Every race is worth winning at the Cheltenham Festival, Great Britain’s premier jumps horse racing gala; but the Ryanair Chase is often the poor relation of other championship races.
While its roll of honour includes heroic National Hunt horses like Cue Card, Un De Sceaux and Vautour, this 2m 5f steeplechase lacks the rich history of the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup.
With Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten Altior a hot betting favourite to defend his crown over 2m, however, plenty could swerve the Champion Chase by going for the Ryanair instead. Here’s why the 2019 renewal could be the race of the Festival.
Strong Irish challenge assured
Bumping into Altior has seen Min come off second-best more than once already in his career. The Willie Mullins trained, Rich and Susannah Ricci owned seven-year-old is now two out of three over two-and-a-half miles, however, after landing the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in December.
Bookmakers reacted to Min’s Grade 1 victory in a race that is usually won by an out-and-out stayer by slashing his Ryanair Chase odds into a best-price 7/1 with Unibet. That makes him a leading contender from a yard that has won two of the last three renewals.
Other Mullins mounts that may be aimed at the Ryanair include Footpad, whose own unbeaten record over fences came to a crunching end when he fell at the last in a Navan Grade 3. The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned six-year-old may still take aim at Altior in the Champion Chase, but is top odds of 8/1 with Betway to step up in trip and go here instead.
While Mares’ Hurdle heroine Benie Des Dieux seems more likely to stay against her own sex, improving chase duo Al Boum Photo and Kemboy could go down the Ryanair route. The former is slightly more fancied in the betting at 20/1 than the latter, who missed the Ladbrokes Trophy due to travel problems.
Irish dangers aren’t a Mullins monopoly, despite former Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux being another possible contender regardless of his veteran status. Gigginstown House Stud supremo Michael O’Leary puts up the prize money for this race as the chairman of Ryanair.
He could see his maroon and white silks carried by last year’s winner Balko Des Flos (Henry De Bromhead) and/or tough Gordon Elliott trained mare Shattered Love, who won the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. The John Durkan third and second are respective best prices of 14/1, with gamblers advised to seek the Cheltenham best betting offers for 2019 before taking a punt.
Best of British could swerve race
There is a danger the Ryanair could be ceded to Ireland by the home team, however, as top British prospects may have other targets. Tingle Creek, Melling and 1965 Chase winner Politologue takes aim at the King George for Paul Nicholls, so his odds for this range between 8/1 and 14/1.
Kim Bailey has said Peterborough Chase victor Charbel may be seen to best effect on a flat track, so could thus miss Cheltenham altogether for Aintree and the Grand National meeting. Unbeaten Ruth Jefferson trained chaser Waiting Patiently swerved the Ryanair 12 months ago when well-fancied and has similar price differentials to Politologue as a result.
Fox Norton from Colin Tizzard’s yard has been off a year since pulling up in the King George at Kempton, leaving Top Notch (Nicky Henderson) and Frodon (Nicholls) as British runners that may line-up. They are as big as 25/1 in some places, however.