THE Ryanair Chase is not officially the Championship race of the day, but this contest has been one of the highlights of Thursday and the Cheltenham Festival in recent renewals.
Last year Frodon won to a reception like no other horse received during the four days of racing at Prestbury Park, and he lines up to defend his crown.
Vying to take the scalp is the hugely-talented A Plus Tard (9/4 Sport Nation) and Min; the Irish duo represent a very strong challenge, as does Riders On the Storm.
A Plus Tard is the current favourite to win but the market leader has only won five times in the last 15 renewals, so who will take the spoils? SportNation runs you through who to keep an eye on.
A Plus Tard 9/4
Winning the Close Brothers’ Novices’ Handicap at the Festival last year thrusted this talented youngster onto the big stage and a brilliant win over Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown at Christmas suggests A Plus Tard is some talent that is capable of building on last year’s success.
The six-year-old leads the market for good reason as the Ryanair is a race that’s as close to tailor-made for A Plus Tard as there could be. A lightning turn of foot means that if he will take some beating if he's in contention after the last. While Frodon was able to get the better of Aso up the hill after they jumped the final fence together last year, you feel A Plus Tard will leave him well behind in his rear mirrors in the final sprint.
In all of his 12 starts under rules, A Plus Tard has won five, come second five times and placed third twice. Whatever happens, you can expect that Henry De Bromhead’s stable-star will be in the mix.
The question marks over one performance this season, third at Punchestown, was a right-handed race and connections have made it clear that left-handed is his what he prefer. A Plus Tard has taken to graded company brilliantly after being an exciting novice, a win here would top off a remarkable rise for him and Rachael Blackmore.
It feels like Min has been around forever and after being the bridesmaid on three occasions, this could be his moment in the sun at Cheltenham, in fact, it’s almost amazing that he’s picked up over £400,000 in prize money across five heavy campaigns.
There’s no shame in twice finishing runner up to Altior, but last year’s fifth in the Champion Chase suggested it is perhaps time to look beyond two miles. Generally, Min has performed his best over the Ryainair distance, two miles four furlong, most notably an incredible 20-length win over Politologue at Aintree last year.
Can Min get the better of Frodon or A Plus Tard? Possibly, although you may find better value elsewhere in this race.
Connections have always felt this legend of a horse was outperforming what they thought he was capable of and winning races he had to right to win, but now it’s time for Frodon to rightly take his place at the top table. Having won this race last year, 5/1 may feel generous, but it will still be a tough task for the Bryony Frost mount.
What works in his favour is the lack of strength in this field, this year and last year’s renewal has not exactly been to a vintage standard and that has allowed him to stand a good chance of becoming a dual winner.
The season did not get off to the best of starts at Aintree, where fences on the back straight were removed due to low light, or in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, which took a lot out of him, but there was enough in Frodon’s prep-race at Kempton in early January to suggest things are back on track for the Festival.
The parade ring 12 months ago was sea of emotional when Frodon and Bryony Frost made their way to the winner’s enclosure together for the fourth time at Cheltenham. He’s a brilliant jumper and a proven stayer over the distance, take him on at your peril.
Best of the rest
This is a contest that does not have a great amount of strength in depth. Riders On the Storm (7/1 Sport Nation) has been interesting this season, three wins out of three, and is the best-placed outsider to take on the leading contenders. Wins over Janika, On The Blind Side and Cepage show there’s some considerable talent to the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained seven-year-old.
Beyond that, Aso (22/1 Sport Nation) ran Frodon frighteningly close after jumping the final fence together here last year, but couldn’t match Frodon’s heart in the final few furlongs. This season has not gone entirely to plan and his last outing was fourth out of five finishers in the gruelling King George.
Duc Des Genievres (20/1 Sport Nation) won brilliantly in last year’s Arkle, just the 13-length win over highly-rated Us And Them, but has stuttered at points this season and fell in his prep-race at Leopardstown. Well worth consideration if you think it can get back to his best, but the evidence over the last 12 months since his last win suggests he won’t.
Frodon the horse to beat. His jumping, stamina, heart and love for Cheltenham stand him in really good stead. Whether the pace of A Plus Tard is enough to see a new winner crowned is a question that will make for a fascinating contest.
Ryanair Chase Winner Odds via SportNation.bet
- A Plus Tard: 9/4
- Min: 11/4
- Frodon: 5/1
- Riders Onthe Storm: 7/1
- Chacun Pour Soi: 7/1
- Delta Work: 17/2
- Politologue: 12/1
- Cilaos Emery: 14/1
- Saint Calvados: 16/1
- Dynamite Dollars: 16/1
- Real Steel: 18/1
- Janika: 18/1
- Duc Des Genievres: 20/1
- Aso: 22/1
- Cepage: 28/1
- Shattered Love: 28/1
- Cadmium: 28/1
- Hardline: 28/1
- Hells Kitchen: 33/1
- Darasso: 40/1
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