Ante-post focus: 2017 Ryanair Chase

Forty-eight horses have been entered for the 2017 Ryanair Chase, 18 of those Irish based. In Cue Card (2013) and Uxizandre (2015), we have two past winners in, but the former is highly unlikely to run here – he’s Gold Cup bound.

Since the race’s inception at the 2005 Festival, the first 11 runnings went the way of UK-trained horses; the Irish sponsors unable to bag their own event. The Emerald Isle finally broke their duck in last season’s race, the brilliant Vautour stamping his class and winning for the Ricci, Mullins and Walsh team.

The Ryanair Chase ante-post preview

Mullins and Walsh currently house the race-favourite in six-time Grade 1 and 2015 Arkle winner Un De Sceaux (7/2). With Mullins holding all the aces in the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Douvan, a contest Un De Sceaux was runner-up in last season, it’s increasingly likely the free-going nine-year-old will run here.

The son of Denham Red has only had two starts this season, winning a strongly-run Tingle Creek at Sandown and then following up in the rearranged Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham. At Esher, despite the pace being brisk, Un De Sceaux travelled powerfully under Walsh before showing a great attitude to out battle Sire De Grugy after two sloppy jumps in the straight.

In the Clarence House, he would fend off the returning-from-injury Uxizandre by an easy five lengths on his favoured soft ground. Top Gamble, a solid and inform rival was a further five lengths back in third.

Un De Sceaux didn’t have to be at the top of his game to win here, but in doing so his jumping improved from Sandown and he went through the race like a horse at the top of his game, setting himself up nicely for March.

Stepping up in trip in the Ryanair will be a new test for him over fences however, and will also likely come on his less favoured spring ground. I have no doubt Un De Sceaux will see out the trip and handle decent terrain, but he is susceptible to a horse with gears, as Sprinter Sacre proved in last year’s Champion Chase, although, there’ll be nothing of that quality likely to run against him on current evidence.

Second favourite is another Irish-trained horse, Sizing John (8/1). Jessica Harrington’s inmate was covered in the first ante-post piece – the Gold Cup – and was recommended as a bet there. I think there is every chance he could run in the Gold Cup so; he obviously doesn’t make much appeal in a long-term market here. While the case, should he run in the Ryanair, he’ll go close as he looks on great terms with himself currently and has the requisite class to win.

In 2006 and 2012, Nicky Henderson won the Ryanair with Fondmort and Riverside Theatre, respectively. The master of Seven Barrows looks like he might run Josses Hill (10/1), but he makes no appeal at that price this far out.

While his jumping has undoubtedly improved ten-fold, I feel he is best dominating small fields on right-handed flat speed tracks. He won’t be afforded that luxury here and, even if he was, I’m not sure he’s good enough.

After a brilliant run in the Clarence House behind Un De Sceaux, Uxizandre (12/1) has firmly put himself in the Ryanair picture. A breath-taking and runaway winner of the 2015 renewal of this event in a first-time visor, the horse that gave AP McCoy his last Cheltenham Festival winner hadn’t been seen on the racetrack for the best part of two years before his Trials Day effort.

All the old enthusiasm and spark still appeared to be intact despite racing on ground much softer than ideal over an inadequate trip. Apart from guessing at one down the back, his jumping was also good and he really pleased with how he saw out the race having been outpaced before they started coming down the hill.

On back class, the nine-year-old is good enough to win this year’s Ryanair if bouncing back to that sort of form. A return to positive tactics, quicker ground and two-and-a-half miles is sure to suit, but it’s impossible to say how he’ll perform on his next start having been off the track so long.

Another horse with the undoubted ability to win the Ryanair is God’s Own (25/1), the 2015 Arkle runner-up and 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase fourth. While comfortably held in both those quality races, I do feel there is a case to suggest he is an improved horse.

Eight-and-a-half lengths Tom George’s inmate would finish behind Un De Sceaux in the 2015 Arkle. That gap, behind the Mullins runner up, was down to five lengths in last year’s Champion Chase behind the brilliant Sprinter Sacre although, it could’ve been closer but for a mistake at the penultimate obstacle.

Having looked outpaced at the top of the hill in the Queen Mother, connections rightly stepped him up in trip at Aintree where he won the Grade 1 Melling Chase. Going right-handed, the direction his trainer is convinced suits him best, the son of Oscar would dethrone the mighty Vautour in the Punchestown Champion Chase.

In three efforts this campaign, God’s Own has yet to win, but his fans can take solace in the fact he has run a trio of highly credible races at Aintree, Ascot and Sandown. He hasn’t been seen since his fast-finishing 1 ½ lengths defeat by Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek, but that’s no surprise given he isn’t a winter ground horse.

He’s good enough to go close here, but there is a chance he could run in the Champion Chase. There is also a case to say he’s not as good over the Ryanair intermediate trip, but of the two races he’s most likely to win at the Festival, the Ryanair is it.

