The Stayers’ Hurdle may be the official headline act on Day 3, but for us, the often high-class renewal of the Ryanair Chase deserves to share top billing.
The Festival Trophy, to give the race its registered name, was only introduced in 2005 when the festival moved from three days to four. In that short time the race has already made history however. When Bryony Frost won for Paul Nicholls on Frodon in 2019, she became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 over jumps at Cheltenham.
Next Race: Thursday, 18th March 2021
The next race is scheduled to run on 18th March 2021. The race info, trends and tips shown below will be updated for the next renewal once the final declarations have been made.
Last Run: 12th March 2020
- Winner: Min
- SP: 2/1
- Trainer: Willie Mullins
- Jockey: Paul Townend
A total of £350,000 is on offer for the contenders tackling the soft ground and 2m 4½f trip of this Grade 1 contest.
|Going||Distance||Grade||Prize Money||Runners||EW Terms|
|Soft||2m4½f||Grade 1||£350,000||8 Runners||1/5 1-3|
Ryanair Chase Betting Tips
Note: The following tips are from 2020. Tips for the next renewal will be added once the final declarations have been made.
Frodon’s win in last year’s Ryanair Chase was the start of what was known as the ‘golden hour’ of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival and it was certainly one of the best moments of the entire four days. After giving Frodon an excellent ride, Bryony Frost spoken eloquently and passionately about just what a good horse he is and they will look to combine for another win in this important Grade 1 on Thursday.
Frodon remains an excellent competitor but this year’s edition of the Ryanair Chase looks to be stronger than 12 months ago so can Frodon and Frost combine for another hugely popular win? They are in with a great chance but there might just be a shade better value to be had elsewhere in our opinion.
The Ryanair Chase was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 when the meeting was extended to four days. Whilst not a championship race, it is now effectively one of two feature races on the third day of the Festival and has proven to be an excellent addition.
This Grade 1 chase takes place over 2m4½f which is a very interesting distance. It demands a certain amount of stamina - especially on the challenging New Course at Cheltenham - but it’s not quite an out and out stayers’ race. Therefore, horses must be comfortable taking fences at a fairly strong gallop and it requires both pace and endurance.
Albertas Run is the only horse to have successfully defended the Ryanair Chase. He is also the only horse older than 10 to have won in the last 10 years with those aged seven and eight sharing seven of the last 10 renewals. Although those towards the top of the betting have a good record, winning favourites are relatively rare which is not good news for connections of A Plus Tard who is available at a general price of 7/4.
|A Plus Tard||7/4||166||Henry De Bromhead||Rachael Blackmore|
|Min||11/4||170||Willie Mullins||Paul Townend|
|Frodon||5/1||168||Paul Nicholls||Bryony Frost|
|Riders Onthe Storm||7/1||162||Nigel Twiston-Davies||Sam Twiston-Davies|
A PLUS TARD (7/4)
Of course, whilst some trends may be against him, it is always easy enough to make some sort of argument for a favourite and there is lots to like about this French gelding. Trainer Henry De Bromhead certainly seems in fine shape and should have him really well prepared, whilst he certainly impressed when landing a Grade 1 chase at Leopardstown last time out, seeing off Chacun Pour Soi in the process.
However, at the prices we just feel his slight inexperience, young age and the poor record of favourites in this race mean we’d rather take our chances lower down the betting for a bigger return …
It takes a hardy sort to win the Ryanair Chase. Those who have previous experience of running at the Cheltenham Festival, and preferably have already secured a win, should be favoured. Although Min has been unable to win on any of his three trips to the Festival so far, there is a big Altior shaped reason for that.
Finishing second to Altior over 2 miles (first in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and then twice in the Champion Chase) is nothing to be ashamed about. Indeed, many view Min’s previous form as a positive rather than a negative. It’s also very different for Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old this time around as he’s looked good when stepped up in trip previously and more importantly doesn’t have a horse of Altior’s class to get past.
Of course, there are some concerns. Min’s age would make him older than most Ryanair Chase winners and there is a danger that his run at the Dublin Racing Festival, where he finished almost four lengths behind Chacun Pour Soi, will have left too much of a mark. Mullins will ensure he’s as well prepared as possible and he has plenty still to give at nine so those concerns have only helped push Min’s price out to a very backable 11/4.
The best price you’ll get on Frodon and Bryony Frost earning another huge win in the Ryanair Chase is 5/1 which is probably a fair price about their chances. It would be a hugely popular double but at the odds we have our doubts.
