Below is my Ante Post Preview and Tips for the 2017 Ryanair Chase, run over two miles, four furlongs and one hundred and sixty six yards, on the 16th of March 2017. If you want my best bets for each day of the 2017 festival you need to subscribe to my Cheltenham 2017 Email List. Over the four years since this site was launched my Cheltenham Tips have posted a profit of +274 Points, for a remarkable ROI of +61%.
As is often the case in the Ryanair with plenty of horses having other options at the festival, the exact field can be hard to be certain about until much closer the race. Even the favourite Un De Sceaux could still run in the Champion Chase, but you would imagine he would only do that, if his stablemate Douvan met with a setback. Un De Sceaux actually started odds on for the Champion Chase last year, but he had no real excuses in going down by three and a half lengths to a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre. Un De Sceaux was maybe a little keen, and was allowed stride on for home a good way out, but at the line he was only a nose ahead of Special Tiara who had gone plenty quick in front, and never dropped more than two lengths behind Un De Sceaux, so no matter what way you look at it, the form is good, but not great.
Un De Sceaux was well beaten again by Sprinter Sacre at Sandown, a bad mistake not helping, before winning a grade two hurdle at Auteuil over two miles and five furlongs, easily by eight lengths. He seemed to go a reasonable pace that day, but he was also in a different league to his rivals, so was always well within his comfort zone, and for the most part left alone in front. A well run Ryanair would be a totally different test of his stamina, and he later failed to stay three miles in a grade one at Auteuil.
This season Un De Sceaux has won both his starts, just getting home at Sandown before a more dominant display at Cheltenham last time, but the second Uxizandre was having his first start in nearly two years, over a trip too short, and the rest aren’t much good, with the likes of Dodging Bullets and Special Tiara well below their best this winter. Uxizandre was held up last time, but made all when winning the Ryanair in 2015, and his presence should ensure Un De Sceaux doesn’t get an easy lead, and that could lead to him being quite free, so getting home is a huge doubt, and in truth Sprinter Sacre apart, the two mile championship races have been very weak the last two years, and this will likely be a deeper race than anything he’s won before.
Uxizandre has put up most of his career best performances at Cheltenham, second in the JLT in 2014, before winning a listed race back there in November that year. He then lost his form a bit, before bouncing back to win the Ryanair in March 2015. He was off injured after that until his recent reappearance when five length second to Un De Sceaux, never really threatening to win the race, having been held up without his usual headgear, he wore visors when winning the Ryanair.
That was a very promising comeback, given the lack of headgear, and the change in tactics, it can only be assumed that he needed that run. He seems to come to life in the spring, and in particular at Cheltenham in March, and looks to have a good chance of winning this race for the second time. Given his potential to improve on his last run, with doubts about Un De Sceaux being able to replicate his, then I see no reason why Uxizandre is almost twice the price of that horse in the market.
Empire Of Dirt won the handicap chase run over the Ryanair trip at last year’s Festival, travelling really well through the race and going away from the last for a four length win. He was off a mark of 142 then, and followed that up with an impressive win in the Troytown off 148 on his first start this season. That earned him a step up into grade one company in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown recently, and he ran a cracker to go down by just three quarters of a length to Sizing John, and as I wrote in my Gold Cup Preview, I felt he would have won had he been asked for his effort sooner, and not got in close to the last.
That wasn’t a great renewal of what was once Ireland’s premier chase, but it’s still decent form, and he could still be improving. He seemed to stay the three mile trip really well in the Troytown, and while the Leopardstown race wasn’t truly run, he was strong at the line, so while he had no trouble with this trip last season, winning a handicap of 142 is a long way below winning a Ryanair, and i just feel like he’s going to prove better over three miles and maybe further, than this shorter trip.
Judging by the exchange market, Sizing John is more likely to take his chance in the Gold Cup, although I would think there is more chance of this shorter trip proving to be his optimum than the extended three miles and two of the Gold Cup. He stayed three miles well enough at Leopardstown, but the pace wasn’t great and he didn’t exactly go away on the run in having got there going very well. It looked like it was as far as he wants and if I owned both him and Empire Of Dirt, I would run Sizing in this, and Empire in the Gold Cup.
