Cheltenham Festival 2016: Ryanair Chase Preview, Trends, Tips
The newest of the open Grade 1 chases at the Cheltenham Festival, the Ryanair Chase has its detractors. But, with eleven years' worth of form in the book - eight of them as a Grade 1 event, the roll of honour tells a different story.
Imperial Commander was the most noteworthy winner, scoring here a year prior to claiming victory in the Gold Cup itself; and, last year, the highest rated chaser in training, Don Cossack, finished third. Cue Card, former Cheltenham Bumper winner and second in the Arkle, also won this, in 2013. He, like Don Cossack, is vying for Gold Cup favouritism this time around.
But there's another reason to love this race: as an ante-post betting proposition it offers all sorts of opportunities. Falling as it does between the Champion Chase and Gold Cup, in terms of distance as well as chronology during Cheltenham week, many horses are quoted in the market that won't actually line up.
If that presents a risk to the futures bettor, then non-runner no bet is the safety net allowing us to take a chance on a horse that may or may not line up, happy in the knowledge that it's cash back for no dance. Nice.
The scene now set, here follow some commonalities between Ryanair winners. One might even call them trends...
Ryanair Chase Trends
Age: Horses aged from six to ten have won this, though it's worth noting that the six-year-old winner was in the pre-Grade 1 days of the race. That said, the form string for that age group is 41353, all of them French-bred's.
At the other end of the age spectrum, though ten-year-olds have a solid record, the handful of veterans beyond that have fared poorly, with a single placing from twelve who lined up (dual winner, Albertas Run, ran second in his bid for a hat-trick).
Days since a run: Not too much to note aside from the obvious: horses returning after short (less than a fortnight) or long (more than three months) breaks have a poor record.
Those to have last been seen in the King George have a very good record, however. Imperial Commander, Albertas Run (2011) and Dynaste all took that route to victory, from 13 such starters. The trio's Kempton efforts were 6P5, so keep an eye on any runner emerging here direct from Surrey track's Christmas feature.
Wins over further: One of the more interesting snippets is the record of horses who have never won beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip. It makes sense that this would be an exacting test of both speed and stamina, given the stiff track and the general fast pace in the race. As such, the fact that just three horses who had failed to win over further than the race distance - from 62 who matched that bill - have won is logical and a material negative trend: just 27% of the winners from 52% of the runners.
Or, if you prefer, 73% of the winners (and 58% of the places) came from the 48% of runners who had won over further than 2m5f. Though I'm certainly not saying he can't win, it should be pointed out that Vautour, as short as 4/6 in non-runner no bet markets, has not won beyond this distance.
Taking that a step further, we can see that those to have won at beyond three miles have an excellent record: 45% of the wins and 30% of the places from just a fifth of the runners.
English versus Irish: Despite having saddled more than a quarter of the runners, the Irish are still to win a Ryanair Chase, all the more ironic given the race sponsor hails from the Emerald Isle and has had two beaten favourites in recent years (5/2 Don Cossack and 2/1 First Lieutenant).
Again, it won't stop Vautour winning if he shows up, but it's something to be aware of, especially as Irish-trained horses reside in five of the top six ante-post betting spots currently.
2016 Ryanair Chase Form Preview
So much for the patterns, what of the form book? Before diving into that it is worth reiterating that the final field for this race is very fluid at time of writing (with four weeks to go), and wagering without the non-runner no bet concession is discouraged.
Vautour is favourite in all books, though the spread ranges from 4/6 to 9/2 illustrating the fact that he's considered a more likely runner for the Gold Cup. I concede that he'd be a solid favourite for the Ryanair Chase, with the trip looking ideal, but I do have reservations.
Although he's not won at a longer trip - he was touched off in the King George on Boxing Day over three miles - he scored over the Ryanair range at Ascot in November, and won the JLT Novices' Chase over a furlong shorter at last year's Festival. His stamina is suspect for the Gold Cup test, as I've written here, and there are other points in that post which would be a concern.
Allow me to précis the key pair here. 1. The JLT form looks moderate. 2. His Ascot win, in a Grade 2, was narrow and against a below top class opponent (Ptit Zig).
To balance that, his head second in the King George is probably the best form line in the race, and this 2m5f will feel not dissimilar to that three miler given the undulations.
If Vautour runs, he is clearly the one to beat. But, given he may be more likely to go to the Gold Cup, it makes sense to look elsewhere for a bet.
