2021 Ryanair Chase Tips – Min The Best Ante-Post Value at Cheltenham Festival
2021 RYANAIR CHASE TIPS
We’re continuing our race-by-race preview of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival with the Ryanair Chase, one of the feature events on Cheltenham Festival Day 3. Lewis Tomlinson has taken a look at the big-hitters from Britain and Ireland to establish the pecking order.
2021 Ryanair Chase Key Contenders
Traditionally, long-range punting on the Ryanair has not been a proposition for the faint-hearted, the make-up of its field is usually less predictable in advance than its more established cousins the Champion Chase and Gold Cup.
As we stand, though, the middle-distance chase championship has a pair of likely participants heading the betting at this stage in the shape of defending champion Min (5-1) and second-season chasers Imperial Aura (6-1) and Allaho (6-1).
It is hard to argue against Min still being the one all his opposition need to improve beyond. The seven-time Grade 1 winner has shown remarkable consistency throughout his distinguished career and has also finished runner-up at the highest level on six occasions, including twice at the Festival when denied Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Champion Chase victories by Altior.
Few would have begrudged him his richly deserved Cheltenham success when finally victorious at Prestbury Park when holding off Saint Calvados to take this last year and he hit the ground running again this term, emerging from the Punchestown fog to gain a third consecutive victory in a strong-looking running of the John Durkan.
Allaho, whilst clearly talented, is a horse I struggle to get a grasp on, and I worry that he’ll continue to flatter to deceive at the highest level. I must admit, I was impressed by his victory in the Horse & Jockey Chase at Thurles last week, and liked the way he fended off Elimay, who seemingly held the momentum going into the last, with a clear amount up his sleeve.
However, I’m still unconvinced about whether he possesses the raw pace to replicate those front-running tactics against speedier types and I think he’d come off worse if drawn into an early battle for the lead with his stablemate Min, who has top-class form over shorter. My primary reservation with Allaho is that I feel he’s stuck perfectly between two trips; half a yard too paceless to be at his best over two-and-a-half, but not a strong enough stayer to beat the best over three.
If Cheltenham wanted to add a “Ryanair for the Ryanair” over a trip in between this and that of the Gold Cup, I’d be much keener on his prospects, but I think the race conditions that would see him to best effect just don’t exist at the Festival.
Willie Mullins also has a viable option other than Min and Allaho in the shape of Melon (8-1), who, like Allaho, drops down in trip after a foray over three miles at Christmas.
I’m more positive about Melon, who surprised and impressed me with the quality of his performance in the Savills, travelling through the race in the manner of an improved horse before being seen off by stronger stayers.
The drop back in trip is a plus, but the worry remains that Melon falls just shy of the very best; he remains 0-15 in Grade 1 races and has been runner-up on all four previously Festival appearances, including when agonisingly beaten a nose by Samcro (14-1), whose record has began to look patchy again, in the Marsh last season. Few would begrudge this perennial bridesmaid his day in the sun, though, and the conditions of the Ryanair should see Melon at his optimum.
Imperial Aura, was also a Festival winner 12 months ago when taking the final running of the novice handicap chase, and on the showing of his 1965 Chase win at Ascot in November, has continued his improvement into this campaign.
Barring an early unseat at Kempton last month, his profile is that of the sexy up-and-comer, winning all three of his most recent completed starts, running to a figure above his rating on each occasion, but at the minute he’s priced primarily on potential rather than form. The 1965 was up to scratch for a Grade 2, but Imperial Aura is still yet to meet a proven top-class rival and looks short enough to me in a race that could have real depth to it this time around.
Saint Calvados (9-1) certainly isn’t wanting for proven form at the top level, producing a clear career-best when only going down by a neck to Min here last season. Any notion that that performance was a fluke was surely dispelled by the way he shaped in the King George, travelling keenly throughout before failing to get home over a trip further than he’d previously been exposed to.
The Harry Whittington camp have made no secret that they still have confidence in Saint Calvados staying extended distances – an intended sighter in the Cotswold Chase unfortunately falling victim to the weather- but he’s more proven over an intermediate trip and it would be far from a disaster if his trainer was forced to reassess and run him in the Ryanair.
A Festival virgin, he merits consideration after showing up well this season. He hasn’t had the smoothest of rides since his Ascot Chase win back in 2018, a series of minor injuries limiting him to only six starts in the intervening time, but he shapes as if retaining all ability in his most recent starts.
Ruth Jefferson has experimented with him trip-wise, but he’s always looked at his best over an intermediate distance and I wouldn’t rush to put any Waiting Patiently fans off him, although he may just be a horse who continually runs well without ever managing to get the better of a real top-notcher.
An intended runner in the Ascot Chase en route to Cheltenham, the accident-prone Master Tommytucker defied a customary blunder at the final flight to gain his first Graded victory in the Silviniaco Conti last month. Whilst he’s clearly blessed with immense natural ability, Master Tommytucker excels when he is able to dominate a small field from the front and it’s not taken for granted that Cheltenham will quite be his bag. That being said, the Ryanair will definitely be a more entertaining affair for his presence.
RYANAIR CHASE BIG-RACE VERDICT
Ryanair punting from this far in advance can sometimes sting punters, but MIN is almost certain to line up here and has beaten a total of 17 individual Grade 1 winners over this trip in his outstanding career and still holds the best recent form of anything entered in this race. I think he still represents value and is potentially the ante-post bet of the meeting.