Cheltenham Festival ante post tips: Saint Calvados the value bet in Ryanair Chase

Saint Calvados rates the value selection for the 2022 Ryanair Chase.Saint Calvados rates the value selection for the 2022 Ryanair Chase.

2022 Ryanair Chase Ante-Post Preview

Bookmakers’ Bet365 and Paddy Power were the first to offer “non-runner – no bet” on the feature races at the Cheltenham Festival 2022 in early January. The five featured races are the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and Stayers Hurdle. This inevitably meant trimming the prices but there could still be some each-way value to be found with the security of a full refund if your horse does not run. Here is an early look at the market for the Ryanair Chase on Thursday 17th March.

Allaho strong favourite for repeat win in Ryanair

The Ryanair Chase ante-post betting revolves around Allaho, such an impressive winner last season for Willie Mullins and Rachael Blackmore. The horse has been a revelation since dropping back in distance from three miles and he beat Fakir D’oudairies by 12 lengths with Tornado Flyer back in third. Allaho was subsequently beaten by stable companion Chacun Pour Soi over two miles at Punchestown.

Mullins chose the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase for Allaho’s reappearance in December. He made all the running to beat a star-studded field which included Envoi Allen, Kemboy and Grand National winner Minella Times. However, Asterion Forlonge was going ominously well when unseating his rider at the third last fence. That horse has since come to grief in the King George VI Chase at Kempton after looking booked for second place behind Tornado Flyer.

Mullins seems likely to go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Tornado Flyer who was racing over three miles for only the second time on Boxing Day. The trainer admitted that he was as surprised as anyone when the 28-1 outsider shot clear to win by 9 lengths.

The Cheltenham target for Asterion Forlonge is less predictable. The grey holds entries in the Gold Cup, the Ryanair Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle. He is only 8-1 with a run and you would have to respect his chances if this is his chosen objective. If you take the view that his King George run was a good trial for the Gold Cup, then you would have to be drawn to Saint Calvados as a leading Ryanair contender.

Saint Calvados on target for Ascot Chase

The nine-year-old has won five of his fifteen starts over fences and was beaten only a neck by Min in the Ryanair Chase in 2020. He was then in the care of Harry Whittington, for whom he finished fourth in the King George VI Chase on his next start. He was in second place before his stamina gave out in the home straight.

After unseating Gavin Sheehan at Sandown in February, the horse had wind surgery and was eventually moved to Paul Nicholls in November. The Ditcheat trainer decided to go straight for the King George and, despite starting at 25-1, he was travelling best of all at the fourth last fence. Sheehan made an early move to the front and, just as he had 12 months’ earlier, the horse appeared to run out of stamina in the home straight.

It is debatable whether the horse might have been better held up but Nicholls was philosophical and immediately nominated the two miles and five furlong Ascot Chase as the next target. The horse does hold a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry but the extended three and a quarter miles looks beyond him. If all goes to plan at Ascot, he would establish himself as the main threat to Allaho in the Ryanair.

Looking beyond Allaho and Saint Calvados, it is difficult to pin-point horses that are certain to line-up for the race. Fakir D’oudairies (10-1) will probably renew rivalry with the favourite while Shan Blue (12-1) has not been seen since his unlucky fall in the Charlie Hall Chase in October. Envoi Allen (16-1) did not impress everyone when landing the odds at Leopardstown in December and has multiple Cheltenham entries.

It would be no surprise to see the field reduced to single figures on the day. Saint Calvados is currently 10-1 with most firms and has only been clipped one point to 9-1 by Bet365 (with a run) and looks a good value each-way bet.