Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)
Un De Sceaux14:50 Cheltenham
Founded in 2005 and replacing the old Cathcart Challenge Cup, the Ryanair Chase is a two miles, five furlongs steeplechase held on each Thursday of the annual Cheltenham Festival. This prestigious Grade One is open to all horses aged five and over with a purse worth £275,000.
Our Ryanair Chase Tip for 2017 is the Willie Mullins’ trained Un De Sceaux, who also holds an entry for the Champion Chase but is available at 9/2 Non Runner No Bet with bet365. Winner over 2m 3f and 2m 5f in France (both on Very Soft), he has a hugely impressive record of 17 wins from 22 starts, plus two runner up places in valuable Grade 1 chases including in the 2016 Champion Chase.
With that two mile contest looking likely to be hotly contested, with Douvan and Fox Norton both posting extremely impressive performances last time out, this race looks the more likely option for Un De Sceaux, who at 169 is significantly clear of any other entrant who would be likely to compete in this race (Uxizandre, the second favourite, holds a rating of 162 over fence). That Alan King trained 9 year old faced Un De Sceaux in the rearranged Clarence House Chase here at Cheltenham on the last weekend of January and it was the Irish raider who came out on top by a comfortable 5 lengths. That was an impressive performance, and his jumping was noticeably better than when making two errors when winning the Tingle Creek at the start of December.
The way he rallied to win that event at Sandown showed his heart, and despite two novicey falls early in his career he has developed into a solid chaser. While he doesn’t appear to be quite up to the standard of winning a Champion Chase, he is in a different class to the other entries for this race and the price he is currently available at looks excellent value with Non Runner No Bet meaning a return of stake if he goes for a different race or misses the Cheltenham Festival.
There have only been 9 renewals of the Ryanair Chase so far; here are the key betting trends to consider:
- 8 of the 9 winners had won over 2m 5f or further
- 8 of the 9 winners had already won a Grade 1 race (Imperial Commander in 2009 the exception)
- 8 of the 9 winners had previously won at Cheltenham (Riverside Theatre the exception)
- Of the 9 winners, 5 had won over 3 miles or further
- 7 of the winners were sent off with SPs of 6/1 or shorter; the other two were 16/1 and 14/1 surprises
- Only 5 of the 9 winners placed on their last start before the Ryanair Chase
Two trainers have won the Ryanair Chase twice; David Pipe with Our Vic (2008) and Dynaste (2014) and Jonjo O’Neill with the only dual winner Albertas Run (2010, 2011). Ryanair Chase jockeys will be glad that A P McCoy has retired as he has won the race an impressive 3 times; twice on Albertas Run and then again with the relatively unfancied Uxizandre in 2015.
Trends Analysis: The Ryanair Chase trip of 2m 5f finds itself sandwiched in between two much higher reputation races in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Gold Cup, meaning horses are often aimed at this race as an after thought when it is clear that their first choice race is not going to be winnable. There are plenty of class horses in every renewal as the number of Grade 1 winners shows, but the relatively poor last time out record can be expected with trainers trying out trips before making their final decision. Stamina being an asset at Cheltenham is no surprise, and the short SPs suggests that the class horses often come to the top.
The Ryanair Chase is fast becoming one of the highlights of the Cheltenham Festival. Since its maiden run in 2005, the race has attracted some of the highest quality chasers around, usually looking to see if they have the strength and stamina to mount a Gold Cup bid the following year.
The current antepost favourite is the ever popular Cue Card, who is likely to now find this race as his target after finding his stablemate Thistlecrack far too much in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, with Colin Tizzard confirming so: “The Ryanair we are definitely thinking about and we are likely to take Cue Card to Ascot for the Ascot Chase“. Winner of the race in 2013, on previous completed starts he does look a cut above this field and regardless of his defeat on Boxing Day, he is still a very high class 11 year old. He is now in the veteran stage and improvement is unlikely, which does make him vulnerable to improvers and fresher legs, but he does perform well at Cheltenham in the main and is certain to once again put up another admirable effort. The main chink in his armour may perhaps be the trip, as this will be the first time he has dropped back this far since April 2015 in the Melling Chase, where he was decisively beaten by Don Cossack. He is likely to need further now at this stage in his career and despite his good record at Cheltenham, it has to be a worry that he may just find another horse too speedy for him up the hill.
Another who may come to the race to avoid their stablemate is Un De Sceaux, who won the 2016 Arkle Chase at the Festival in good style and returned this season when winning the Tingle Creek Chase, in a gritty and determined performance. Willie Mullins’ 8 year old also holds an entry in the Queen Mother Champion Chase where he would be fully entitled to take his chance, but it is more a matter of whether Mullins will want him to clash with his extremely high class stablemate, Douvan. From what we’ve seen so far he is unlikely to be able to beat his stablemate, which may well prompt Mullins’ to keep his entry in this race, as the step up in trip will be no problem as he was an easy winner of a Grade 2 in France over 2m 5f in May. It’ll be interesting to note where Mullins sends him on the lead up to the Festival as it may well give us clues as to where he’ll be heading, with it likely he’ll be off to defend the Clarence House Chase he won last season. Ruby Walsh spoke briefly about his possible plans after the win in the Tingle Creek, stating that: “He won at Ascot last year and I’m sure going back there wouldn’t be out of the question. We know he gets further so stepping up in trip won’t be a problem but ground will be the deciding factor in that.” As Walsh alluded to, Un De Sceaux will most likely only run if there is some cut in the ground, as he is certainly not as his best when the ground is ‘good’, so the forecast in the lead up to the Festival will be crucial.
A second Willie Mullins inmate with an entry is the very versatile mare Vroum Vroum Mag, who has won at trips ranging from two to three miles. Another of Willie Mullins’ super mares, she has only been defeated once in the UK & Ireland, narrowly being beaten in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in December, where she was arguably very unlucky as she was beaten by a race fit rival who she was giving weight to. She got back to winning ways in the Irish Christmas Hurdle, beating her stable mate Clondaw Warrior in the three mile contest, all out but keeping on all the way. Cheltenham is no problem for her as the winner of the 2016 Mares’ Hurdle and with no ground type an issue either, she has to be considered a big contender with the mare’s allowance taken into consideration.
Finishing second in the race last season was Valseur Lido, no match for the brilliant Vautour. Henry De Bromhead’s 9 year old returned this season when winning the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in November in comfortable fashion, showing himself as a much improved horse for the season ahead. He was however underwhelming when travelling supremely well in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown before weakening into fourth in the closing stages behind two other lesser fancied Gigginstown runners and Djakadam. It is certainly too early to write him off yet this season and this race is a plausible end goal with how he emptied in the closing stages of the Lexus Chase, with a tilt at the Irish Gold Cup looks next on the agenda as stated by De Bromhead himself: “About five strides before the last I thought he just started to paddle a tiny bit, then he winged it but emptied out. We’ll see what we do, but he’s in great form since the run. We’ll see what everyone wants to do, we might give him the benefit of the doubt and look at the Irish Gold Cup.” He will need to better his record at Cheltenham to feature, as it is key to remember that in three runs at Prestbury Park he has been unable to take victory, always finding one horse too good. Perhaps his best effort did come over C&D in the race last season and he has been unfortunate to bump into Vautour twice, but it does still have to be of some concern he has no wins to his name here.
Weakening in the market due to two poor performances this season, Black Hercules hasn’t showered himself in glory this season. He showed lots of promise as a novice chaser last season which culminated in him winning the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival convincingly, but returned this season with a well beaten last in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown in early December and quickly reappeared to also be easily brushed aside in the Paddy Power Cashcard Chase at Leopardstown. He clearly needs to show improvement if he’s to be considered a contender in the race but does have time on his side as a lightly raced 8 year old, and has won over the C&D in the past which is always fact to bare in mind. If managing to get his season back on track he would certainly be an Each Way contender, but there are no guarantees that he will.
