Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview, Trends, and Tips
One of the newer races in the expanded four day Cheltenham Festival, the Ryanair Chase is rapidly making a name for itself as a coronation procession for middle distance chasing champions. Run over two miles and five furlongs, and with seventeen fences to jump it is a true test of speed, stamina and athleticism, and the tapes go up at 2.40 on Thursday 13th March.
At the time of writing, the race looks to be an excellent betting contest, mainly because the ante-post favourite and reigning Ryanair champion, Cue Card, has been declared by his trainer to be "85 per cent likely" to run in the Gold Cup and, therefore, miss this race.
Moreover, there is a good chance that third favourite, Al Ferof, will run in the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair as well, although this will not be decided until after the Denman Chase, scheduled for 8th February.
That leaves only Benefficient, last year's Jewson Chase winner (for novices' over the same course, and distance), at single figures for the contest, and he too is also engaged in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. It's then 11/1 bar this trio of uncertain entries, which underscores my keenness to have a bash at the contest.
Let's first see if there is anything to be gleaned from the past runnings of the race...
Ryanair Chase Trends
First run in 2005, there are now nine years' worth of data to trawl, and the key points from it include the following.
Just three of 23 last time out winners followed up in the Ryanair, with another three (from 19) winning having been second on their previous start. 19 of the 42 horses to have finished 1-2 in their last race were placed in the Ryanair, at a rate of 45%. That was from 44% of the runners, making the 67% win rate noteworthy.
Eight- to ten-year-olds have claimed seven of the nine Ryanair's, and 19 of the 27 place positions (70%), though that is only in line with their numerical representation, having been responsible for 72% of the runners.
Only 14/1 Albertas Run has won at a bigger price than 6/1, so whichever horse we back at a bigger price, we should be looking for it to truncate in the betting before the big day. With the possibility of two or three of the main fancies swerving the race, there's every chance of finding a 'shortener'.
In such a classy race as the Ryanair, it is hardly surprising that ten of the 25 runners officially rated 165 or higher were placed, with four of them winning. That's 44% of the winners, and 37% of the placed horses from just 26% of the runners.
As with all Cheltenham races, it takes an exceptional horse to defy a significant layoff, and all nine Ryanair winners ran within 90 days of their Festival success. 25 of the 27 (93%) placed horses did too, from 84% of the runners. Aside from Quevega, it is good sense to exclude any horse without a run in the previous 90 days at the Cheltenham Festival.
The most interesting trend with regards to the Ryanair however may be that eight of the nine winners of the race so far had already won at Cheltenham beforehand, though not necessarily at the Festival. That's 89% of the winners from just 52% of the runners.
Placing even greater emphasis on track form is the fact that eight of the nine winners (89%), and 19 of the 27 (70%) placed horses, had been placed at least twice before around Cheltenham. And that from just 51 runners (54%).
Six of the nine Ryanair winners were previous Grade 1 winners, with another two having already notched in Grade 2 company.
Those which fit the profile closest include Dynaste, Menorah, and First Lieutenant.
Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview
Cue Card is the defending champion and ante post favourite for this year's Ryanair Chase. He obviously handles conditions fine, and has been in excellent form this year, including when winning the Grade 1 Betfair Chase over about three miles at Haydock in November. Since then he's run a game second in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and comes to the Festival in top form.
The problem for punters is that he's more likely - much more likely according to his trainer - to go for the Gold Cup than the Ryanair and, as such, the 3/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet) is far more appealing than the 6/1 Paddy Power, where you'll lose your cash if Cue Card doesn't start in this race.
Benefficient is more likely to take in this event, though he too is engaged elsewhere, and he underlined his credentials firstly by winning the novices' equivalent of the Ryanair, the JLT (was Jewson), and secondly by fending off all-comers last time in the Grade 1 Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown.
The problem here is that Benefficient's Grade 1 score the last day was over two miles and on soft ground and, despite the persistent rain that continues to fall, it is expected to be quicker than that - and will certainly be further than that - in middle March. In any case, his form is probably half a stone or more behind that of Cue Card.
Al Ferof, a 7/1 chance, is another that may take the Gold Cup route. His King George third, eleven lengths behind Cue Card, left suspicions that he doesn't truly stay the three miles there - and therefore would struggle to get the almost 3m3f of the Gold Cup trip. There are some, however, that believe he was outpaced at Kempton, and was staying on at the finish.
My take is that he didn't stay, a perception which is at least partially supported by no previous rules effort beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip. In fact, the only two runs at that distance culminated in a Grade 1 third in a novice hurdle at Newbury, and a win the Paddy Power Gold Cup over the course, and distance, of the Ryanair.
