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Amazing Allaho rockets to Ryanair glory

Allaho produced a dominant front-running performance under Rachael Blackmore to give Willie Mullins a record fourth success in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned seven-year-old simply ran his rivals into the ground from the off, with Blackmore making her intentions clear from flag-fall in setting a strong pace and putting the rest of the field under pressure.

Min, who won the race last year, tried to match his stablemate but was burned off from three out, where Allaho pulled clear of the opposition.

Victory never looked in doubt as the 3-1 favourite kept going to strike by 12 lengths from Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies, with Tornado Flyer half a length away in third for the Mullins stable and Amy Murphy’s Kalashnikov a creditable fourth.

Mullins said: “That was an awesome performance. I thought Min would go with him every step of the way but his jumping wasn’t up to scratch, we might have to look at that.

“Allaho did everything right. The first thing I did when Rachael came back was lift the number cloth to see if the lead was still in there as it looked like he was just carrying Rachael!

“He was just awesome, his galloping and jumping, if he puts the two together – I was hoping he could do that over three miles, but if he’s only a two-and-a-half-miler that will do me.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates
Rachael Blackmore celebrates (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“I think aggressive tactics suit him, watching at home he just gallops and jumps.

“I was as gobsmacked as anyone watching it, I fully expected the two of them to collapse at the third-last but that is their style, we just had to hope one would be good enough.

“We might try three miles again, maybe the King George, we’ll see what connections think.”

Cheltenham Festival day three – Paisley bidding to reclaim Stayers’ crown

The Thursday of Cheltenham offers three Grade One contests, with the card headlined by Paisley Park’s Festival comeback in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

The Paddy Power-sponsored event may be the joint-feature, but the opening race of the third day is equally fascinating as the unbeaten Envoi Allen bids for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

The Ryanair Chase shares top billing, with Willie Mullins seemingly holding all of the aces with his highly-fancied trio of runners.

There are then large-field handicaps for punters to solve, with the running of the Pertemps Network Final and the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase, after which the Grade Two Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle looks set to be dominated by Irish runners and riders.

Infallible Envoi?

Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Envoi Allen heads to the Marsh Novices’ Chase with a flawless record of 11 runs and 11 victories, the most recent of which was a comfortable success in the Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown. He has since switched to the yard of Henry de Bromhead after departing Gordon Elliott’s stable and the eyes of the racing world will be on the seven-year-old as he bids to confirm his superstar status.

Mullins the man to beat, again

Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard
Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard (Tim Goode/PA)

The market can barely split the three Mullins runners that head the field for the Ryanair, with Allaho, Melon and Min all expected to shine. Out of the trio only Allaho was a winner last time out, but Min has the superior Cheltenham form, having been successful 12 months ago, and Melon was only a nose off taking the Marsh Novices’ Chase last year.

People’s horse Paisley on the comeback trail

Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner
Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner (David Davies/PA)

Paisley Park would be hugely popular winner if he were to triumph for Emma Lavelle in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He won the race in 2019 but was well beaten last season when suffering with an irregular heartbeat. After treatment he has bounced back to his best this term and is highly-fancied after the main threat to his success, Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill, was ruled out with a minor injury. Rebecca Curtis’ Lisnagar Oscar was a shock 50-1 winner last season and is back for more.

Novice mares meet again

Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland
Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Royal Kahala and Roseys Hollow will meet again in the the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, with the latter having prevailed by two lengths when the two crossed paths in the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last time out. Willie Mullins also has a live chance in the race as Hook Up reverts to her own sex after finishing fourth behind Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Mullins confident Min can bounce back in Ryanair defence

Willie Mullins retains faith that Min can make a bold attempt to retain his Ryanair Chase title – despite an evident blip in his ultra-consistent record at Leopardstown last month.

Min, a neck winner of Thursday’s Grade One last year from Saint Calvados, has been a model of reliability throughout his career until pulling up after jumping poorly in the Dublin Chase.

Paul Townend was on board the yard’s odds-on winning favourite Chacun Pour Soi that day, over a trip three furlongs shorter than this, but the powerhouse yard’s number one jockey will renew his association with Min this week.

Mullins is also set to field Allaho, Festival regular Melon and outsider Tornado Flyer in a field of 14 which features a strong British challenge from Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura and Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher.

