For a race that has had many detractors in it’s fifteen-year history, there can be no doubt anymore as to the merit of the Ryanair as part of the Festival line up- it’s a proper Grade One chase, and provided one of the highlights of the season last year when Frodon & Bryany Frost completed a fairytale victory- but the problem still remains from an ante-post point of view that the Gold Cup and Champion Chase will always be more attractive propositions than the intermediate championship.
Half the battle is trying to predict which horses will turn up, which must be a question mark about one of the current market leaders, Chacun Pour Soi (7-1).
The son of Policy Maker was imperious in both starts for Mullins last season, the latter of which came when winning arguably the strongest novice chase of the season over two miles at the Punchestown Festival.
That being said, he remains shorter in the betting for the Champion Chase and given that he’s only been campaigned over two miles, or a furlong or two over, at this stage the Champion Chase looks to be the most sensible target for this hugely exciting prospect.In my opinion, a more realistic runner, and possible winner, for the same connections would be Min (7-1).
He’s the same price generally as his less exposed stablemate, but can be backed at odds varying from 6s to 10s. Twice beaten into a runner-up position by Altior at the Festival, the change of tactics utilised to try and beat Henderson’s superstar in 2019 backfired and Min was never threatening in the Champion Chase.
Nevertheless, either side of that he notched up three Grade Ones last season, namely the John Durkan, Dublin Chase and the Melling Chase, where he put up a career best performance in putting 20 lengths between himself and Politologue.
Now having proven equally adept over two and a half miles as he is over two, and with the Ricci’s having a new two mile challenger to take on Altior with, I’d argue the logical plan for Min this season would be target him at the Ryanair.
A Festival victory would be well deserved, and there seems to be very few negatives regarding Min’s potential prospects in the Ryanair; we know he stays, he acts around Cheltenham and crucially, might just clearly be the most talented in the line up- certainly a reproduction of his Melling victory would make him an almost impossible foe for most of these potential rivals, though again, he is representing the Mullins/Ricci combo and any confirmation of a target for Min may not be concrete until he actually lines up at the tape on Prestbury Park.
Altior (10-1) himself is confirmed to be stepping up in trip this season, though Nicky Henderson said in April that there was “no point doing it to win a Ryanair,” so it’s safe enough to assume his Festival destination will be either the Champion Chase or Gold Cup depending on how well the King George experiment goes for him.
Defi Du Seuil (15-2), runner up to Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown looks tailor-made for this sort of test, though, and I’d hope he might take his chance Ryanair.
Already a dual Grade 1 Festival winner, the intermediate trip suits him perfectly and he has the talent to mix it with the best around over this distance, especially given that the strength in depth in the Ryanair is never as strong as it is in either the Gold Cup or the Champion Chase, which could also potentially be another target for Defi Du Seuil.
Cyrname (12-1), officially the best horse in training, can only perform going right-handed around park courses.
The trip suits him perfectly but connections opted to swerve Cheltenham last season and unless some unforeseen crisis in the Cotswolds means the Festival is moved to Huntingdon or Perth, he remains an unlikely participant.
His stablemate, the reigning champion Frodon (12-1), in my opinion still hasn’t got the credit he deserved for a stellar 18/19 season.
Winning the Caspian Caviar off a mark of 164 was a monster effort before he took the step up to 3m1f in his stride to battle his way to victory in the Cotswold Chase.
Trainer Paul Nicholls’ decision to go back down in trip for this rather than up again for a crack at the Gold Cup was proven fully justified when he and regular partner Bryony Frost produced a swashbuckling front running effort to capture a first ever Grade One prize over fences for a female jockey at the Festival.
Frodon may lack the flashy star quality of some of the others ahead of him the betting, but I think he’s slightly overpriced at 12s.
This race is surely the one he is likeliest to turn up in at the Festival, which is a huge positive if betting on the Ryanair at this stage, whilst we already know full well he’s capable of winning this race.
Still only 7, it’s not inconceivable that he’s finished improving either, given the amount he progressed last season, and his toughness and willing attitude will only be a positive for him again this season, even if he doesn’t possess the raw ability of Min or Defi Du Seuil.
At a bigger price of 20-1, A Plus Tard, the novice handicap winner at last year’s Festival, catches the eye further down the market.
He claimed the scalp of Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres in a beginners’ chase at Naas back in December but fully showed the extent what he was capable of when producing a 16 length demolition job to take the Close Brothers.
The step up to three miles didn’t appear to suit when he was beaten by Delta Work at Punchestown the time again, so I’d expect a campaign this trip to be in mind for Henry De Bromhead, and given he’s already rated 160 at the age of 5, the natural progression that should be expected of a chaser still so young could see him turn into to a proper Grade One contender this season.