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The Cheltenham Festival 2015 is less than one month away, and we’re continuing our day-by-day betting guide with a preview of the action on day three. Thursday 12th March features more excellent racing with the feature races on the card the Ladbroke World Hurdle, and the relatively new Ryanair Chase.
1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase (2m 5f)
2.05 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle (3m)
2.40 Ryanair Chase (2m 5f)
3.20 Ladbroke World Hurdle (3m)
4.00 Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase (2m 5f)
4.40 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (3m 1 & 1/2f)
5.15 St Patrick’s Derby Charity Race (1m 5f)
The Ryanair Chase is a fairly new event to the Cheltenham Festival, with the first running taking place in 2005. It partially replaced the Cathcart Chase which was run over the same distance of 2 miles 5 furlongs, but was restricted to novices and second-season chasers. That race was divided into two events – the Festival Trophy (renamed the Ryanair Chase in 2006) and the Jewson Novices’ Handicap Chase, over the same distance. Initial fears that the race might detract from the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Gold Cup were unfounded, and the event has proved that there is a place for a high-class chase over the middle-distance of around two and a half miles.
It is now a Class A Grade 1 Chase open to horses aged five years-old and upwards, and the £275,000 prize fund tends to attract a high-class field of runners. Last year’s winner and one of the ante-post favourites, Dynaste, has sadly been ruled out through injury, and that has left the door open for current favourite Don Cossack. Let’s have a look at the top contenders for this cracking race.
After the withdrawal of Dynaste, Don Cossack is a worthy favourite for the race and it’s worth noting that he carries the colours of Ryanair supremo, Michael O’Leary. This could be the best chance he’s ever had of landing his own race, as it were, and Don Cossack is bound to have plenty of support. He’s put up some improved performances this season, although on the negative side, each of them has come on right-handed tracks, and he fell in the RSA Chase at the festival last year. With those question marks his price looks short enough.
Cue Card won this race in 2013, but was unable to compete in last years Gold Cup due to injury, and he hasn’t quite looked the same horse since. If he retains his old ability he’s entitled to be right there at the finish, but that has to be taken on trust and a race like this is pretty unforgiving.
The Jonjo O’Neill-trained John’s Spirit was something of a course specialist on the old Cheltenham track, but his record is nowhere near as impressive on the new course – upon which the Ryanair Chase will be run. He certainly has a decent chance if he can reproduce the form of his 1st and 2nd in the last two Paddy Power Gold Cups, but it remains to be seen if he can do so on the new course.
An outsider who we think ticks most boxes at a good each-way price is Ballycasey. He had his supporters for last season’s RSA Chase, but weakened into fourth as it looked like he didn’t quite see out the 3 mile trip. He was sent off as favourite for the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase in December over 2 miles 1 furlong, but on that occasion looked outpaced by the two-mile specialists as he finished a distant 7th. He’s unbeaten in five starts over middle distances, and this trip looks right up his street. With Ruby Walsh likely to take the ride, we can expect a good run for our money at a nice price.
Ladbroke World Hurdle
The Ladbroke World Hurdle (formerly known as the Stayer’ Hurdle) is another Class A Grade 1 race, run over 3 miles and open to horses aged four years-old and upwards. It has a prize fund of £275,000 this year, and has attracted some of the top names among staying hurdlers.
The recent news is that last year’s winner More of That is unlikely to defend his crown at the festival due to a burst blood vessel, and that puts a bit of a hole in the market. He was rated at around 5/1 6.00 +500 5.00 5.00 -0.20 for the race, and his absence will probably see the Paul Nicholls duo – Zarkander and Saphir Du Rheu – shorten significantly in price. The latter of those would be our preference of the two, after an impressive win back over hurdles in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham, where he fought out the finish with Reve de Sivola and Un Temps Pour Tout, but we’re going to back David Pipe’s charge to reverse that form in the big race next month.
You can watch a replay of the Cleeve Hurdle here, and while Saphir Du Rheu accounted for his rivals in good style, there wasn’t a great deal in it in the end, and with Pipe’s horse open to plenty of improvement after his first run of the season, we’ll take a chance that he can overturn the form, on the basis that he ought to be value for a place at least. The French import cost a whopping £450,000 to purchase, and will need to win a race or two like this to live up to his potential. Bearing in mind that he was within a few lengths of Saphir Du Rheu, he looks a reasonable bet a the relative prices.
Cheltenham Festival Day Three (12th March 2015)