Josses Hill was only eight in last years Ryanair, before two small field wins at the start of this season, making all in both of them. His six length win from Tea For Two at Huntingdon is decent form, but he did get things his own way, and with plenty of pace in the Ryanair that’s unlikely to happen again, and his jumping has never been great under pressure. He was held up more in the King George, and never really threatened to get involved, beaten before the home turn. There’s a good chance an aggressive ride over the Ryanair trip is what he wants, but that goes for a few in this years race, and I’m not sure he’s good enough in any case. He certainly looks too short at just 8/1 with a run.
Sub Lieutenant has improved for the switch to the Henry De Bromhead yard this season, winning at Limerick and Down Royal, but while showing decent form, he had no real excuses when third to Djakadam in the John Durkan and second to Sizing John at Thurles. While he has placed form over further, he leaves the impression that bowling along over two and a half is his optimum, and the near extra furlong and uphill finish here is far from certain to suit. That combined with the fact he’s another front runner in a race chock full of them, means I have little interest in him at the moment.
Zabana is very interesting if taking his chance in this rather than the Gold Cup. He peaked for Cheltenham in 2015 when second in the Coral, and while a shambles of a start meant he never got a chance to show he could do the same last season, he went on to win at Punchestown, suggesting spring is the time to catch him. His two length win from Outlander with Sub Lieutenant a further five lengths back in third looks stronger form now, and while the trip that day was three miles and one furlong, he didn’t go too fast in front, and I’m still undecided on what I think his best trip is.
After a win over two and a half at Gowran this season, Zabana faded into seventh in the Lexus at Christmas, but while in isolation he ran like a non stayer that day, having gone with zest for most of the way, he also went extremely wide, and it could be his weak finish was a result of him covering much more ground than his rivals, tactics that can work on really soft ground, but that wasn’t the case this day, as the ground was good to soft according to Timeform. No matter what way you look at it, he shaped a good bit better than a near sixteen length defeat suggests, and while he often races up with the pace, he doesn’t need to lead, and dropping him in off a fast pace would be fine.
Fox Norton has improved this year, winning a handicap at Cheltenham in October, before changing yards and following up in a grade two at the same track next time. He has since been thrashed by Altior at Newbury, and I’m not sure just how strong that grade two form is either. He also needs to prove himself over this extra trip, has the Champion Chase as an alternative to this, and might be more likely to pick up place money in that.
Black Hercules won the JLT at last year’s festival, but he’s always looked like a horse that will be better over further, and hasn’t looked like a Ryanair winner in waiting in his three runs this year. It could be he’ll peak at Cheltenham again, but I just don’t think he’s good enough over this trip to win a decent grade one like this.
God’s Own has shown his best form in the spring for the past three seasons, winning at Punchestown in 2014, coming second in the Arkle in 2015, before occupying a similar spot at Aintree that year, while last year he was fourth in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham before winning grade ones at Aintree and Punchestown.
The Aintree win was over two and a half miles, and while he looked like he found two miles and five furlongs a stretch when third in a grade two at Ascot in November, that was a really well run race, and he was giving the others four pounds too. He was only a length behind Un De Sceaux when dropped back to two miles last time, and while the trip is a niggling doubt, he likes coming off a decent pace, and this could set up perfectly for a big run for him.
Given the likely line up there is bundles of pace in this, Empire Of Dirt may prove better over further, but the other main contenders could set this up for him, while of the pace setters, I prefer Uxizandre to Un De Sceaux who looks a poor price to me. I like Zabana at 12/1. He has led in the past but doesn’t need to, and the fact he stays further could be a plus in what could be a burn up. He tends to hit top form in the spring, was a lot better than the result in the Lexus, and looks to have a good chance. I can’t resist a bit each way on God’s Own at 25/1 either, as he also comes good at this time of year, and doesn’t have too much to find on form.
2017 Ryanair Chase – Ante Post Tips
2 PT EW Zabana at 12/1 BOG with Bet 365
1 PT EW God’s Own at 25/1 with Boylesports
Both are 1/4 the odds a place and non runner no bet.