Next in the 'non runner no bet' books is Road To Riches, last year's Gold Cup third. Beaten just three and a half lengths there, he didn't look short of stamina, and it may be that he would only run in the Ryanair if the going was soft or deeper. He's a super consistent sort, having finished on the podium in his last ten races, going back two years, but he's found at least one too good in three of his last four spins - mainly with conditions in his favour - and he's not a big enough price to wager each way.
Dan Skelton has not declared Al Ferof for the Gold Cup leaving this race as his only Grade 1 target (he may yet be entered in a handicap). As such, he's a more likely runner than some at the head of the market and can be backed at 6/1 as I write.
This is a horse who is unquestionably best fresh - his form when racing after a break of 60+ days is 1F111151 - and he's finished third in the last three King George's. That level of performance gives him a good chance, but his Grade 1 chase form - 134335353 - tells a tale of tertiary tribulation. He may again play out for minor placings.
Another of the Irish runners with multiple Festival options is Valseur Lido. Third in last season's JLT, 15 lengths behind Vautour, he's run five times since and largely without merit. However, the shining form line in that quintet was when winning the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival last April.
His key may be the ground. That Punchy score was on good to yielding, similar conditions to his Chelto bronze. On that sort of sod, he's also run second to Faugheen in a Grade 1 novice hurdle and a very close second in a Grade 1 novice chase. It is probable that he's better than his recent muddy turf form, but at odds no better than 5/1 NRNB, he's unexciting as a voucher.
A fourth Irish lad at the top of the betting lists is Smashing. Henry de Bromhead's seven year old is likeable and progressive, but it should be noted that five of his six wins, and all four of his chase victories, have come on heavy ground. That's very unlikely to be the state of the lawns for the Festival.
In any case, he's probably still shy of what's needed in spite of a rise of twelve pounds from the Irish handicapper for a duffing up of a couple of formerly useful horses at the weekend. Now rated 159, no winner of the Ryanair has been less than Uxizandre's 161 last year since the race attained Grade 1 status. I like this lad but I don't think the race sets up for him.
Rounding out the top six in the betting is another Willie 'Won't he' Mullins inmate, Vroum Vroum Mag. Pinning down this mare's ability level is trappy: she's unbeaten in eight runs over hurdles and fences since moving from France a year and a half ago. Her official rating in Ireland is 155, though she may be at least seven pounds better than that and remains open to improvement.
Although she has done all her Wullie winning on soft or heavy turf, she had won races in France on quicker so it should not be assumed that she needs give underfoot. Indeed it is not impossible that she may improve further for a sounder surface. If she did, she could take a hand in a Ryanair, especially considering the seven pound sex allowance she'd receive.
However, Wullie's Cheltenham Cabinet reshuffle following the sad news that Faugheen will miss the Festival may mean that Annie Power goes to the Champion Hurdle (or the World Hurdle) rather than the Mares' Hurdle; and that could mean that VV Mag goes to the Mares' Hurdle.
If that's a confusing picture, here's the bottom line: she's 6/1 in a place non-runner no bet, and that looks a smidge of value, safe in the knowledge that if she takes up an alternative engagement, it's cash back no harm done.
We move into double digit odds offerings now, and Vibrato Valtat - by the same stallion as VVM (Voix Du Nord) - takes high order, in that part of the market at least. He's a talented horse, albeit one with a propensity for placing (4241334 in recent runs), and his rating of 161 looks on the generous side to me. In any case, he has to prove stamina for this gig, having not won beyond 2m1f (second only try at two and a half miles).
I never thought I'd be writing this, but Josses Hill is interesting, in the win only context at least. A very high class hurdler - second to Vautour in the 2014 Supreme - he was initially a shocking jumper of chase fences, likened by many to various large items of furniture.
He is still capable of horlicksing one, as he showed when bailing spectacularly in the Tingle Creek in December, but he is also still capable, as he showed when cantering home in a graduation chase last weekend, and when third in the Arkle last year.
That most recent effort should be put into a little context: the second, God's Own, has a known preference for faster than the soft ground they raced on there, and was also expected to need the run. Still, Josses Hill's form does look pretty solid and, though he too has other options (Champion Chase most notably), 14/1 NRNB is not without appeal, win only.
Dynaste is interesting too. He has no other Festival entries and his profile suggests he's best fresh, with form off a 60+ day layoff of 6112213. He has reportedly had a wind operation since trailing in last of eight behind Thistlecrack in December and, if that has helped in any way, the 2014 Ryanair winner - now ten - would have repeat prospects.
The fly in the ointment is an entry in the Ascot Chase this weekend, for which he is an intended runner. With just 26 days between that race and the Ryanair, I'd rather he headed straight to the big day. Still, a small win bet at 16/1 NRNB can't do much damage.
