Below is my Ante Post Preview and Tips for the 2018 Ryanair Chase, run over two miles four furlongs, and one hundred and sixty six yards. This could be a fascinating race, but as I write this with just over two weeks to go to the race, there is still some doubt about some of the main contenders running, with potential for others to enter the mix too.
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Last years winner Un De Sceaux, and favourite to win again this year, is the obvious place to start. He has always been a very good, if not quite top notch two miler, but he also tended to take quite a hold in his races, so stepping up to two miles and almost five furlongs in this race last year provided a stamina question mark. He had run over this trip in France, but I’m not sure how true the pace was in those races. After initially seeming to settle okay, Un De Sceaux started tanking with Ruby Walsh after about three fences, and he had little choice but to let him go to the front as they passed the stands. To pull like he did off what was a strong early pace, and still win was very commendable, but he was running on fumes coming up the hill, and would have been beaten in another hundred yards. I certainly don’t buy the theory he was idling.
Clearly if settled better he would likely have won easily, but it wasn’t a good edition of the Ryanair, with Sub Lieutenant coming second, while the third had been beaten off a mark of just 152 on his previous start, so he will need to be as good as ever, and settle better, to win what could be a good bit better race this year. His recent win in a very poor grade 1 at Ascot, when the second, who had only won a handicap off 135 on his previous start, and went much too quick in this, told us little about his current ability levels, as any decent grade two horse would have won it as easily as he did. Un De Sceaux did settle well though, but then if he didn’t settle off that gallop over two miles you’d be worried.
Waiting Patiently is well named as his connections certainly haven’t rushed him. He beat subsequent grade one winner, Politologue at Haydock in January last year, but it was only in the middle of February this year that he stepped into grade one company himself, with two easy wins in lesser races in between. That looked a red hot grade one for the time of year, with Speredek, and then Cue Card turning it into a real test, by forcing a very quick pace. Waiting Patiently got there travelling really well coming to the second last, so it was a little disappointing that he seemed all out on the run in, but only went just over two lengths clear of Cue Card, who sectionals show was slowing down quite a bit.
It could be Waiting Patiently was idling a bit, or it could be that two mile and five trip on soft ground, with a fierce pace, was the upper limit of his stamina range. If that’s the case the uphill finish in the Ryanair could be problematic, especially if the ground did come up soft. There’s no getting away from the fact that he looks top class though, with potential to do better still. His connections comments regarding going for this race suggest it is in no way a target though, which can only be a negative, as horses like Un De Sceaux will have had their whole season mapped around the Ryanair. Another negative would be that despite getting to two out on the bridle, they went really quick and finished slowly, so he will have had a much harder race than he’s ever had, and needs to prove he can reproduce that level after such a race, just a month later. His jockey also claimed after that Ascot win, that the ground, which was called soft by Timeform, was on the quick side for him, so given that Timeform have rarely called the ground worse than good to soft on the Thursday at Cheltenham, that would be another concern.
Cue Card has looked on the downgrade to me for quite awhile, so I was surprised at his display at Ascot last time, but while I would tend to use his proximity to downgrade what the winner did, I do think he just seemed to roll the clock back a bit, running with real zest, and seeming to appreciate an aggressive ride back at the shorter trip. You could argue it was overdone a bit though, as he finished pretty slowly. Having won that Ascot grade one the previous year, it’s likely that was his target this season, and after such a hard race it’s asking a lot of him to replicate that performance just a month later, and a reproduction wouldn’t be good enough anyway if Waiting Patiently was also to turn up in the same form.
Fox Norton was beaten just a head in last years Champion Chase, but with Douvan flopping that was a well below par renewal. He put up his best performance of the year when stepped up to two and a half miles at Aintree, a trip that looked likely to suit given his run style over two miles, and on that run he would look to have every chance in the Ryanair. It is over a furlong further though, and the ground was good at Aintree, so he’d face more of a test of stamina at this trip if the ground came up soft. He seemed to find the half furlong short of two mile trip a little sharp in the Tingle Creek on his return, but in going down by just a half a length he did enough to suggest he’s as good as ever, but he does need to bounce back from a very poor run in the King George, when it wasn’t the step up in trip that beat him, as he was going nowhere from a long way out.
Top Notch found Yorkhill too good in the JLT last year, and has since come up short in grade one company at Aintree and Ascot last time. In between he had two impressive grade two victories, with his Ascot victory in November in particular suggesting he should be able to hold his own at the top level. His jumping let him down last time though, seemingly uncomfortable with the strong pace, and while he could bounce back and put it all together, equally he may again be found out in a real top race.
Balko Des Flos showed much improved form when second in the Lexus last time, and while he has won on it before, it may be he isn’t as effective on the heavy ground he raced on for his previous two starts this season. He stayed the longer trip well at Leopardstown though, so it’s likely that was one of the reasons for his better run, which casts doubt on whether he’ll be as good dropped in trip for this. The form of that Leopardstown race is also not as strong as looked likely beforehand, with Sizing John, Yorkhill and Djakadam all flopping. At the current 10/1 NRNB price, he makes very little appeal.
Given how he races over shorter it was always a long shot that three miles would suit Yorkhill, so his Lexus flop when far too free was easily forgiven, but his abject display when dropped back to two miles last time is much harder to explain away, and it’s possible he’s gone the wrong way. He looked so good last year, despite his obvious quirkiness, that it’s too soon to totally give up on him, and if he did turn up here with Ruby aboard he would have to have a chance. If the Betfair Exchange is any guide, and it normally is, then he is much more likely to run in the Champion Hurdle though.
Cloudy Dream has been running over a trip he doesn’t come close to staying the last twice, so the drop in trip will suit, but he has to prove he’s good enough for a race like this, and on balance it’s unlikley he is. Frodon ran out an impressive winner of a good handicap off a mark of 154 at Cheltenham over this trip in January, but those performances when giving weight away to inferior rivals tend to get over rated, as they ignore the flaw in official ratings, that means it’s much easier give weight to inferior rivals in a handicap, than beat ones rated your equal off levels. He ran well behind Waiting Patiently last time at Ascot, when the slow finish meant margins were exaggerated, and he could be rated closer to the front two, but I doubt he’s much better than that, although he does go well at Cheltenham.
The exchange betting suggests it’s very unlikely he’ll run in this, but if he couldn’t win last years Gold Cup, which looked a below average renewal, then he’s unlikely to ever win one now, so it might make sense to drop Djakadam back in trip for this race, as a more aggressive ride over the shorter trip could really suit him, as having jumped so well in last years Gold Cup, until getting the second last wrong, he shaped like the trip meant his jockey wasn’t able to use his jumping to full effect. His form this year is below what he was showing the previous two seasons, but his trainer has had him spot on for Cheltenham both times, and if he was back to is best he would be very interesting in this race. While an unlikely runner, there is worse bets to had than the 16/1 Paddy Power are going non runner no bet, and if you don’t mind tying up funds for two weeks, then a small each way bet at that would be the way to go. The NRNB prices are generally a bit of a rip off, and nothing else jumps out as a bet at this stage, so I think it’s much better to wait till the day when the pricing is much more competitive, and we know what’s running, as well as vital possible pace scenarios.
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