Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post: Ryanair Chase

2m4½f Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) – Thursday 12th March 2020

The Ryanair Chase looks like a race which is going to cut up in my eyes, with the likes of Chacun Pour Soi, Delta Work, Cilaos Emery, Janika, Chris’s Dream, Bristol De Mai and Dynamite Dollars either running elsewhere, or skipping Cheltenham altogether. To be fair to the race however, these omissions won’t dampen the quality – with the top three in the betting all very good Horses.

Among the ‘big three’ is last year’s well acclaimed winner Frodon. This gutsy Horse is still only an eight-year-old despite having been on the scene for a long time, and his performance last year was admittedly fantastic to watch. As you can probably already tell from my tone however, he’s not a Horse who would interest me this time around. His lackluster third on debut in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase in October was infamously blamed on the low-sun forcing Fences to be omitted, but he didn’t exactly come on for the run as you would expect when beaten a massive twenty-seven lengths by Lostintranslation in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase. All things equal, Frodon did run much better at Kempton in January when making all in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase, but beating Keeper Hill by one-and-a-quarter lengths is miles below the form which will be required to record back-to-back victories. Although the 2019 Ryanair was a fair enough race, two top-class Irish raiders bring much stronger form to the table this time around.

The first of those competitors is Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard, who bolted up for my Ante-Post article at last year’s Festival in the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase. You do have to take that win with a pinch of salt considering connections managed to engineer a mark of 144 for this Horse that day, but visually he was extremely impressive. After that performance A Plus Tard can be forgiven for not staying three-miles at the Punchestown Festival, before going on his Summer Holidays. Returning to the track at Navan in November, A Plus Tard was dropped right back in trip to two-miles in the Grade 2 Fortria Chase. Taking a lead from Ballyoisin, A Plus Tard looked outpaced jumping the third-last but picked up well when asked for an effort by Rachael Blackmore. He never looked like getting to the winner that day however, and was ultimately beaten two-and-a-quarter lengths. Despite defeat, this run gave A Plus Tard a huge advantage when heading to Leopardstown over Christmas, where he beat an under-cooked Chacun Pour Soi over 2m1f (more of that in a moment!). Connections were aiming to return to that track for the Dublin Racing Festival in February, but the drying ground curtailed those plans – meaning he will come to Cheltenham having had a 76-day break. Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that A Plus Tard is a good Horse, I do think that he is up against a superstar in Min.

Ante-Post Article Horse Name Header Image - Min

One crucial piece of information you must consider when looking at Willie Mullins runners this year is that his big guns have all come on massively for their first run of the season. Take Chacun Pour Soi for example. He clearly badly needed the run at Leopardstown over Christmas when behind A Plus Tard, but put in a savage performance on his next start when winning at the Dublin Racing Festival. The same logic applies to Min, which is testament to his ability considering he won a Grade 1 on his first start of the season in the John Durkan Memorial – beating Hardline by an unimpressive two-and-a-quarter lengths. Although he still won the race, Min was very buzzy in the preliminaries and his jumping was a bit rusty in parts. Although clearly not at his brilliant best, it was pleasing to see Min battle when headed by a race-fit rival after the second last. This Horse stayed on very strongly to the line when shaken up by Paul Townend, so anyone who says that Min doesn’t properly stay two-and-a-half miles is talking nonsense, and his record over the trip reads an impressive 12111. Among those performances four of them were in Grade 1 company, with yielding ground the fastest surface he’s encountered. By far the best of those performances came at Aintree last season, when Min once more showed his star quality to batter Politologue by a massive 20 lengths – earning his official rating of 171 over fences.

Already a five-times Grade 1 Chase winner, Min was last seen on the track when running in the aforementioned Grade 1 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown, a race which he had won the previous two renewals in succession. Disputing with Ornua for the lead early on, Min had enough by the time they got to the fifth flight and pressed on under Robbie Power, keeping up a proper gallop. Jumping much more professionally than on his previous start, Rich Ricci’s other star Chaser Chacun Pour Soi (172) went upsides at the third last and the pair quickly powered away from the rest of the field. Although Min ultimately didn’t have the pace to go on with his stablemate, he stayed on strongly after the last and put up a massive performance in defeat to a Champion Chase hopeful. Stepping back up in trip to 2m4½f at Cheltenham should really suit, and it is high time that he recorded a Festival success having finished second behind Altior in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and 2018 Champion Chase. I absolutely adore this classy Horse, and I am confident he will prove any doubters wrong now finally given his chance in the Ryanair.

Min 3pts Win @ 3/1 NRNB

Good luck! – Jake Price

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