Best of the Rest

Although the Ryanair has been well-supported at this entry stage, many of the real class horses like Cue Card and Douvan won’t be running here and it’s a race that will likely cut up quite badly.

Gigginstown House Stud, otherwise known as Michael and Eddie O’Leary, have entered six horses, but five of those, for various reasons, may not run here and Sub Lieutenant (14/1) looks to be their number horse on paper.

Now in training with Henry de Bromhead, the eight-year-old has done nothing but progress since joining the Waterford handler. Two wins came early in the campaign before he finished behind the likes of Djakadam in the John Durkan and the new-and-improved Sizing John in the Kinloch Brae at Thurles.

Jumping is his main asset and with him now looking good enough to at least hit the frame in a Ryanair, he’s worth considering. An athletic-moving horse, he’s a half-brother to Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere and finally looks to be finding his feet.

Finding his feet is something last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase winner Black Hercules (16/1) is struggling with this campaign. Willie Mullins’s horse has at least improved in his three efforts in 2016/17, but he has failed to trouble the judge.

He was well-beaten on his return behind Djakadam in the John Durkan where Danny Mullins reported him to be “flat” on the way to post. He had little chance of beating Douvan over two miles at Christmas, but at least showed more before nothing much went right in the Kinloch Brae on his last start.

He got behind early and could never really land a blow, running an inefficient race to end up nicely held. He did at least show a glimmer of hope by latching on to the leaders turning in and he is a Cheltenham Festival winner, but he’s just not showed the same appetite this season. There is still time for him to spark however, and if he does, his current price would look more than fair.

The Gary Moore-trained pair of Ar Mad and Traffic Fluide get favourable mentions on the basis that they are good enough to run well in a Ryanair. Both had injuries that ruled them out of last season’s Festival, but the former has at least made one appearance this season.

Having drifted in the betting like a poor run was expected, Ar Mad (25/1) shaped with promise behind Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek. He was only beaten 3 ½ lengths in the end despite over racing early and then threatening to be well-beaten turning for home. The Ryanair intermediate trip could suit, but there still lingers a doubt about him performing to his best in Grade 1 company going left-handed.

Traffic Fluide (25/1) is an easier dodge at this stage given we haven’t seen him this season, but he remains a horse to monitor over the coming weeks.

I’ve been really disappointed with Vaniteux this campaign. His run in the 2016 Arkle, where he fell two out when looking booked for a sound second behind Douvan, has worked out nicely, but he hasn’t gone on. Flat tracks maybe suit him best and with worries about his optimum trip, he can be left alone at this juncture.

Zabana (20/1) was another to cross my mind at the prices, but there is every chance he could run in the Gold Cup if he shapes well on his next start. He has a disappointing effort at Christmas to put behind him, too, so he’s best watched at this stage.

The Final Verdict

In terms of ability and having had a faultless preparation, at the time of writing, I think there is a case to suggest Un De Sceaux could even be shorter than the best-priced 7/2 on offer. Sizing John looks his biggest and most solid danger, but could yet run in the Gold Cup. Uxizandre is another with the past ability to run Un De Sceaux close, but it’s impossible to know how he will come out of his brilliant 2017 comeback.

While the case however, Un De Sceaux must prove he is as good over two-and-a-half miles on potential spring terrain as he is over the minimum on soft ground. With him being an extravagant horse by nature, he could overdo things early and be a sitting duck up the home straight. Horses with a turn of pace could also cause him trouble and it makes sense to duck him now.

Josses Hill is another to swerve. He looks criminally under-priced by the bookmakers.

Three horses that interested me now were God’s Own, Sub Lieutenant and Uxizandre. Of that trio, Sub Lieutenant looks the most solid contender, but on all-known form, is simply not as classy as God’s Own and Uxizandre. He is improving however, and getting better at the right time.

Uxizandre was brilliant on his comeback in the Clarence House. On ground far too soft for his liking over an inadequate trip, to get as close to Un De Sceaux as he did – while finishing ahead of the solid Top Gamble – it must go down as an excellent return.

His price has correctly contracted after that effort and the big-time value has disappeared. It’s also hard to know if he will come forward for the run after nearly two years off the track.

This leaves us with GOD’S OWN who, like Sizing John in the Gold Cup blog, comes with risks. I have no doubt he’s good enough to go close in the Ryanair, but he may well run in the Champion Chase. On the evidence of last year’s fourth to Sprinter Sacre where he was outpaced a fair way from home, connections should strongly consider running him here.

Should the likes of Ar Mad, Josses Hill, Sub Lieutenant, Village Vic, Un De Sceaux and Uxizandre all run here, there could be a serious pace war on favouring those with a hold up style. God’s Own fits that bill, but more importantly has the requisite class to win so, gets the nod. Hopefully we get a bit of luck and connections take in this contest.

Advice

1pt each-way God’s Own @25/1 (general)

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