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2018 Ryanair Chase Star-Rating Guide

Our expert has put together this star-rating guide for the Cheltenham Festival’s unofficial fifth Championship race.

The Stayers’ Hurdle may be the recognised Championship race on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival, but the Ryanair Chase is fast establishing itself as one of the biggest races of the entire meeting. Many of the sport’s greatest chasers have triumphed in this two-and-a-half mile chase and a strong field will battle it out for the massive prize pot in just over a week’s time.

Our expert has taken a look at the key players in this year’s Ryanair Chase and put together this star-rating guide – rating each contender’s chances of winning out of five stars.

2018 Ryanair Chase Star-Rating Guide

BALKO DES FLOS (7/1 Ladbrokes)

Michael O’Leary craves a victory in this race more than any other at the Festival. Not a single one of his Gigginstown runners have ever managed to get the job done in the race he sponsors and O’Leary is desperate for a winner. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Balko Des Flos has plummeted in the betting over recent weeks, because - if you really analyse his seasonal form - there’s not much to suggest he will be a big player in the Ryanair.

True, his runner-up finish to Road To Respect in the Christmas Chase was a good run, but that was an extremely messy race over a longer, three mile trip. His two outings over two-and-a-half miles have ended in comprehensive defeats to both A Toi Phil and Alpha Des Obeaux. The latter isn’t even entered into the Ryanair and A Toi Phil sits on a huge price of 40/1.

Balko Des Flos fell in last year’s JLT and could only cross the line a 15 length fifth in the 2016 Albert Bartlett. His only victory this season came at the Galway Festival during the summer and Henry De Bromhead’s charge is still yet to win at Graded level – a stat I can’t see changing at the Cheltenham Festival.


 (20/1 Paddy Power)

Bellshill looked like the next major star to come out of Willie Mullins’ yard during 2016, when he won a Grade One at Punchestown and made a flying start to his chasing career. A disappointing performance in last year’s Flogas Novce Chase – where he fell when flagging behind the leaders – was followed by another uncompetitive display in the RSA Chase, as Bellshill could only cross the line a distant third.

Willie Mullins’ charge has had his injury problems since then and didn’t make his reappearance until the Bobbyjo Chase at the end of last month. The odds-on favourite beat A Genie In Abottle with plenty seemingly left in the tank and was subsequently backed for the Ryanair. While he clearly has bundles of untapped potential, this trip looks a little short and could be used as a prep-run before having a crack at the Grand National.


BENIE DES DIEUX (14/1 William Hill)

Since arriving in Willie Mullins’ stable in December 2015, Benie Des Dieux has only managed to get three runs under her belt. She claimed a superb 30 length victory on debut before being ruled out for the best part of a year. David Mullins then accompanied her on a trip to Carlisle just before Christmas, where she comfortably saw off a decent field, before facing a test of speed in a two mile Listed Chase at Naas.

Benie Des Dieux carried the tag of favouritism into battle against Asthuria and Dinaria Des Obeaux and stayed on strongly in the closing stages to claim a comfortable win. Willie Mullins has said in the build-up to Cheltenham that the Mares’ Hurdle is her most likely target, but if she does remain over fences, she could garner some each-way support.


 (12/1 Ladbrokes)

Cloudy Dream has only won one of his last nine races, but Ruth Jefferson’s chaser has been unlucky to run into some smart chasers. The eight-year-old has finished second to the likes of Altior, Buveur D’Air, Smad Place and Fox Norton - during a run which has seen him tackle two, two-and-a-half and three mile trips.

Cloudy Dream has finished second on both of his most recent runs, where it’s been clear he simply hasn’t had the staying power to see out 25 furlongs. Dropping back in trip is the sensible thing for Jefferson to do at this point and two-and-a-half miles looks to be his perfect trip. So many runner-up finishes suggest he lacks the will to win, but any horse with his consistency at the highest level has to be respected.


CUE CARD (8/1 William Hill)

Although this will be an emotional Cheltenham Festival for Cue Card’s legion of passionate followers, they will have been delighted when Colin Tizzard decided to give up on his Gold Cup ambitions and head back to the Ryanair. The popular 12-year-old claimed a nine length victory in the 2013 running of this race, before trying to make the transition to three mile chasing.

Cue Card may have claimed several Grade One victories over 24 furlongs, but he’s never looked truly comfortable. In-fact, over the past two or three years, his most convincing performances have come in the two-and-a-half mile Ascot Chase. 12 months after destroying the competition to claim his ninth career Grade One, Cue Card battled valiantly in a losing effort behind Waiting Paitently in this year’s renewal.

Tizzard’s charge may have lost out to his Ryanair rival, but his performance on the day was impressive and he finished a long way ahead of Top Notch and Frodon. Cue Card’s retirement may be imminent, but he’s still capable of ending his stint as a Cheltenham Festival regular on an almighty high and his current odds appeal more than any other.