Along with Vroum Vroum Mag, Ma Filleule is the other mare entered and, therefore, the other in the field to avail of a seven pound allowance. Nicky Henderson's lass was second in the race last year but has run mostly moderately since, a Listed mares' chase win over Christmas being the exception. She too is entered in the Ascot Chase this weekend, but she's dropped almost a stone from her peak mark of 162, including a two pound reduction for that last day win. She probably has a bit to find on the balance of her recent efforts.
We're into the land of the 20/1+ chances now in a race that has never been won by a horse bigger than 16/1 and where nine of the eleven winners were 6/1 or shorter. Indeed, only two of the 33 placed horses were bigger than 20/1. Of course, with the expected raft of defections, the starting price market will look quite different from today's book, so it remains worth the time looking for a possible shortener lurking in the deep.
I don't like Gilgamboa (wants it soft, doubtful stayer, not good enough), but three of at least mild interest are Village Vic, Champagne West and God's Own.
Village Vic has been one of the most progressive chasers of the season, elevating from a perch of 120 this time last year to one of 157 now. He's won his last four, all in handicap company and two over course and distance. His aggressive front-running style will come under close scrutiny, but that approach didn't stop Uxizandre from winning last year, and who is to say this fellow is done improving yet?
Realistically he'll need to step forward another five pounds to claim the spoils and it is just possible that the handicapper over-reacted to his last day heavy ground effort by raising him a pound shy of a stone. He'd make a bold bid if swerving the handicaps for this race, though he's probably destined for gallant failure.
Stablemate Champagne West, on the other hand, could be leniently rated off 154. Ignoring a pulled up effort in heavy ground at the track last month (made an almighty blunder when 7/4 favourite), he looked to be staying on nicely when second to Village Vic the time before. His four length beating by VV was treated nine pounds more kindly by the handicapper and, in a true run race on better ground, he'd have a chance.
The worry with him is his jumping. A blunder in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase last year led to a fall which led to absenting from Festival season; and he again made a serious error when second to Vic two runs back. He'd been less than convincing with his leaping before the howler that ended his prospects last time, and that's a lot of errors to overlook.
If I'm going to take a chance on a dodgy jumper at a price, I think it will be Josses Hill.
God's Own is not a dodgy jumper but he is 25/1 NRNB. That's the wrong price despite an entry in the Champion Chase as well. Although he has a slight stamina question to answer, there's little doubt that he needs top of the ground and that he's a high class animal when he gets it.
He won a Grade 1 novice chase at Punchestown's Festival in 2014, and ran closest to Un De Sceaux in last year's Arkle at the Festival. A rating of 159 gives him a bit to find but not much, and if he goes this route he ought to be the same price as Josses Hill in my book.
One completely free go in the race is Don Cossack, who is 6/1 non runner no bet. He's very likely to go for the Gold Cup, but not a certainty, and his owner, Mr Ryanair, has pulled switcheroo stunts before. If he was to line up here, and Vautour did not, Don Cossack would be 6/4 or thereabouts.
2016 Ryanair Chase Tips
It's a real conundrum of a race, and my first piece of advice, generally speaking, is do not get sucked into taking a bigger price without 'non runner no bet' (NRNB) insurance. Plenty of these will show up in other races, or not at all, and all you'll have to show for your fancy price is a bit of (virtual) paper.
With that in mind, I'm happy to fire a few bullets with most of them likely to be money back blanks.
At the prices, I want Vroum Vroum Mag, and (I think) I want Josses Hill, and I want God's Own. I'll even take Dynaste despite the reservation about two runs inside four weeks. The prices on these will all look generous if they line up in the Ryanair (with the possible exception of Dynaste if he flunks at the weekend and still runs in this).
And then there's Don Cossack: at 6/1, cash back if he doesn't run, he's way too big. Buy the insurance at least.
Realistically, as few as one of the five could line up (Dynaste), but there is no harm in playing the others if you can afford to set aside the pennies for a month. Remember, ONLY back these with a bookmaker offering the 'non runner no bet' concession.
2pts win Don Cossack 6/1 NRNB bet365
1 pt win Vroum Vroum Mag 6/1 NRNB bet365
0.5 pt win Josses Hill 14/1 NRNB bet365
0.5 pt win Dynaste 16/1 NRNB bet365
0.5 pt win God's Own 25/1 NRNB bet365, Coral
Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews
All of our in-depth previews, trends and tips can be found here: