Day three of the Festival and it's usually one of those days which just feels it is stretched further than it needs to be, a remnant of the expansion from three days to four a decade ago. But the two features this year make up for that. And after the rather disappointing Queen Mother Champion Chase today, perhaps it's for the better that we can erase that memory swiftly by travelling five furlongs further.
Prolific contributor Chris Day, @chrisday100, analyses the big chase of the day, the Ryanair.
2m5f New course, Grade 1
The Ryanair Chase is one of Cheltenham’s newest Grade 1s and, despite its detractors, regularly throws up one of the most competitive fields of the week.
Favourite for this year’s contest has long been Don Cossack, unbeaten all season and clear on ratings for the race sponsors. Always held in the highest regard by connections, he appears to be fulfilling his promise and has earned the right to being jolly here. He’s won a Grade 3, two Grade 2s and a Grade 1 this season and is difficult to fault except for the fact that his jumping didn’t really stand the test in last year’s RSA Chase. Interestingly, his excellent trainer, Gordon Elliott has always said that he’d be happy to let him take his chance in The Gold Cup should connections’ Road To Riches not make it for any reason. Stamina is a big asset in this contest and he must go close.
Second favourite is the antepost plunge horse, Ma Filleule, who has attracted significant support since her reappearance second at Ascot behind third favourite for this race, Balder Succes on much softer ground four weeks ago. Second to Holywell in a red hot three mile handicap chase here last season, she jumped like a panther in the Topham at Aintree next time from a mark of 150 and appears to thrive for better ground, some sunshine on her back and a left hand course. I don’t mind admitting she’s a key horse for me here and connections sound bullish. Hopefully she runs to her best and, if she does, her 7lb mares’ allowance could be the key.
Balder Succes has won his last two races since stepping up in distance and has legitimate form claims but I’m not sure Cheltenham is his track and feel his stamina may be his undoing late on.
Foxrock won’t lack for stamina, having run in the four miler here last season and ran a very sound second in The Irish Hennessy last time, having previously taken a Leopardstown handicap comfortably by five lengths from a mark of 149. He’s clearly improving and his shrewd connections will not have stumped up the supplementary entry fee for a day out but I just wonder if Cheltenham really is his course and ninth in that race last season would be miles away from the form required to take this.
Hidden Cyclone was running away coming to two out in this last year before being passed by Dynaste and is a consistent performer with a good course record who will be tough to beat. Connections have decided to take this option rather than The Champion Chase for which he had been well touted and he will test the jumping of the others to the maximum. Whether his stamina will quite hold out is my only doubt and he is a big danger to all.
One of my favourite horses and one who owes me nothing is John’s Spirit, three times a course winner and just denied under a welter burden in November’s Paddy Power by Caid Du Berlais. His best form, though, is on that course and I just think that the New course doesn’t suit him so well so reluctantly have to pass him over.
If Taquin Du Seuil and Uxizandre return to the form of their JLT run last year when finishing first and second, they are a danger to all and I take the former, with fewer stamina doubts, to be the stronger up the hill, Eduard has his chance on Carlisle running with Gold Cup fancy, Many Clouds, but his jumping will be under pressure from the off here, Wishfull Thinking is a grand servant and testament to the training skills of Phillip Hobbs, having raced in top company for the last five or six seasons and clearly still loving the game and Wonderful Charm may be best on better ground and fresh so could easily outrun his odds.
My heart says Ma Filleule will be suited by a good jumping test and has the stamina and all important 7lbs mares’ allowance to help on the run to the line with the added assistance of the best chase jockey in the business, Barry Geraghty, but my head says Hidden Cyclone may be able to get them all at it early and just have the stamina reserves to hang on in what promises to be a thrilling renewal.