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Sunday 7 January 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Antepost Guide - Ryanair Chase

Further to my earlier blog on the Stayers' Hurdle, I've been asked why I've sided with Bob Olinger when post-race comments from de Bromhead suggested that the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f was the main target. I've no special information, it's just that (to me) the Stayers' Hurdle appears to be there for the taking, and would really suit Bob Olinger. 
De Bromhead hasn't had a runner in this race since 2019, and that was Petit Mouchoir who never won a race beyond 2-mile - so the Stayers Hurdle is not a race that is usually on his radar. 
However, there's a long gap between now and Aintree, and it seemed odd that Bob Olinger came to Cheltenham on 1st Jan.  Again, de Bromhead doesn't send much to UK outside of the Cheltenham Festival.  He says he wants to avoid Constitution Hill, but that horse with be in the Aintree Hurdle, so there's no avoiding him there - however, Consitution Hill won't be running in the Stayers' Hurdle, that's an absolute certainty.

The next race I'm taking an in-depth look at is the Ryanair Chase over 2m4f & 127 yards. The Cheveley Park owned Allaho and Envoi Allen are now both 10yo's and I'm not convinced that either of them are at the level of form that has seen one of them take this race for the past 3 seasons. My personal preference of this pair is for Envoi Allen, who won this race last March beating Shishkin in the process, and that looks fairly strong form now.  With it being almost certain that Shishkin will be aimed at the Gold Cup, I really can't see anything coming out of the 2023 race and beating Envoi Allen. So, what of his challengers?
In the King George on Boxing Day, Allaho ran well for a long way, but the horse doesn't stay 3-miles at the same level of ability that he runs at trips around 2m4f. He was gifted the race at the 2nd last when Shishkin lost his rider and Bravemansgame was badly impeded, losing at least 4-lengths and valuable momentum; but he still couldn't win the race, and finished 3rd. He doesn't have the form this season to merit his position as the current favourite.
Stage Star won the Turners Novice Chase last March over a trip 162 yards (and 10.37 secs) shorter; and while he could do no more than win, and win decisively, he would need to improve on that effort to topple Envoi Allen. And improve he has - an exceptional performance in the "Paddy Power" saw him confirm the form with Notlongillmay (2nd in the Turners), and the well-beaten 3rd & 4th (Il Ridoto and Fugitif) subsequently fought it out for a top handicap chase at Cheltenham in December. Since then, Stage Star was raced on unsuitable heavy ground on New Years Day, and was pulled-up, but he still looks to be the one to beat in this race. I think he will likely go straight to Cheltenham now without another run, and the 7/1 offered by Bet365 looks tremendous value to me, as I think he should be either the fav, or joint-fav with Allaho.

Of the others likely to run, the 2022 Arkle winner Edwardstone just doesn't look good enough on paper, and I'm not convinced he'd stay tis trip if he was good enough.  Just to be clear, in my opinion if a horse equals or betters a performance at at shorter trip when racing at a longer trip, he stays. Edwardstone - currently rated OR162 - would easily beat a horse rated around OR140-145 that was proven at a trip of 2m4f at level weights (or maybe even be capable of giving that horse 7-10lb), but he may struggle to beat a trip-proven horse rated OR150-155. 
The Mullins-trained Appreciate It just doesn't look good enough, and probably wasted a season in "bumpers" when he should have been hurdling, and then another season being aimed at the Champion Hurdle when he should have been novice chasing.  With more positive campaigning, he may well have been up to winning this race last season as a 9yo, who knows?
After him, the betting is a bit erratic, and I would be more interested in something like Notlongtillmay (currently 40/1 with Bet365) sneaking into 3rd, as the horse clearly handles Cheltenham, even if he's a few pounds behind Stage Star. 
A horse that isn't quoted in the antepost betting, but has shown himself to be a potential G1 horse, is the 7yo Feronily trained by Emmet Mullins. Unbelievably, he made his chase debut (under rules) in a Grade 3 over 3-miles at Cork, and beat the one top-class and multiple Grade 1 winner (at 2-miles) Chancun Pour Soi.  He then when to the Punchestown Festival and won the Champion Novice Chase there over 3-miles in superlative fashion. Unfortunately, he ran a stinker in October at Galway, so he still has to confirm that he is a proven grade 1 performer, and not just a horse who happened to be fortunate.  
The only other likely runners in the race on the day are going to be handicappers like Fugitif, who won't be able to mix-it at Grade 1 level.

Antepost Selection:
Ryanair Chase: STAGE STAR 
£8 win @ 7/1 with Bet365

£2 WIN double with Paddy Power
Stayers Hurdle: BOB OLINGER @ 25/1
Ryanair Chase: STAGE STAR @ 13/2 

Total Staked = £10.00

Total Antepost Stakes to date = £22.00

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