Before we get stuck into my Ryanair Chase preview, JP has asked me to remind you of our Cheltenham Preview on Facebook at 7.30pm on Monday that you can access more previews and a whole raft of other useful stuff with info on tickets, accommodation, night life, race schedule and more here: Cheltenham Festival 2018
The Ryanair Chase, one of the newest additions to the Festival calendar, has been much maligned during its time in the Thursday slot, with the chief argument against it being that talent was drained from the Champion Chase and Gold Cup, weakening two Championship races as a whole. However in the 12 renewals of the race so far, we’ve seen fine festival performances from stalwarts such as Imperial Commander (a future Gold Cup winner), festival favourite Alberta’s Run, Cue Card and Vautour, all before last season’s incredible performance from Un De Sceaux.
Un De Sceaux is the right place to start, given just how dominant he was from start to finish last year in what was arguably a career best performance, having set out from the front and getting all his rivals under the pump from a good distance before two mega leaps sealed victory, as you can see below.
In 8 Weeks time, it's St Patrick’s Thursday at @CheltenhamRaces Festival! ☘️
🎥 In 2017 Un De Sceaux raced to victory in the Ryanair Chase! pic.twitter.com/GVTt3GZFhm
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) January 18, 2018
He has since won twice this season, taking the Hilly Way apart before landing the Clarence House with ease when second favourite Brain Power fell. In his old age, he is a more uncomplicated horse who ought to take the beating, although this could be a stronger renewal than last year.
Waiting Patiently, the rapidly progressive northern raider now trained by Ruth Jefferson, made it five without defeat over fences in fine style at Kempton in a Listed contest where the decent yardsticks Art Maresque and God’s Own were swatted aside with a fine turn of speed between the last two fences.
Waiting Patiently lives up to his name to make it 5 out of 5 over fences in the 32Red Casino Chase at Kempton
Results ▶️ https://t.co/7iJOPsvjqx pic.twitter.com/mPZqZXHiWt
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 13, 2018
As a novice, he had beaten improved Politologue at Haydock when getting 3lbs – form that has just looked better and better since – and there is a feeling that he is one of the most unexposed of the senior chasers in the field, with the promise of more to come and speed to burn.
Cue Card is a former winner of this race, although rising 12 – however he was going very well when falling in the Gold Cup last year and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to show something like his best in the Ascot Chase. The return of Paddy Brennnan to the saddle is an interesting late change, with the two having shared their best moments together, but he does have something to prove against horses at their peak now.
Douvan didn’t make the Red Mills Chase, which suggests a comeback for the festival is unlikely in this, and Min looks sure to go to the Champion Chase. Yorkhill hasn’t shown much in either of his two runs this season but wind the clock back and he’d been beautifully ridden by Ruby Walsh to take the JLT from Top Notch – some of the best form in this race – at the last festival and he’d have beaten the subsequent Grade 1 winner had he gone left handed at Fairyhouse afterwards.
The worry is that he wasn’t beaten by the trip in the Dublin Chase, but we know this is his ideal target and it’ll surely be where he goes – with or without Ruby Walsh.
Gigginstown are yet to win this despite a lot of trying and in Balko Des Flos they have an uber solid contender. He’s been saved for a tilt at the Festival since finishing second to Road To Respect, a career best effort, in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown. He might need to find more here – especially given the speed that many at the top of the market have shown – but he promises to be a solid each/way proposition and perhaps front running tactics might be employed.
Frodon’s latest win on trials day means he has to go for Graded chases now and the Ascot Chase ought to tell us whether he can hack it in this company – the percentage call is to go against him given that he was ten lengths behind Top Notch when they last met.
Cloudy Dream, second in the Arkle last year, is of more interest – he’s been going over 3 miles without much success and a decent surface and this trip might bring out the best in him.
NOTE: This post has been updated to account for the withdrawals of Fox Norton and also Top Notch. The amendment took place on the 7 March 2018.
1 pt each/way Balko Des Flos (6/1 general)