David Cleary's Cheltenham Notebook: Ma Filleule can put up a strong Ryanair showing

Ma Filleule is a double figures for the Ryanair
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In the sixth and final part of his Cheltenham Notebook series David Cleary rounds out his assessment of recent Festival pointers and he is encouraged by Ma Filleule despite going down to Balder Success at Ascot 

"Although she has her work cut out to turn round placings with Balder Success, Ma Filleule isn't without hope of doing so, given the way she came to herself in the spring last year. Although she is still in the Gold Cup, her trainer Nicky Henderson suggested the Ryanair was Ma Filleule's likely target."

With less than a month to go to the Festival, almost the final Cheltenham clues have been falling into place over the last few days. There were easy wins for a pair of last season's top novice chasers, who were getting back on track after failing to complete last time, while the Grade 1 feature, the Betfair Ascot Chase was fought out by two that could well play a part in the Ryanair Chase next month.

The wide-margin success of last season's top novice chaser Holywell in a minor event at Kelso came in a race he was entitled to win easily. However, given his two previous runs this season, Holywell needed to show that he still had the ability which had seen him do so well last spring. He did that and then some, the return of blinkers and a ride designed to test his jumping and current level of form saw Holywell put himself firmly back in the Gold Cup picture, particularly given his record at the Festival, wins in the Pertemps Final over hurdles and the three-mile handicap chase in the last two seasons.
Champagne Fever will be another bidding for a third Festival success next month, though which race he will be attempting, to add to Champion Bumper and Supreme honours, remains to be seen. He showed no ill effects for his last-fence fall at Thurles last time when scoring with plenty in hand at Gowran on Saturday, though the fact that the runner-up Texas Jack would have finished ten times further behind him had he stood up the time before is an indication of the easy nature of the task he faced.

Champagne Fever is still in the Gold Cup, but the Ryanair (and a likely rematch with Don Cossack, who would probably have beaten him narrowly at Thurles) or the Champion Chase (despite his defeat over course and distance in the Arkle last year) are much more likely options.

Two others staked their Ryanair claims at Ascot later that afternoon, with Balder Success coming out on top of the mare Ma Filleule. Although the race rather fell apart, there was a lot to be positive about in the two performances, Balder Success showing conclusively that around two-and-a-half miles is after all a more suitable trip than two miles for him, Ma Filleule right back on track after not being seen to advantage in two outings in the autumn. Although she has her work cut out to turn round placings, Ma Filleule isn't without hope of doing so, given the way she came to herself in the spring last year. Although she is still in the Gold Cup, her trainer Nicky Henderson suggested the Ryanair was Ma Filleule's likely target.

Ptit Zig started favourite for the Ascot Chase but didn't get the chance to show what he could do, falling at the ninth. That was just about Ptit Zig's first mistake in five starts over fences, and hopefully he will be none the worse, for he has a lot to recommend him, so far as the JLT/Golden Miller is concerned. The same can no longer be said about Gilgamboa, short-listed here previously for the race, who was very laboured in defeat to the 25/1-shot Rawnaq at Navan on Sunday. 

Last year's Spa Hurdle winner Very Wood struck a more positive note later on the Navan card, back on track in winning a Grade 2 novice after being pulled up on his two previous starts. As he showed at Cheltenham last year, stamina is very much his strong suit and the four-mile National Hunt Chase would be a more obvious target than the RSA, particularly with Don Poli and Valseur Lido two more likely candidates running in the same colours. 

RSA clues were also in short supply in a substandard Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, though the novice Carole's Destrier won the three-mile handicap on the same card, showing form more than good enough to have won the earlier race. Carole's Destrier scored in gritty fashion and will continue to progress, though a handicap remains a better option for him at the Festival.

Tea For Two's defeat at Ascot was a shock, though it's the second time he's been found out in a small field over hurdles. A larger field and stronger gallop will play to his strengths much more, as he showed in the Lanzarote last time, and he shouldn't be discounted if he turns up in a novice at Cheltenham, or even in the Coral Cup, where at least his regular rider will be able to claim.     

Notebook shortlist:
Au Quart de Tour: Champion Bumper
Black Thunder/Tenor Nivernais: 3m handicap chase
Carole's Destrier: handicap chase at 2m4f+ 
Eastlake/Savello: Grand Annual
Grand Vision: Kim Muir
Jezki: Champion Hurdle
L'Ami Serge: Supreme Novices'
Ma Filleule: Ryanair
Many Clouds/Holywell : Cheltenham Gold Cup
Morning Run/Lyrical Theatre: Mares Hurdle
Old Guard: Fred Winter
Stellar Notion: novice handicap chase
Southfield Theatre: RSA
Tea For Two: novice hurdle or handicap at 2m4f+
Thomas Brown: Albert Bartlett (Spa)
Top Wood/Southfield Royale (needs to qualify): Pertemps Final
War Sound: Baring Bingham/Spa

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