Last year’s race
- Winner: Balko Des Flos
- Jockey: D N Russell
- Trainer: H de Bromhead
- Owner: Gigginstown House Stud
- Age: 7 Weight: 11st 10lb
- Starting Price: 8/1
- Season Form Figures: 1232
- Previous Best: 1st - TheTote.com Galway Plate (Handicap Chase), Galway (August 2017)
Last season’s six-runner Ryanair in which Balko Des Flos beat the odds-on, defending title holder, Un De Sceaux, by 4½l into second was somewhat of a damp squib but both could return to this year’s race. Victory for Balko Des Flos finally gave Gigginstown the win that they wanted so badly in the race they effectively sponsor having had three seconds in the race in addition to the subsequent Gold Cup winner, Don Cossack, also placing and they could also be represented by this season’s Kinloch Brae 1-2, Tout est Permis and Sub Lieutenant (second and fourth in the last two years).
Balko Des Flos was returned at 8/1 so wasn’t one of the ten winners in 14 runnings to be sent off in the first two in the betting. He tracked the leaders before taking over three out in last year’s race so I wouldn’t quite include him as one of 11 winners from 14 runnings to race close to or right on the pace, with two of the last six making all the running. Un De Sceaux took over at the fifth fence when he was successful.
Twelve of the 14 winners had won at Cheltenham before as had eight runners-up so previous course form is a big positive. Previous course winners have outnumbered their non Prestbury Park-winning rivals to the tune of 77-70 beforehand but that still doesn’t suggest that the record of previous course winners should be as dominant as is the case. The Ryanair takes place on the New Course over which four previous winners had won but ten winners had previously won on the Old Course (three of which had won over both courses in case you are wondering why the maths don’t add up) so although some horses excel more on one course than the other, it hasn’t had a bearing on the Ryanair.
Nine of the last 11 winners had already won a Grade 1 race and winners at the very highest level have recorded four 1-2s in the last eight years.
However, the best individual guide has been the King George VI Chase as seven of the last 11 Ryanair winners ran at Kempton on Boxing Day and another was second in the King George the previous season. Maybe that’s a pointer to Politologue who shaped like a non-staying fourth but his Cheltenham record isn’t anywhere near as good as on flat or right-handed courses. Of those seven Ryanair winners to run in the King George earlier in the season, only Our Vic and Vautour could finish placed.
The BetVictor Gold Cup and Ascot Chase have both featured four winners apiece but it has been the Grade 1 race at Ascot rather than the Grade 3 handicap at Cheltenham that has by far a better record since the Ryanair was promoted to a Grade 1, not unexpectedly given its upgrade. Two of its winners doubled up here (Riverside Theatre and Cue Card) and two other winners (Albertas Run and Fondmort) finished placed at Ascot.
Checking out last year’s renewal has been productive as Albertas Run won back-to-back runnings and Fondmort and Our Vic went one place better than 12 months earlier so I wouldn’t put it beyond Balko Des Flos bouncing back to his best after he returned from the Savills Chase with sore shins. Frodon was a well-beaten fifth last season but has taken a big step forward since then.
When analysing patterns for the Ryanair, it is important to differentiate between the early trends when it was contested as a Grade 2 prize and results since it was elevated to Grade 1 status in 2008 as a different type of horse has been emerging on top. Prior to 2008, it was 2½ mile specialists just below top class that held the call but, following the upgrade, top notchers with high-quality form over 3m+ have taken over. Balko Des Flos had previously finished second in the Savills Chase over 3m. Nine of the last 11 winners had already won a Grade 1 race and winners at the very highest level have recorded four 1-2s in the last eight years.
Irish-trained horses were 0-32 heading into the 2016 but they put an end to that blip in style when Vautour led home a 1-2-3 beating Valseur Lido and Road To Riches and then Un De Sceaux gave the Irish back-to-back wins followed by Balko Des Flos completing a hat-trick for the raiders last season leading home an Irish 1-2 with their only two runners.
At a glance summary
- Contested the King George VI Chase
- Finished in the first three in the Ascot Chase
- Ran well in last season’s Ryanair
- Start in the front two in the betting
- Stamina proven at three miles
- Prominent Racers
- Lack of Cheltenham-winning form
- Yet to win a Grade 1 race
- To start at bigger than 6/1