He's entered in the three mile Denman Chase on 8th February, and a call on which Festival target to tilt at will be made subsequently. If Al Ferof lines up here, he has a very good chance - form figures of 2F1141 at Cheltenham, and 214 at the Festival underline that. 6/1 non-runner no bet with bet365 is the logical play, especially with trainer Paul Nicholls hinting that the Gold Cup is slightly preferred at this stage.
First Lieutenant is yet another horse with multiple entries, and which might go the Gold Cup route. He ran second to a resurgent Bobs Worth at Leopardstown over Christmas, though the form of that race is hard to quantify. To wit, the winner had run a stinker in the Betfair previously; the third, Rubi Ball, was bidding to replicate smart French form but hasn't won for two years and eleven starts; the fourth, Sir Des Champs, was essentially having his first start of the season after a very early (and crashing) fall the time before. He ran a bit flat, and has been withdrawn for the remainder of the season.
Of the remainder, nothing was rated higher than 154, and only the veteran Prince de Beauchene was distanced from the field. In other words, it was a muddling race.
In First Left's defence, he has an extremely consistent profile - 14 places from 17 chase starts - but against him are just three wins from that number. Given that he was readily outpaced in the Ryanair last year; and that his five subsequent starts have all been at within a furlong of three miles; and that Sir Des Champs (same owner) is out of the Gold Cup... I'd say he's more likely to go the Gold Cup route. Betting of 11/1, but only 6/1 non runner no bet tells a tale, and he's not for me. Too many chances, too few wins.
Next in is Dynaste and, after a disappointing performance in the King George, he's receiving specialist treatment at home. The latest bulletin from trainer David Pipe was far from fulsome, with the trainer noting, “He is improving steadily (but is not yet 100 per cent) and is still receiving regular treatment from [physiotherapist] Mary Bromiley."
Dynaste plugged on quite well behind Benefficient in the Jewson/JLT last year, but he was expected to win that day, so the silver medal can still be marked a tad disappointing. Overall then, the price doesn't really offer too much for value punters.
The best backed horse of recent days is Willie Mullins' Marito, a faller when starting to make ground in Benefficient's Cheltenham win last year. He's had a low key prep since, with a close second to an under-par Hurricane Fly in the Morigana Hurdle followed by a straightforward conversion in a Listed chase at Tramore.
Marito did have the 162-rated Roi Du Mee three lengths back in that contest, but he doesn't look good enough even off a revised rating of 154. He may also want deeper turf than he's likely to encounter at Cheltenham in March.
Although there are still a number of contenders priced at 20/1 or shorter, most of them have serious questions to answer currently: the likes of Riverside Theatre (inconsistent, unseated last time), Module (lightly raced and a stone below what's needed), Captain Conan (stamina doubt on this stiff track and maybe more likely to contest Queen Mother Champion Chase), and Arvika Ligeonniere (may be better right handed and disappointed badly in the Champion Chase last year).
Of the oily rags, Menorah has plenty of course form and has been in the first three in nine of fourteen career chases, including three Grade 1's. The problem for his fan club is that he's also pulled up twice in his last four starts, including when running a clunker in last year's Ryanair.
If his mid-February prep goes all right, he is at least solely entered in the Ryanair at the Festival. He's 20/1 non-runner free bet with BetVictor and that's not the least tempting offer on the bookies' table.
Ryanair Chase 2014 Tips
Betting of 6/1 the field attests to the wide open nature of this year's Ryanair and, with lingering doubts about which race several of the leading candidates will contest, this is a minefield for punters. With some bookmakers offering either non runner no bet or non runner free bet, we can take a chance on a couple against the top of the market.
Cue Card does have BY FAR the most compelling profile for the race, and is a model of top class consistency. He definitely merits some sort of insured investment, as he could be a 7/4 chance on the day if lining up in this (and, of course, it's free bet time if he runs in the Gold Cup instead).
Al Ferof at 6/1 is also a price with a bit of scope assuming he lines up. I think he will and, therefore, I think the 6/1 non runner no bet is worth taking.
The rest are varying degrees of unpalatable, and the best outsider could be course veteran, Menorah. His Cheltenham form is 111543P2 and he does have talent on his going days.
Ryanair Chase win selection: Al Ferof 6/1 bet365 (non-runner no bet)
Ryanair Chase saver: Cue Card 3/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)
Best Ryanair Chase outsider: Menorah 20/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)