THERE have been some mouth-watering races to enjoy already at this week’s Cheltenham Festival with the promise of plenty more to come, but there isn’t a race I’ve been looking forward to more all week than this afternoon’s Ryanair Chase (2.40pm).
The race has a wide-open feel with Irish raiders Don Cossack, Hidden Cyclone and Foxrock all prominent in the betting, not to mention Alan King’s Balder Succes who has at last found his trip.
However, I’m really sweet on the chances of Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old mare MA FILLEULE, who can be backed at 5/1 with Paddy Power.
Admittedly, she arrives at Cheltenham on the back of three defeats this season, but her trainer will have her spot on for this afternoon and knows that this is her time of year.
She only found Gold Cup-bound Holywell too good at this meeting 12 months ago and then went on to bolt up in the Topham Chase at Aintree.
She has taken her time to come to hand this season as she was late back in to Seven Barrows, but has reportedly started to flourish in recent weeks.
Her biggest asset is her ability to jump and then quicken on decent ground and all the conditions are in her favour this afternoon. She also gets a really handy seven pound mares’ allowance and, to be honest, I’d fancy her even without that weight concession.
On paper, one of her biggest dangers this afternoon is the hugely progressive Don Cossack, who is owned by Michael O’Leary, supremo of sponsors Ryanair.
He’s won all four of his starts this season, but faced no more than three rivals in three of those contests and fell last year on his only previous visit to Cheltenham.
Nobody can say for sure that he doesn’t handle the track on the basis of one failure, but he hasn’t proved that he does and, although respected, is passed over at just 4/1 with Betway.
While on the subject of the inability to handle Cheltenham, Balder Succes arrives here this afternoon following a fine Grade One win at Ascot, but has course form figures of FUF.
Trainer Alan King has genuine excuses for all three of those disappointments, but the fact of the matter is he doesn’t seem particularly lucky around here. My other concern with him is that he seems at his best in small fields when he isn’t crowded. I’d be happy to oppose him with Ma Filleule in a Sporting Index match bet.
The two biggest dangers to my selection are actually last year’s runner-up Hidden Cyclone and Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up Johns Spirit.
The former looked all over the winner last season before his stamina gave out late on and he returns in even better form this season.
He looks sure to give another bold performance this afternoon, but I’m concerned that history will repeat itself and he’ll fall in a hole late on.
Johns Spirit put up one of the weight-carrying performances of the season to date when narrowly edged out in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
He loves it around Cheltenham, but the worry with him is that his best form is on the old course (form figures 71112) and this is run on the New Course (form figures 456).
Foxrock is in great form this season but needs heavy rain, while AP McCoy’s mount Taquin Du Seuil simply doesn’t look good enough.
MA FILLEULE 2.40pm Cheltenham