Min (right) beat Saint Calvados last year
Min (right) beat Saint Calvados last year (Simon Cooper/PA)

Ireland’s multiple champion trainer prefers to focus on Min’s largely exemplary career record, rather than his recent aberration, and reports the 10-year-old in fine form at home.

“Nothing has shown up with Min (after the Dublin Chase), and I’m not really worried,” said Mullins.

“He just missed one fence down the back, and took off too soon.

“(Jockey) Patrick (Mullins) did say he felt he wasn’t galloping, and maybe the pace was too fast for him over that shorter trip and we shouldn’t have run him over the shorter trip – so once things weren’t happening we were happy to pull up.”

Allaho is among the favourites for Mullins
Allaho is among the favourites for Mullins (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins hopes Allaho, a close third over an extended three miles in championship novice company at Cheltenham last year, will also be running over his optimum distance this time.

His only concern for his three principals is that they could conceivably compromise one another’s chances.

“The three of them have similar tactics and methods of running – which might backfire against us a little bit,” he said.

“I always thought Allaho was going to be a three-mile, out-and-out staying chaser – the way he gallops and jumps – but his sire (No Risk At All) probably holds him back a little bit from having huge stamina, so he may just have a higher cruising speed at a shorter distance.

“He jumps very well and if you can match the two, possibly over that shorter trip it might suit him.”

Samcro (left) and Melon both ran in the Marsh last year
Samcro (left) and Melon both ran in the Marsh last year (Tim Goode/PA)

Melon has run with great credit in defeat at the last four Festivals, finishing second each time, and he too has had the Mullins camp scratching their heads over his best trip of late.

“We looked at Christmas and the race at the Dublin Racing Festival for Melon, and he doesn’t enjoy being held up,” added the trainer.

“He much preferred what he was doing at Christmas (tracking the leaders), and possibly the trip (an extended three miles) was too long (last time).”

Bailey did make an initial Gold Cup entry for Imperial Aura, a Festival handicap winner at close to this distance 12 months ago, but the Ryanair was always by far his most likely target.

The Cotswolds trainer said: “We go there with a very strong chance.

“I think it’s a very strong an competitive race, as they all are (at Cheltenham).”

Imperial Aura unshipped David Bass last time
Imperial Aura unshipped David Bass last time (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Imperial Aura uncharacteristically unseated his rider David Bass when evens favourite in a Kempton Grade Two to win for the fourth time in succession on his last appearance two months ago.

But Bass said: “He’s schooled brilliantly since Kempton, and I find his jumping is better the quicker he’s going, so the way the Ryanair should pan out will suit him.

“I tend not to be as much of a form analyst as usual (at the Festival), because I just have to concentrate on my horse.

“The Ryanair looks wide open – you could give a chance to so many, so I think it will be a cracking race. I think he’s good enough to win, and I’m excited to ride in the race.”

Mister Fisher won at Cheltenham in December
Mister Fisher won at Cheltenham in December (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Henderson has justifiably high hopes too for Mister Fisher, kept fresh since his decisive Cheltenham victory in December’s rerouted Peterborough Chase.

“He’s a lovely horse with a great temperament and a great attitude – a proper professional,” he said.

“He won the Lightning Novices’ Chase over two miles at Doncaster last year, so he’s got the pace, and he stays and jumps.

“I’d be very hopeful he’ll be competitive.”

Kalashnikov represents Amy Murphy
Kalashnikov represents Amy Murphy (Nigel French/PA)

Amy Murphy’s Peterborough runner-up Kalashnikov returns for the Ryanair too, with Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies – second in the 2020 Arkle – and Denise Foster’s two-time Festival winner Samcro also in the line up.

O’Brien’s confidence is boosted by Fakir D’oudairies’ Cheltenham form.

Fakir D’oudairies won over hurdles at Cheltenham
Fakir D’oudairies won over hurdles at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“He’s been a fantastic horse for us and has shown a liking for Cheltenham in the past – winning a Grade Two juvenile hurdle, finishing fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and second in the Arkle Challenge Trophy,” he told Betfair.

“He looked better than ever on his latest start when second to Chacun Pour Soi in the Dublin Chase.

“We have always thought that mid-range trips such as this would suit him, and we are really looking forward to seeing what he can do over it. It looks a wide-open race, and I hope he will run a big one.”

Townend chooses title-holder Min in Ryanair

Paul Townend has sided with last year’s winner Min over Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham – for which there are 14 declarations.

