The 2021 Ryanair Chase will be run on Thursday the eighteenth of March over a trip of two miles, four furlongs and one hundred and twenty seven yards. A few horses in this also have engagements in other races at the festival, but last years winner Min should to be back to defend his crown, and he is likely to be joined by his stablemate Allaho.
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Allaho was placed in two grade one’s as a novice hurdler over three miles, and was third in last years RSA over three miles, and it would be hard to say he doesn’t get the trip, but he never shaped like it was his optimum either, and was always looking to go a stride faster in last years RSA. You were left with the impression that letting him stride on over shorter would really see this fine looking horse at his best.
He did drop back to two and a half for his seasonal debut this season, but we couldn’t see much of a race run in heavy fog, although his jockey reported he made two bad mistakes, which likely explained his poor run. He ran better next time back over three miles in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, but he was still beaten twenty lengths despite being patiently ridden in a race the leaders did too much too soon in. He was still ahead of the winner jumping the second last that day, and looked to be travelling as well as him too, so it certainly looked like three miles in a stamina sapping race was just too much for him.
Back over two and a half miles at Thurles last time, Allaho got back on the winning trail with a three lengths win over Elimay. It’s a hard race to analyze though as initially Allaho went a decent gallop with only two other horses going with him, and was nearly twenty lengths clear of Elimay after a few fences, but the pace steadied thereafter. By the time it really picked up jumping the second last Elimay was only two lengths down, so it looked like Allaho gained his ground by going quite quick, where as the runner up gained it back in the slow part of the race. From the second last home Allaho was fifteen lengths quicker than he was over the same period on the previous lap, and the three length winning margin very likely flattered the second. Whether that form is good enough to win a Ryanair is harder to gauge, but he has run to form in both his runs at Cheltenham and still has potential to do better.
Min has the best form of the likely runners in this, and has always looked like around two and a half miles is his optimum trip. He was very impressive when winning at Aintree over two and a half in April 2019, and brought the best from into last years Ryanair by virtue of a second place to Chacun Pour Soi over two miles and one at the Dublin Racing Festival. While Min duly won this race last year, the presence of Saint Calvados a neck behind in second suggested he didn’t need to be quite at his best.
He also didn’t need to reproduce his best form to beat Tornado Flyer by a length on his comeback run in the John Durkan, a race that should never have been run due to the poor visibility from fog. He was pulled up last time in the same race he used as his warm up for the Ryanair last year, but he had a valid excuse having walked through the seventh fence. He made a very funny shape over the previous fence too, and it’s possible something wasn’t quite right. He has always been very consistent so there is no reason he won’t bounce back, but he is ten now, and does need to prove he is still capable of his very best form, but then as already stated he won last year without needing to produce that.
Imperial Aura was an impressive winner of the novice handicap off a mark of 143 at last years festival, and made a winning reappearence with a two and a half length defeat of Windsor Avenue at Carlisle. He wasn’t all out but at the same time didn’t do anything you wouldn’t expect him to do. He then stepped up to grade two company at Ascot, and while he was meeting a better class of horse, and looked to show improved form with a five length win, you wouldn’t want to get too carried away either, as the second made numerous mistakes, while the third was very weak in the market on his first start for a new trainer, with the only other runner unseating a long way out.
In his only start since then Imperial Aura only got as far as the second at Kempton in early January when he came down. He normally jumps well though so that was likely just a blip. With the Ascot form not being the most solid, and the horses he beat at Carlisle being a few classes removed from what he will meet in this, he does need to step up again, although given he was on an upward curve before last time, he does still have the potential to improve.
Mister Fisher was fourth to Samcro in last years Marsh Novices Chase, but he had no real excuses that day. He ran no race on his return in a handicap off 155, but bounced back to form last time, when winning the Peterborough Chase which was rescheduled at Cheltenham. He travelled very well through the race but got in a bit close to the last, doing well to battle back when challenged on the run in, and all told had a bit more in hand than the just under two lengths margin. He will be meeting much better horses in this though and needs to find more.
Melon has been operating a the top level for a good few years now, and has a great record at Cheltenham, he was second in the Supreme Novices back in 2017, before coming second in the Champion Hurdle for the next two years, while last year he went down by just a nose to Samcro in the Marsh Novices Chase. This season he was third to Min at Punchestown before stepping up to three miles at Leopardstown, and while stamina looked a concern beforehand, he would likely have won that day, but for an overly aggressive ride, when he kicked on a mile out off what was a decent gallop.
He finished last of five in the Irish Gold Cup last time when given a more patient ride, but he never went with the same zest as he had at Christmas, and getting in close to a few fences didn’t help his cause either. It’s possible that although it was five weeks later, he still wasn’t over the hard race he had on his previous start. Melon has run well below par at that February meeting at Leopardstown for each of the last three seasons though, yet each time that didn’t stop him from bouncing back to his best at Cheltenham, and if he does the same here, he would have every chance when an attacking ride over this trip could be his ideal conditions.
Fakir D’Oudairies won a grade one novice over two and a half miles in December 2019, but Samcro looked to be travelling better when he fell two out that day, and the winner was also receiving a very generous eight pounds four year old allowance. As such he ran a cracker without the allowance to come second in the Arkle back at two miles at last years Festival, and may even have won if he hadn’t got the second last wrong. He ran below that level in his first two starts back this season, but was much better last time, when second, albeit eight lengths behind Chacun Por Soi at Leopardstown. Before last years Arkle I would have thought two and half miles would suit him better, but his two best runs on form are now over shorter, and the way he travelled in both the Arkle, and last time over two miles and one, would leave me less confident that this two miles and five is his optimum. I still think he should get the trip, and if he settles okay he could still improve for it, which would put him bang there.
Saint Calvados was second in a handicap off 157 in early January last year, before taking a big step forward by pushing Min to a neck in this race. He still had potential to improve as it was only his second start over two and a half miles, and while he hasn’t backed up that run in two starts this season, both of those races were over three miles and he pulled hard when not seeming to get home in the King George. Last time he didn’t go with quite the same zest and given his stamina doubts he didn’t look to be travelling well enough to figure when he fell halfway down the back straight. This is likely his best trip, but this years race could have more depth to it, and he will need to improve again.
Of the others Real Steel makes some appeal, although he needs to bounce back from a pulled up effort in the King George last time, and he was also below form when only third of four to Imperial Aura on his first start for Paul Nicholls at Ascot back in November, but he drifted in the betting that day, and ran like he needed it, only fading from the second last having shaped second best to that point. The cause for optimism is his run in the Gold Cup last year, when his move into contention out wide on the last bend was very impressive, before he failed to get home, but he certainly shaped that day that he would go very close in a Ryanair if in the same form, and you would imagine this race has been the target since his stable switch. He makes some appeal at the current 20/1, and of the more fancied ones I’d probably side with Melon at current odds, but I’m in no rush to have a bet, and would rather wait and asses the race more when I know the ground and likely pace set up.