Day 3 features two Grade 1 contests. Having looked at the Stayers' Hurdle in depth last week, David Cleary returns to take a look at the Ryanair, as well as the rest of the Thursday card...
"Perhaps the overpriced horse is Saint Calvados, who has had just the one chance at around two and a half miles in Britain, when running as well as he ever has to take second in a handicap here in January. Now that he's proven himself effective at the trip, he could well be ridden slightly closer to the pace and step up on the form again; he wouldn't need to progress much more to be a major player."
The enforced retirement of Un de Sceaux, announced earlier in the week, is a real shame, depriving us and him of a proper Festival send off in either the Ryanair or Champion Chase. He was still more than capable of going close in either. In his absence, the pair that stand out among the presumed runners in the Ryanair are his stable companion, another Festival regular Min, and A Plus Tard, who won the novice handicap chase at this meeting last season.
This time around both have form against Chacun Pour Soi over two miles at Leopardstown. Min was second to him at the Dublin Racing Festival while A Plus Tard beat him at Christmas. However, that was Chacun Pour Soi's first run since May and he clearly came on plenty for the run when winning last month. Min pushed Chacun Pour Soi hard that day, and on balance of form ought to be favourite, given the strength of his form at two and a half miles particularly.
The home team is led by last year's hero Frodon and he should go well again, coming into this in form, though everything fell perfectly for him a year ago and he'll be pushed to repeat the triumph if either of the favourites is at the top of their game. Riders Onthe Storm deserves his chance after winning the Betfair Ascot Chase last time, albeit that form is potentially muddling.
Perhaps the overpriced horse is Saint Calvados, who has had just the one chance at around two and a half miles in Britain, when running as well as he ever has to take second in a handicap here in January. Now that he's proven himself effective at the trip, he could well be ridden slightly closer to the pace and step up on the form again; he wouldn't need to progress much more to be a major player. He's only got one other entry at the Festival, in the Gold Cup, so he's surely going to take his chance in this - he's worth an interest at 21.020/1.
Faugheen's chosen target key to Marsh outcome
The Day 3 card opens with the Golden Miller novice chase, run this year under the Marsh banner. A triumph for Faugheen would raise the roof, were he to turn up here, rather than in the RSA, that decision still in the balance, apparently. He ought to be favourite for this on what he's done this season, perhaps his age - he's now 12 - a factor in the prices; certainly it is most unusual to see such a veteran contest a Grade 1 Cheltenham novice chase, let alone be a serious challenger for one. Faugheen is showing no signs of decline with age just yet.
The fourth and final graded conditions race is the mares novice, the Dawn Run. As befits an event named in honour of his father's wonderful mare, Willie Mullins has dominated the race, winning all four runnings since the race was introduced in 2016. The first three were short-priced favourites, but last season's heroine Eglantine du Seuil was sent off at 50/1. And even though Mullins and Gordon Elliott filled the first four places, the quartet all went off at odds of 25/1 or bigger.
Lamarkise is currently the shortest priced of the Mullins' entries, but that is surely purely on reputation, as the form just isn't there. That might offer a route in to find a value option, but the favourite Minella Melody and top British hope Floressa look far more deserving of their position in the betting.
Stoney Mountain makes Pertemps appeal
There are three handicaps on the card, of which the Pertemps Final is the one that makes most appeal at this stage for ante-post purposes. The market is dominated by those that have caught the eye in qualifiers, including Phoenix Way, Sire du Berlais and Relegate. The latter pair will be bidding for their second Festival victory, Sire du Berlais having won the Pertemps last season, Relegate the Champion Bumper a year earlier.
Sire du Berlais did no more than required when qualifying at Warwick, while Relegate made a promising return from a lengthy absence in the Punchestown qualifier. Phoenix Way, who was value for any amount more than the margin indicates when winning the Huntingdon qualifier, is likely to be the least exposed in the field.
At longer odds is Stoney Mountain, who also caught the eye in the Warwick qualifier, patiently ridden, left with plenty still to do after three out and unable to land a blow with the run of the race against such tactics, but staying on. He showed in winning the valuable handicap hurdle on Betfair Chase day how effective he is in this sort of race, and seems sure to make a bold show again this time.
Rocket Lad has been mentioned in the countdown column as an interesting runner for the Final, though he is also entered in the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe; he'd probably also need the ground to dry out a bit. So, for a second option at this juncture, try A Great View, who was fifth in the 2018 Final, still with running left at the finish. He finished a place in front of Relegate at Punchestown, showing all his old ability is in tact, shaping every bit as well.
In the Plate, which has attracted no fewer than 94 entries, there are any number that could be made a case for. Spiritofthegames would be top of the list at the moment, given what a good record he has in races of this type, but this looks far too hard at this stage. In the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, The Conditional has more chance of getting a run than he has in the Ultima, but it remains to be seen which of his multiple entries he will be taking up.
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Back Saint Calvados at 21.020/1 in the Ryanair Chase
Back Stoney Mountain at 26.025/1 and A Great View at 29.028/1 in the Pertemps Final