton exertions perhaps catching up with him at the business end of the race. Perhaps connections were keen to find out if they had a potential Gold Cup winner on their hands, given his taking staying performance at Kempton. However, having been ruled out for the rest of the season, the race is now left wide open. Of the remaining contenders Taquin Du Seuil has strong course form, having won the JLT Novices Chase at last year’s festival. However, he had shown much more on the racecourse at this time last year and barring a miracle training performance from Jonjo O’Neill to bring him right back to his best, he is readily opposed. Uxizandre is of considerable interest on his best form, which includes a taking performance in the Shloer Chase when finishing ahead of Dodging Bullets at Cheltenham in November. His subsequent performance at Leopardstown was disappointing, but he was only narrowly beaten at the Festival last year and went on to win a Grade One Novices Chase at Aintree. Should he take his chance he will likely be front rank from the off and that should ensure a sound gallop throughout. His participation however will only play into the hands of Don Cossack, who has the class to lay-up close to the pace and finish off his race far more strongly than his rivals. The recent performance of Champagne Fever in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park has really franked the form and he is strongly fancied by his trainer Gordon Elliot to land this years renewal. 2pts win DON COSSACK at 5/1 (General) For Oli’s exclusive Community Members only preview of the RSA Chase, JOIN US for just £6 per month. 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