Allaho, who will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore on Thursday, has been ante-post favourite since winning a Grade Two at Thurles last time out – but Townend will partner his tried-and-trusted Willie Mullins-trained stablemate.

Mullins also runs Melon, who has finished second at the Festival four years in succession. He will be ridden by Bryan Cooper, with Danny Mullins on a fourth Closutton contender Tornado Flyer.

Saint Calvados was only a neck behind Min 12 months ago, and is back once more for Harry Whittington and Gavin Sheehan.

Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura won at the meeting last season and began his season in great style, winning at Carlisle and Ascot, but has been absent since an early departure at Kempton.

Dashel Drasher was a popular winner of the Ascot Chase for Jeremy Scott and Matt Griffiths, and will aim to add another Grade One to his tally.

Samcro, a dual Festival winner, needs to bounce back to his best for Denise Foster – while Chris’s Dream represents Henry de Bromhead.

Fakir D’oudairies (Joseph O’Brien), Fanion D’Estruval (Venetia Williams), Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy), Mister Fisher (Nicky Henderson) and Real Steel (Paul Nicholls) have all been declared too.

Defending champion Min heads Mullins’ team in Ryanair reckoning

Willie Mullins appears to hold the key to the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham on Thursday with at least three leading candidates in Allaho, Min and Melon following the confirmation stage.

That trio was among six left in by the Closutton trainer after there were 16 acceptors.

Min took the Grade One honours 12 months ago, but he has to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Dublin Chase after making a winning seasonal debut in the John Durkan.

Melon could try to end a run of four second places at the last four Festivals, having played second fiddle in the Supreme, the Champion Hurdle twice and the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Allaho staked his claim when winning a Grade Two contest at Thurles in January. He was third in the RSA Novices’ Chase last year and third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2019.

Chacun Pour Soir remains in the Ryanair but is set to go for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, for which he is a short-priced favourite. Cilaos Emery and Tornado Flyer are Mullins’ other possibles.

Dual Festival winner Samcro, who is with Denise Foster while Gordon Elliott serves his suspension, is also in the line up, while Henry de Bromhead’s Chris’s Dream and Fakir D’Oudairies from Joseph O’Brien’s yard complete the Irish interest.

Leading the home defence is Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura, a winner at the Festival last year. However, he blotted his copybook at Kempton last time when unseating his rider at the second fence.

Jeremy Scott has left in Betfair Ascot Chase victor Dashel Drasher while Nicky Henderson’s Peterborough Chase scorer Mister Fisher and Saint Calvados, runner-up in this race last year, are among others in the mix.

Min tops 50 contenders for Ryanair Chase gold

Last year’s winner Min is one of 50 entries for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Having previously chased home Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Willie Mullins-trained Min finally enjoyed his day in the sun at the showpiece meeting 12 months ago.

Having kicked off the current campaign by winning his third John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, the 10-year-old is the ante-post favourite to successfully defend his Ryanair crown and become just the second dual winner after Albertas Run (2010 and 2011).

An 11-strong Mullins contingent also includes Allaho, Chacun Pour Soi, Kemboy, Melon and Tornado Flyer, although several have alternative engagements in one or both of the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Other contenders for the Ryanair include last year’s runner-up Saint Calvados, trained by Harry Whittington, Henry de Bromhead’s Savills Chase winner A Plus Tard, Nicky Henderson’s superstar chaser Altior and Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura, who is set to run in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton this weekend.

Bailey said: “Imperial Aura is in good form and he runs on Saturday – that race is essentially his prep run for the Cheltenham Festival, where he will hopefully line up in the Ryanair Chase.

“He won at the Festival last year and I have been delighted with his performances so far this year.

“I am very happy with him and Saturday should hopefully tell us more, but Cheltenham is definitely a target for him.”

Amy Murphy is considering multiple options for Kalashnikov ahead of a likely tilt at the Ryanair.

Having shaped with promise when seventh on his reappearance over hurdles at Haydock, Murphy’s stable star was a well-backed favourite for the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham last month and emerged with plenty of credit in finishing second to Mister Fisher.

She said: “Kalashnikov in great form. He’s been in very light work since Cheltenham – we haven’t done a lot with him at all.

“We’ve freshened him up. He’s received an entry in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival and he’ll have one more run between now and then.

“I’ve put him in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, there’s Newbury in mid-February and Warwick in mid-February as well, so he’s got a few different options.”