Another possible runner for Gigginstown is Outlander, who has improved from race to race this season. His fourth race this season yielded his biggest success yet when winning the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, beating horses such as Don Poli, Djakadam and Valseur Lido. Going strength to strength for his inform trainer Gordon Elliot, it was no shock to him that his 9 year old prevailed stating after the race that: “It wasn’t that much of a surprise that he won, he would have won at Clonmel but for falling at the last and there was little between him and Djakadam in the John Durkan at Punchestown when one jump probably made the difference between winning and losing.” He also gave some insight into where is next, with a tilt at the Irish Gold Cup likely: “We’ll enjoy today and tonight and then think about plans but the Irish Gold Cup back here in February would look an obvious race for him.” That run in February will most likely make the decision for Elliott as to whether he goes for the Gold Cup or runs in this race, but it is interesting to note that no Gigginstown horses have won the RSA Chase previously, with only one Irish trained winner managing to past the post first. A bigger issue for him however may well be the fact he doesn’t seem to enjoy Cheltenham, with a well beaten 6th in the 2015 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and a fall in the 2016 JLT Novices’ Chase, which does raise questions as to whether he would be able to get the job done on the day.
Often used as a Gold Cup potential testing ground, the Ryanair Chase has been blessed with plenty of high profile entrants down the years looking to cut their teeth in a slightly smaller race, before moving up into higher quality fields.
2009 winner Imperial Commander is a prime example of this theory. The eight year old was sent off the 6/1 second favourite behind the highly rated and odds on favourite Voy Por Ustedes. Both were prominent throughout, but as the favourite’s jumping became sloppy, Paddy Brennan came through to take the victory. He backed up this win with Gold Cup success the following year, securing a big race double for Brennan and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
The next two Ryanair Chases were won by Albertas Run and A. P. McCoy. He started as a 14/1 outsider in 2010, but led from a long way out and stayed on gamely for a huge win. Jonjo O’Neill’s ten year old then became the first horse to successfully defend the Ryanair Chase title, as he produced a similar and equally impressive performance to pick up a second consecutive crown.
In 2012, Riverside Theatre became the first favourite to win the race since 2006, finishing strongly to narrowly deny Albertas Run a third straight win, and securing a second Ryanair Chase for trainer Nicky Henderson.
The duo of Colin and Joe Tizzard took the title in 2013, as their start seven year old Cue Card dismantled a high quality field from a 7/2 starting price, making all before stretching away for an impressive nine length victory.
2014’s instalment was a keenly contested affair, but it was David Pipe’s Dynaste who finally prevailed. The 7/4 favourite had to recover from a slow start and Tom Scudamore had plenty of work to do early on to catch up with the leaders. But once he did, he looked confident and moved away over the final few furlongs.
The surprise winner of the 2015 Ryanair was Alan King’s 16/1 outsider Uxizandre. The French bred seven year old won the race from the front, jumping well at a steady pace, then finding more than his challengers over the final straight, leaving the highly rated duo of Ma Filleule (receiving her mares allowance of 7lb) and Don Cossack five lengths behind. Not only did this win provide King with his first winner of the week, but it was also A. P. McCoy’s last ever Cheltenham Festival winner before riding off into retirement!
In 2016, sadly the now rested Vautour was victorious in controversial circumstances. Rich Ricci told the horse racing world for weeks and months that he would run in the Gold Cup so this led to ante post carnage when they announced right before the festival that he would run in the Ryanair Chase. He absolutely hacked up, beating Valseur Lido, an extremely impressive performance but the race will always be remembered for the wrong reasons sadly.
There are 48 entrants at the initial stage. The potential list of Ryanair Chase runners is:
- Arctic Skipper
- Ar Mad
- Art Mauresque
- Black Hercules
- Bristol De Mai
- Carraig Mor
- Champagne Fever
- Champagne West
- Cold March
- Cue Card
- Dodging Bullets
- Empire Of Dirt
- Fox Norton
- God’s Own
- Irish Cavalier
- Josses Hill
- King’s Odyssey
- Kylemore Lough
- Long House Hall
- More Of That
- Road To Riches
- Roi Des Francs
- Royal Regatta
- Saphir Du Rheu
- Shantou Flyer
- Sizing Granite
- Sizing John
- Smad Place
- Sub Lieutenant
- Taquin Du Seuil
- Traffic Fluide
- Un De Sceaux
- Valseur Lido
- Vibrato Valtat
- Viconte Du Noyer
- Village Vic
- Vroum Vroum Mag