Frodon hasn’t really been seen to best effect yet this season with a couple of flat performances coming before he managed to claim a first win of the season in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton. That win was welcome but it wasn’t exactly the performance of a Ryanair Chase winner in waiting. However, connections are very happy with the work that Frodon has done at home since that win and are growing in confidence that he will be a major player at Cheltenham once again.
With only eight runners declared for the race, it looks highly likely that Frost will allow Frodon to try and dictate the pace, in an attempt to sap the energy out of the legs of his rivals before digging deep up the Cheltenham hill. However, Min should be happy enough sat just off the pace before turning on the afterburners so another win for Frodon looks unlikely in our opinion.
RIDERS ONTHE STORM (7/1)
Riders Onthe Storm has been one of the stories of the jumps racing season so far. It would be fitting for the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained seven-year-old if he could cap it off with a win at the biggest NH meeting of all and he’ll have plenty of backers.
His season to remember began at Aintree where he was sent off as the co-favourite for a 2m4f handicap and won by almost 2 lengths. He then followed it up with victory in the Betfair Graduation Chase on heavy ground at Ascot before returning to the track with victory in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase, upsetting Cyrname in the process.
You can take nothing away from a horse who wins a Grade 1 and Riders Onthe Storm deserves plenty of respect ahead of the Ryanair Chase. However, he was the beneficiary of falls from both Cyrname and Traffic Fluide at Ascot and won’t get so lucky as to have the leading contenders all vanish at Cheltenham.
That said, the 7/1 that you can get on Riders Onthe Storm may well be tempting from an each way perspective. In terms of actually winning though, we have to feel it would take something really special for him to do the business yet again, especially as there are concerns about how much of a mark that win at Ascot left on him. Whatever happens, it’s been a great season for all connected to Riders Onthe Storm, including his backers!
Ryanair Chase Winners
|2020||Min||2/1||Willie Mullins||Paul Townend|
|2019||Frodon||9/2||Paul Nicholls||Bryony Frost|
|2018||Balko Des Flos||8/1||Henry De Bromhead||Davy Russell|
|2017||Un De Sceaux||7/4||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2016||Vautour||Evs||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2015||Uxizandre||16/1||Alan King||Tony McCoy|
|2014||Dynaste||3/1||David Pipe||Tom Scudamore|
|2013||Cue Card||7/2||Colin Tizzard||Joe Tizzard|
|2012||Riverside Theatre||7/2||Nicky Henderson||Barry Geraghty|
|2011||Albertas Run||6/1||Jonjo O'Neill||A P McCoy|
About the Ryanair Chase: Stars Take Flight at The Festival
The Stayers’ Hurdle may be the official headline act on Day Three at the Cheltenham Festival, but not far behind it when it comes to top billing on the day is this 17 fence, 2m5f chase affair open to runners aged five and older. One of the newer races at the meeting, this contest was added to the roster as part of the 2005 expansion which saw a fourth day added to the fabulous Festival.
Aiming to provide a top-level target for those runners perhaps not quick enough for the 2m of the Queen Mother Champion Chase but lacking the stamina reserves to see out the 3m2f of the Gold Cup, the race quickly became popular with fans, owners and trainers alike and was granted Grade 1 status ahead of the 2008 renewal.
Known to all and sundry simply as “The Ryanair”, the official title of the race is actually the Festival Trophy. With the Michael O’Leary-owned airline having sponsored all bar the inaugural edition – sponsored by the Daily Telegraph – the name of the company understandably quickly became synonymous with this race.
Ruby A Gem Over The Festival Fences
This may be one of the newer races at the festival, but it didn’t taken Ruby Walsh long to compile an impressive record in the contest, with four wins in his career. Considering Walsh claimed top jockey honours at the Festival on an incredible 11 occasions, it isn’t too surprising that he had done well here – he did well in just about all of the Festival races.
Ruby Walsh’s Ryanair Chase Victories
|2005||Thisthatandtother||Paul Nicholls||½ length|
|2016||Vautour||Willie Mullins||6 lengths|
|2017||Un De Sceaux||Willie Mullins||1 ½ lengths|
The greatest of all time, Tony McCoy, had led the way with three wins up to 2015 – recording his final Cheltenham Festival success with a bold front running ride aboard the Alan King-trained Uxizandre in this race in 2015 – but back to back wins for Walsh in 2016 and 2017 aboard the Willie Mullins duo Vautour and Un De Sceaux saw the Irishman hit the front.
