The Ryanair Chase is often one of the most competitive races at Cheltenham Festival and it has the look of an intriguing renewal once more this year with the classy duo of Un De Sceaux and Cue Card of particular interest.
Last year’s winner Un De Sceaux has once again been prepped for a tilt at the race that he won in 2013. The Willie Mullins trained ten-year-old currently heads a small but select field and the heavy ground should not be an issue given that he came home 25 lengths clear of his nearest challenger in the Kerry Group steeplechase at Cork racecourse in heavy conditions in December.
His victory in Clarence House Chase in January also represents solid form given it is often used as an indicator for the Ryanair.
Ruby Walsh’s heavy fall from Al Boum Photo in the RSA on Wednesday would appear to have put an end to his festival and has left Paul Townend in the envious position of picking up the ride on Un Des Sceaux. Walsh’s cruel fate just illustrates the peaks and valleys associated with life in the saddle.
Having been number one jockey to Mullins for most of the season in the absence of the injured Walsh, he once again demonstrated that his is a very capable understudy indeed– it’s easy to forget that the 26-year-old was crowned champion jockey in Ireland for the 2010/2011 season.
Were Cue Card to race up the Cheltenham hill to victory, it would undoubtedly be one of the most popular victories of the week.
Having tripped up in the past two runnings of the Gold Cup, connections have decided against sending him down that route once more. He has not won since February 2017 when getting the better of Shantou flyer who was only beaten by a neck in yesterday’s Ultima handicap Chase.
Aside from his fall at Wetherby in November, Cue Card has been runner-up on both subsequent starts this term. While Cue Card may be a 12-year-old now, the gutsy display in defeat to Waiting Patiently last time out in the Betfair Ascot Chase would suggest he still possesses a high level of ability – and seemingly retains his will to race.
That particular race is one which is often used as a solid performance indicator for the Ryanair. Paddy Brennan will have extra motivation in his attempts to deliver a Cheltenham winner for owner Jean Bishop having lost the ride on the horse who has provided him with so many career highlights, for the briefest of periods. Whatever the outcome for the veteran, a rapturous reception awaits him at Prestbury Park.
Gigginstown boss Michael O’Leary had good reason for cheer on Wednesday with both Samcro and Tiger Roll duly obliging in impressive fashion and he is double-handed in this with both Balko Des Flos and Sub Lieutenant being sent to post by Henry de Bromhead.
Interestingly, Gigginstown are yet to win the race sponsored by O’Leary, with Don Cossack just one of those who failed to do so. Balko des Flos is a Galway Plate winner who was travelling well at the Cheltenham Festival last year before falling – he has previously won on softer ground.
Frodon placed third in the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot in November finishing 15 lengths behind Cue Card in a race won by Waiting Patiently. Since then, however, the 6-year-old saw off Shantou Flyer to win the Crest Nicholson Handicap Chase on heavy ground at Cheltenham in January with Bryon Frost in the plate.
Cloudy Dream will carry the colours of Trevor Hemming’s that will forever be associated with Grand National hero, Many Clouds. He finished second to a quality opponent in Definitely Red at Aintree on better ground in December and was second to Fox Norton on soft to heavy ground at Cheltenham’s November meeting.