The 2020 Ryanair Chase is run at Cheltenham on Thursday the 12th of March, over a trip of two mile four furlongs, and a hundred and twenty seven yards. Last years winner Frodon looks set to return and try and win the race for a second year, with another festival winner from last season, A Plus Tard, currently heading the market.
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A Plus Tard was a very impressive sixteen length winner of the Novices Handicap Chase at last years Festival. Normally with a wide margin winner like that in a big field, they tend to be flattered by the margin, gaining cheap ground late when the others have hit the wall. That wasn’t the case here though, as after travelling and jumping well, A Plus Tard actually quickened from the home turn and was still full of running jumping the last, and was full value for the sixteen lengths. The placed horses would normally be well handicapped types in a race like that, and while the horses who followed him home have proven to be no more than fairly treated since then, he could do no more than thrash them like he did, and even though he was off a mark of just 143 it still looked close to a grade one winning performance, at least at novice level.
He didn’t immediately back up that impression when a well beaten third to Delta Work when stepped up to three miles at Punchestown. He probably didn’t quite stay the trip, but he looked beaten over half a mile out, and wouldn’t have won at any trip that day, so perhaps was a bit flat after Cheltenham. He came second in a grade two at Navan on his comeback over two miles, and stepped up on that when beating Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown over Christmas, this time over two miles and one furlong. The runner up appeared to frank that form when beating Min next time, but I wouldn’t read too much into that, as he was clearly a different horse with that run under his belt, and the proximity of Ordinary World, only six lengths behind him, in what was a well run race, would confirm that view. As such A Plus Tard will need to improve on that effort to win the Ryanair, but he is only six, is still unexposed, and the trip of the Ryanair is likely to prove his optimum, so there is plenty of scope for him to better that performance.
Min has been around at the top table for a good few years now, and doesn’t have the same potential to improve as A Plus Tard, but he may not need to, as he has the best form of any horse likely to turn up for this race. He has some top class form over two miles, but his form figures over around two and a half reads 12111, and it was over that trip that he put up his best effort last season, when hacking up in the Melling Chase at Aintree. Despite his jumping not being as sharp as usual, he made a winning reappearence in the John Durkan at Punchestown, but looked to be back to his best when second to Chacun Pour Soi when dropped back to two miles last time. He set a really decent pace, and the rest of the field bar the winner were in trouble a good way out, and while he couldn’t quite match Chacun Pour Soi from the home band, he kept going well. The time figure for the race was very good, and backed up the impression that he just ran into one, over a trip short of his best.
I’ve read comments claiming Cheltenham is an issue for Min because he hasn’t won there in three tries, and ran poorly last year. This analysis is clearly nonsense, as he ran right up to his best in the Supreme Novices, and again when second to Altior in the Champion Chase, and two runs from three when he ran to his best, in a high pressure environment, suggests the exact opposite to having an issue with the venue. His only defeat over two and a half was when he went down by a neck at Aintree in 2018, having looked sure to win and traded at 2/9 in running, but his slightly weak finish was probably more due to him pulling hard that day, than not getting the trip in a well run race on soft ground. That would leave you with a slight concern if the ground came up heavy, and looked set to be a real stamina test, but he settles better now, and on any other ground this looks his perfect trip.
Frodon had a very good season last year, winning a handicap at Cheltenham off a mark of 164, before showing he had the stamina for three miles when winning the Cotswold Chase again at Cheltenham, and following up back at the same track in last years Ryanair. He clearly loves the place, but the problem is you could pick holes in all those runs. I doubt he had to run much, if any higher than his rating to win the handicap, and such runs when a high class horse gives weight to inferiors, are always over rated. The flaw in the handicap system means it’s much easier to give twenty pounds to a horse you’re rated twenty pounds better than, than it is to beat horses rated your equal. Next time he only beat Elegant Escape who is hardly a top class three miler, and with Aso running him to just over a length in the Ryanair, that form would be a good bit short of Min’s Aintree win.
Frodon was below form in his first two runs this season, but although he was back in winning form last time, I don’t think needing a strong enough ride to beat Keeper Hill by a length and a half is the type of form that would trouble Min at his best, or A Plus Tard at the level he could quite easily reach.
Riders OnThe Storm had some decent form last season in Ireland, but he’s improved hugely for the switch to the Nigel Twiston Davies yard, winning a handicap at Aintree off 140, despite being quite free through the first half of the race, and he was again free at Ascot next time, making a mid race move to dispute the lead, having initially been held up. To still win that Graduation Chase by seven lengths suggested he could be top class if settling better.
He got the chance to prove that point last time in the four runner Ascot Chase, but although he won, the form is worth little, with Cyrname clearly below his best, and Riders OnThe Storm looked sure to be beaten by Traffic Fluide when that one fell at the last. In his defense though if he had got beat, it would have been due to tracking the decent pace set by Cyrname and then moving up to challenge that one five out, and heading him soon after, leaving him with nothing left in the straight, so he can clearly do better, and did seem to settle better through the first half of the race.
The are a few major concerns for him in the Ryanair though, the first being he had a very hard race at Ascot and it could easily leave it’s mark, and the other is that his three improved efforts this season have come on soft ground at Aintree and heavy ground the last twice, and while the trainer switch probably explains away plenty of the improvement, he did run poorly at Fairyhouse last season on decent ground, and until he reproduces those soft ground efforts on better ground, an element of doubt would remain if it was to come up closer to good for the Ryanair.
At this stage none of the other likely runners jump off the page as likely winners. Un De Sceaux looked to be still near his best when winning at Punchestown at the end of last season, and again when giving Defi Se Seuil a race in the Tingle Creek in December. He was well below that level when that rival beat him very easily last time, but a poor ride probably explains that more than a drop in his level, as setting a very steady pace turned the race into a sprint which didn’t suit him at all. He won this in 2017, before coming second in 2018, but was only fifth last year, and it’s very likely it will take a better performance to win it this year than last, so he really does have his work cut out at the age of twelve.
If I was forced into a bet at the moment it would be Min at 10/3, but that price is not non runner no bet, and isn’t sufficiently big enough to make me recommend taking it now. I’d rather wait and look at the race in more depth once the final declarations and likely ground are known.