Balko Bags Prize For Sponsors
Irish businessman Michael O’Leary must be one of National Hunt racing’s biggest supporters; not only through his firm Ryanair’s sponsorship of this race and other top events, but also through his association with the owning giant that is Gigginstown House Stud. With so many classy chasers coming under his umbrella, O’Leary no doubt viewed winning the race he sponsors as a very real possibility. For a while however it looked as though it might never happen.
Second in 2007 with Mossbank, First Lieutenant then filled the same position in 2013, before Valseur Lido and Road To Riches filled second and third behind a majestic Vautour in 2016. Second yet again in 2017 with Sub Lieutenant, O’Leary must have been wondering if he would ever break his duck.
With defending champion Un De Sceaux and the legendary Cue Card amongst the opposition headed into the 2018 edition, the Gigginstown-owned and Henry de Bromhead-trained Balko Des Flos looked to be up against it on the formbook. Nobody told the horse that though as the mount of Davy Russell travelled like a dream throughout, kicking clear in the straight to carry the famous maroon silks with the white star to victory at long last. The horse hasn’t been as good either before or since, but on that day he was untouchable.
Stepping Stone To Gold?
It may not place quite the emphasis on stamina as the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself, but run over the same track and fences, this race would seem a logical rung on the ladder towards a tilt at the big one in future years. As of 2020 only one horse has managed to back up a win in this event with a triumph in the biggest one of them all. The Nigel Twiston Davies-trained Imperial Commander toughed it out up the run-in to score in this race in 2009 before upsetting both Kauto Star and Denman to land the 2010 Gold Cup by an impressive seven lengths.
Cheltenham Gold Cup 2010: Full Result
|1st||Imperial Commander||9||Nigel Twiston-Davies||Paddy Brennan||7/1|
|2nd||Denman||10||Paul Nicholls||A P McCoy||4/1|
|3rd||Mon Mome||10||Venetia Williams||Aidan Coleman||50/1|
|4th||Carruthers||7||Mark Bradstock||Mattie Batchelor||33/1|
|5th||Cooldine||8||Willie Mullins||Paul Townend||10/1|
|6th||Calgary Bay||7||Henrietta Knight||Graham Lee||50/1|
|7th||My Will||10||Paul Nicholls||Nick Scholfield||80/1|
|8th||Cerium||9||Paul Murphy||Davy Russell||200/1|
|9th||Tricky Trickster||7||Paul Nicholls||Barry Geraghty||12/1|
|10th||Mr Pointment||11||Paul Murphy||Ken Whelan||250/1|
|Fell||Kauto Star||10||Paul Nicholls||Ruby Walsh||8/11|
The winner of this race who most fans would have liked to see join Imperial Commander as a Gold Cup champ is the 2013 hero, Cue Card. The Colin Tizzard-trained superstar did have a crack at the main event in both 2016 and 2017 but agonisingly fell at the third last on both occasions. That 2016 effort in particular looks a case of what might have been, with the horse seemingly travelling well within himself at the time.
Alberta At The Double
As of 2020, five trainers and two jockeys had claimed this prize on more than one occasion. Just the one horse has managed that feat though. Trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by Tony McCoy, Alberta’s Run matched the determination of his rider to cause a minor upset when scoring at 14/1 in 2010, before putting in another display of true grit to successfully defend his crown under the McCoy drive in 2011.
Albertas Run’s Ryanair Chase Wins
|17th March 2011||Albertas Run (6/1)||Kalahari King (7/1)||Rubi Light (16/1)|
|18th March 2010||Albertas Run (14/1)||Poquelin (11/4)||J’y Vole (28/1)|
Five Way Battle For Top Trainer Honours
There are a few races at the Cheltenham Festival where a certain trainer proves a cut above the rest – Nicky Henderson in the juvenile hurdles springs to mind – but this isn’t one of them. In the opening 16 editions of the race no fewer than five separate trainers recorded a double in the race. In 2019, Paul Nicholls became the first trainer to go one better with three but he has been joined by Willie Mullins after his win with Min in 2020.
Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O’Neill and David Pipe have been the men to follow for the home team, whilst it should come as no surprise that it is Willie Mullins who became the first Irish-based handler to record three successes in the event. Powerful yards one and all, and surely only a matter of time before at least one of those names adds to their tally in the future.