It is just 14 years since the Ryanair Chase was introduced to the Festival and I don’t think anybody could argue that it hasn’t enhanced the meeting.
The race is set up for those that may lack the speed to contest the Champion Chase and yet may struggle to last out the stamina test that is the Gold Cup.
Because of that, it tends to be a sort of “fallback” race, which doesn’t give it the respect it perhaps deserves and means that is always difficult to work out what is going to run. Even when you know, it remains an intriguing puzzle. This year’s renewal is no exception.
One of the most impressive winners at last year’s Festival when he outclassed Un De Sceaux in this race. Although he had been second to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown the time before, the performance seemed to come from nowhere and, indeed, he has struggled to back it up.
However, he is hard to write off completely as he was only four lengths behind Min in the John Durkan at Punchestown and then suffered poor luck in running on his latest start in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.
Things haven’t gone quite so smoothly this season for last year’s brilliant Arkle Chase winner who has suffered an overreach injury on both his starts this season - when falling at the last at Naas on his reappearance and when beaten by the admirable Simply Ned at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He looked in need of the race on that occasion and his trainer has admitted that he might he forced to run him without hind shoes for the time being.
Having been off for over a year, his comeback second to Altior at Ascot was an excellent run. However, he was put firmly in his place by Cyrname on a return to the track recently, where he may also have been a victim of the “bounce factor”.
In his favour is his liking for Cheltenham where he can boast a record of four wins, two seconds and a third from seven starts and, if the ground remains good, that should also suit him. Certainly, an interesting contender.
Frodon was a well-held fifth in this last year as he lost his form towards the end of the season. But a wind operation seems to have reinvigorated him.
He was always a smart chaser but he has taken some big steps forward this term and, having shown his stamina by winning the Cotswold Chase, the Gold Cup is also under serious consideration.
As well as that, he also defied a mark of 164 in the December Gold Cup over this course and distance – he goes especially well on this New Course - and if he were to show up here, he would surely take some beating. The ground comes alike to him.
4/9, held up in rear, took keen hold, headway to chase leaders 3 out, soon not clear run and lost place, effort on outside after 2 out, went 4th when hit last, hung left flat and kept on, no impression on leaders
Sure, this would be a step up for Harry Fry’s gelding but there is a feeling that there is more to come from him. He gave Mister Whitaker 12lb at Kempton the Christmas before last and there was a lot to like about his Ascot win on his latest start, which was marked by his fine jumping, especially after taking a keen hold.
He would be an intriguing each-way shout at around the 33-1 mark.
This will be Min’s third visit to the Festival and on the last two occasions he has been unfortunate to run into the monster that is Altior who beat him by seven lengths in both the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle of 2016 and last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.
If he sidesteps another clash in Wednesday’s highlight and turns up here instead, Ruby Walsh would have to decide between him, Footpad and Un De Sceaux, last year’s runner-up, and that won’t be easy. Min may be the most tempting if the rains stay away and his preparation has gone well.
Min is a strong traveller and yet he stays two and a half miles well as shown when overcoming trouble in running to take the John Durkan at Punchestown. He then dropped back to the minimum trip to land the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown. Big chance.
This race could be made for him as there is a suspicion that he may just lack the staying power for the Gold Cup.
He put up a terrific trial in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park last time, making all and jumping very well over that two and a half mile trip as he comfortably give 7lb to last year’s Gold Cup third Anibale Fly. That sets him up very nicely.
He is a high-class chaser, no doubt, but was no match for Presenting Percy in the RSA Chase last year and connections may be reluctant to face a rematch.
If allowed to bowl along in front (perhaps pressed by Frodon), he could get into a very nice rhythm.
Last year’s Gold Cup fourth began the season in style when coming home alone in the Champion Chase at Down Royal and has not performed badly in two starts since.
Twice he suffered awful luck in running when third to Kemboy in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown but his defeat to Bellshill in the Irish Gold Cup was spoiled by several jumping errors, which tend to be a hallmark these days.
That said, he has never fallen in his life and remains an admirable chaser who always gives his best. It looks like the Gold Cup again for him, however.
Was a thoroughly convincing winner against Black Corton and Charbel at Kempton which confirmed him as good as ever and puts him right in the picture for this.
In spite of his name, Top Notch is not considered that by his trainer, which might be a touch harsh as his three previous visits to Cheltenham have all resulted in high class efforts, especially when second to Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase here two years ago (he has also been second in the Triumph Hurdle and fifth in a Champion Hurdle).
A most likeable, consistent type, he looks sure to do his best again and should be involved at the business end.
This legend of a chaser, now 11, makes his fifth consecutive Festival appearance and third in this race, having won it in 2017 and finishing runner-up last year to a bang in-form Balko Des Flos. He has also won the 2015 Arkle Chase and been second in the Champion Chase.
It is widely assumed that he needs really soft ground to show his best form and although his win here in 2017 was on good ground, his ageing legs may appreciate the help of plenty of cut.
He seems as good as ever judged on his second to Altior in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December. Imagine the scenes if he were to do it and gain his tenth Grade 1!
Unbeaten over fences until this season. Was no match for Cyrname at Ascot when, not for the first time, he showed a tendency to hang. But at least he completed, having suffered an unfortunate unseat when hampered mid-race in the King George VI Chase.
Connections seem reluctant to commit him to Cheltenham - he has yet to appear there - but there seems no doubt that this would be a perfect race for him on paper. Indeed, at 170, he would be the highest rated in the line-up.