There is now less than a month to go before the start of the Cheltenham Festival, with this weekend’s Ascot Chase the last Grade 1 held in Britain before the curtain-raising Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Our expert analysis of the Ascot Chase, along with the remaining action on a busy weekend of racing – which includes the potential reappearance of Grand National hero Tiger Roll – will be available on our free horse racing tips page.
Here, our man Joe Eccles adds another horse to his ante-post portfolio, this time identifying a selection in the Ryanair Chase which is currently available at odds of 25/1 – read his thoughts below.
The Ryanair Chase has a real open-looking feel to it this year, Henry De Bromhead’s A Plus Tard currently heads most betting markets – and confirmed his liking for Cheltenham when demolishing the field in last season’s Close Brothers.
It’s hard to dispute that he is the one to beat, but he has had an interrupted preparation having missed his engagement at the Dublin Racing Festival due to the drying ground conditions, and I’d struggle to believe that connections wouldn’t be a little tempted by Wednesday’s Champion Chase should ground conditions come up testing – a real possibility given the recent weather.
Willie Mullins’ Min is the second favourite, but he has often saved his best form for less demanding tracks, with his Cheltenham record currently reading 0-3 – albeit two of those defeats came at the hands of Altior.
Frodon produced one of the highlights of last season’s Festival when taking the Ryanair, but his form so far this campaign has not been comparable, with a narrow victory in a Grade 2 at Kempton hardly setting pulses racing.
Most of the horses below the top three in the market all have questions to answer – going left-handed in the cases of Cyrname and Real Steel – or arriving on the back of slightly disappointing runs – Politologue and Un De Sceaux.
With this in mind, it is worth looking a little further down the betting, and previous renewals would not put you off backing something at a healthy each-way price – with 18/1, 33/1 and 40/1 shots placing in the last six renewals, along with Uxizandre, who won the race at odds of 16/1 back in 2015.
At odds of 25/1, the horse that catches my eye at this stage is the Harry Whittington-trained Saint Calvados.
It was not long ago that this Saint Des Saints gelding was sent off at just 11/4 for the Arkle Novices’ Chase at this meeting, and he was a respectable 25/1 shot in last season’s Champion Chase.
He disappointed on both those occasions but proved his ability to act around Cheltenham when carrying top weight to victory in a handicap there back in October.
Gavin Sheehan’s mount was far from disgraced behind Defi Du Seuil in the Shloer Chase afterwards, and that run hinted that a step up in trip would be beneficial.
Run over the same distance as the Ryanair, Saint Calvados dropped back into handicap company to contest what is invariably a competitive Grade 3 at this venue on New Year’s Day – last year’s Ryanair second Aso had won the previous renewal.
Adopting far more patient tactics than usual – presumably to see whether he would stay – Saint Calvados sluiced through the field to eventually finish second in a three-way head-bobber.
That form has worked out very well since, with the fourth Ex Patriot running a big race in the ultra-competitive Thyestes at Gowran on his next start, and the third and sixth-placed horses fighting out the finish in a similar race back at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day.
The Ryanair was immediately nominated as the target for Saint Calvados after that race, and horses from his age group (seven) have a fine recent record, having taken five of the last seven renewals.
He may well be ridden more prominently now his stamina is seemingly assured, and his current 25/1 odds – available at the time of writing with both William Hill and Unibet – look quite generous when considering that he is officially rated just a pound lower than Riders On the Storm – who is no bigger than 8/1 for the Ryanair.
If heading straight to the Festival, Saint Calvados will have had a 71-day break since that last run, and his form figures on the back of a similar absence or more read an impressive 1111.
Taking this into account, it was a slight concern to see him entered in this weekend’s Ascot Chase, but much to my relief he has been taken out of that engagement so will arrive into the Festival a fresh horse.
Owners Kate & Andrew Brooks have enjoyed a fine time of things recently, thanks in part to the victories of their star novice chasers Itchy Feet and Rouge Vif, and I’ll be hoping they can continue their excellent run by landing the Ryanair with Saint Calvados.
SAINT CALVADOS – 25/1 Ryanair Chase
GLOBAL CITIZEN – 16/1 Racing Post Arkle
LONGHOUSE POET – 25/1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
UNEXCEPTED – 25/1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
BRISTOL DE MAI – 50/1 Cheltenham Gold Cup