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The Ryanair Chase is one of the most lucrative events at Cheltenham Festival and it has only been one of the competitive for trainers.
Trainers usually have events in mind where their particularly skill set will bring out the best in their chargers, although it has not been the case in this event.
Paul Nicholls, Jonjo O’Neill, Nicky Henderson, David Pipe and Willie Mullins all have two victories to their name in the race. None of the leading group of trainers have managed to establish a dominance over the rest, highlighting the difficult in preparing horses for the meet.
Henry de Bromhead won his first Ryanair Chase last season through the triumph of Balko des Flos. There are a lot of talented horses in the field, and while some could still declare for other races, there looks to be a fierce competition for the crown.
Min and Footpad could be declared for the Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair Chase, leaving the path clear for Monalee to be the outstanding candidate for the crown.
Waiting Patiently will be among those also competing for glory, although De Bromhead could be on course for his second-straight win in the event with Monalee. We’ll now break down the Irish-bred horse and the rest of the field for one of Cheltenham Festival’s signature events.
Monalee finished second in the RSA Novices’ Chase last season, finishing seven lengths off the pace of Presenting Percy. His form since then has been inconsistent, although his recent results are encouraging ahead of the Ryanair Chase. De Bromhead’s charge could be rounding into form just at the right time and he will need a fine performance to claim his first crown at Cheltenham Festival, having also finished second in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2017. Monalee ended last season on a down note after the Festival, falling for the second time of the campaign at Punchestown two fences from the end of the Growise Champion Novice Chase.
There was pressure on him to respond to the setback in his opening race of the 2018/19 term at Down Royal. However, the bay gelding was off the pace, finishing in third – six-and-a-half lengths behind the winner Snow Falcon. Monalee put forward a strong performance in December at Leopardstown to get back to a semblance of his best, although he was still lacking the speed to finish in the winners’ enclosure, placing second behind Kemboy. De Bromhead’s charge found his best form at the Red Mills Chase with Rachael Blackmore in the saddle. The Irish-bred horse found his rhythm and was able to close out his first win in a year by two lengths. Monalee has the talent, but he needs to deliver on the big stage for the first time.
Ruth Jefferson’s charge will make his first appearance at Cheltenham Festival, having missed out last season due to injury. The Irish-bred horse missed an opportunity last term as he was in prime form, having reeled off seven wins on the bounce. The best of his performances came in the Ascot Chase when he faced off against Cue Card. Waiting Patiently was the favourite for the contest and he rose to the occasion to see off the challenge of the legendary horse by two-and-three-quarter lengths. Given the quality of his display it would have the perfect time for the eight-year-old to make a charge at the Ryanair Chase, but Jefferson opted against it due to injury concerns.
Waiting Patiently did not return to the track until the King George VI Chase when he faced off against an elite field. He struggled for rhythm from the off before unseating Brian Hughes at the ninth fence, ending his race before he could find his stride on the course again. The Irish-bred horse returned to Ascot for the defence of his Betfair Ascot Chase title. However, he was blown away by the pace of Nicholls’ Cyrname, who dominated the event to win by 17 lengths. Waiting Patiently was best of the rest in second, but he will need a resurgence to compete for the title at Cheltenham.
Henderson’s charge also missed out on Cheltenham Festival last year as an injury ruled him out of action. The eight-year-old has competed at the Festival three times in his career, failing to record a victory, although he did finish second in the Triumph Hurdle in 2015 and again in the JLT Novices’ Chase two years later. Top Notch does have form heading into the event, but will need to translate that to the big stage to break his duck at Cheltenham. He returned from injury last season at Aintree to cap the campaign. With Davy Jacob in the saddle, he ended the term on a high note with a triumph in the Oaksey Chase, finishing two-and-three-quarter lengths ahead of the field.
Henderson delayed his first appearance of the current campaign until December in the JLT Hurdle. Top Notch put forward a decent performance, but was unable to match the pace of Paisley Park, placing in third at the event at Ascot. The eight-year-old got back into the winners’ enclosure with a fine outing at the 32Red Casino Chase at Kempton Park. He was the favourite for the contest and he was able to canter down the stretch to finish five lengths ahead of the rest of the field. Henderson’s charge is one to watch for the event.
Frodon will have redemption on his agenda after a poor performance last season at Cheltenham Festival. He was a contender for the Ryanair Chase, but was off the pace finishing down in fifth – last out of the competitors that were able to complete the meet. The French-bred horse ended the campaign with a poor performance once again at Cheltenham, placing in 13th out of 16 horses in the Silver Trophy Chase.
However, he has bounced back this term with three victories, notching his first at Aintree, defeating a decent field that included favourite Cloudy Dream. Nicholls’ charge finished second in the BetVictor Gold Cup just lacking the pace to beat out Baron Alco down the stretch.
Frodon operated at the peak of his powers to win the December Gold Cup. Bryony Frost in the saddle got the French-bred horse to fire on all cylinders to clinch the victory by one-and-a-quarter lengths ahead of his compatriot Cepage. He was even better last time out at the Trial Cotswold Chase, defeating Welsh Grand National winner Elegant Escape among others with a brilliant performance to take momentum into the Festival. Given his form, he could be a solid bet for the Ryanair Chase.
Monalee should be in line to compete at the event and is seemingly the favourite. Frodon may opt for the Gold Cup, although given the quality of horses competing in that event, his best option should be the Ryanair Chase.
Top Notch has been up-and-down over the course of the campaign and it may prove to be too much for him to handle. Waiting Patiently is out of form and seemingly missed his chance at glory last season, although he remains a quality competitor.
It’s Monalee’s time to shine to win the event for a second year on the bounce. He has played the pretender for too long. It’s time to move out of the runners-up spot and into the winners’ enclosure at Cheltenham Festival for the first time. Back him to win the Ryanair Chase at odds of 4/1 5.00 +400 4.00 4.00 -0.25 with Bet365.
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