 (16/1 BetVictor)

Frodon has made a staggering 15 appearance in the last 2 seasons alone - with nine of those outings coming in Graded races. Paul Nicholls’ charge has managed to win a couple of big races, with the Rising Stars and Pendil Novices’ Chases sitting near the top of the list. After storming to an excellent victory in the Crest Nicholson Handicap, Frodon deserved his spot in the Ascot Chase field, but Bryony Frost’s mount was never really in the winning discussion.

In truth, Paul Nicholls had no other option but to enter Frodon into a Grade One. Rated at 162, he’s too high to get into a handicap like the Ultima – a race he is much better suited to than a Grade One of this ilk. The more he features in Grade Ones, the better Frodon will get and, at the age of six, he has plenty of years left to improve. However, at this current time, the Ryanair looks beyond him.


MIN (6/1 William Hill)

On his return from long-term injury, Willie Mullins allowed Min to tackle a two-and-a-half mile trip for the very first time. After scoring a powerful victory in that reappearance, a routine win was expected at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival. As that race went on, Min seemed less and less comfortable with this extended trip and only crossed the line ahead of Simply Ned after some major interference – a result which was rightly overturned.

Min was back to his best at the Dublin Racing Festival, as he dropped back to two miles. He looked head and shoulders above any of his Irish rivals, streaking clear to leave Simply Ned 12 lengths in his wake. If Douvan is declared fit to start the Champion Chase, there is a chance Min could accompany Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair, but the Champion Chase looks to be his perfect race.

MIN RATING ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

(20/1 Paddy Power)

Sub Lieutenant came into last year’s Festival on the back of a victory over Outlander in the Grade Two Belfast Chase and a couple of narrow defeats to Sizing John and Djakadam. Un De Sceaux proved too strong on the day, but Sub Lieutenant was eating into the winners’ lead with ever stride down the home straight and crossed the line just a length-and-a-half behind.

This season’s results haven’t been nearly as impressive. Henry De Bromhead’s charge didn’t come close to winning the Irish Daily Star and was comprehensively beaten in both the JNWine Champion Chase and the John Durkan. Sub Lieutenant’s inactivity since that December defeat is worrying and it would be a huge shock if he was as competitive as he was 12 months ago.


UN DE SCEAUX (5/2 BetVictor)

Ruby Walsh attempted to restrain his mount during the early stages of last year’s Ryanair, but once he realised he was fighting a losing battle, he allowed Un De Sceaux to bowl along at the front of the field. Some wonderful jumps helped establish a clear lead and, despite visibly tiring in the closing stages, Un De Sceaux clung on to claim his second Cheltenham Festival prize.

After losing out to Fox Norton over two miles at Punchestown’s season ending Festival, Willie Mullins’ ten-year-old cruised to a routine victory on his reappearance in the Hilly Way Chase. He then returned to Ascot searching for a history-making hat-trick of Clarence House wins and Paul Townend’s mount got the job done with the minimum of fuss.

Un De Sceaux has lost just six of his 24 runs over jumps, winning eight Grade Ones in the process. His chances of winning increased with every ounce of snow that settled on the track, yet, Mullins’ charge has beaten very little this season and the time of his Clarence House victory was fairly uninspiring. Un De Sceaux is still the one to beat, but this year’s renewal looks much more competitive and the market leader could be gettable.


(10/1 William Hill)

I got plenty of stick at the start of the season when I openly stated Yorkhill wasn’t a Gold Cup horse and that claim has proven to be correct. Willie Mullins had always seemed reluctant to commit his chaser to three miles and, after flopping on his reappearance in the Christmas Chase, any plans to enter the Gold Cup were quickly shelved. Following another dismal effort over two miles at the Dublin Racing Festival, Willie Mullins has been desperately trying to decide where to go with Yorkhill. 

It’s too early to write off the season, but which race to enter him into is a subject of great debate. Mullins has seemed keen to switch him back to hurdles for the past 18 months and is said to be leaning towards the Champion Hurdle. Personally, after winning the JLT last year, the Ryanair seems the natural progression. 

Yorkhill clearly has class and his record at the Festival cannot be ignored, but he’s looked woefully short of form this season and it’s still not confirmed whether he will even jump a fence at this year’s Festival.


Full Ryanair Star-Rating Guide

⭐ CUE CARD - 5 ⭐
MIN - 3.5

The Ryanair Chase (2:40pm) is a Class A Grade 1 chase run over two miles and five furlongs. It is open to horses aged five years old and upwards. 

The introduction of the Ryanair Chase has proved to be an unqualified success. There were those who feared that the race might detract from the Queen Mother Chase or the Gold Cup. However the event has proved that there is a place at the Festival for a separate championship race over this distance.

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