PLENTY have swerved the Ryanair Chase (2.50pm) in recent years, but this year’s renewal is one of the races of the week.
Having once been considered an afterthought for those shying away from either a Champion Chase or Gold Cup challenge, it is now being targeted in its own right.
The Irish, who have won the last three renewals, have an extraordinarily strong challenge here with six of the first seven in the betting.
Willie Mullins saddles both Footpad and Un De Sceaux who are bound to prove very popular as the race approaches.
Any further rain that falls will certainly help the latter, while Footpad may take some catching if returning to the form that saw him win last year’s Arkle.
However, I put up Monalee in this paper a few weeks ago at 8/1 and I certainly won’t be abandoning him now he has been committed to this race.
Henry De Bromhead has his team in great nick as he proved when saddling a winner here on the opening day and lady of the moment Rachael Blackmore again rides the eight-year-old.
Without repeating myself too much, the key here is the 2m5f trip as I don’t feel Monalee truly stays three miles.
He has been to two Festivals finishing second in an Albert Bartlett two years ago and was again runner-up to Presenting Percy in last year’s RSA Chase.
Both of those races were over three miles and I just feel he doesn’t quite get home.
His chasing form over 2m4f and 2m5f reads 111, while his form over three miles plus over fences is F2F2.
I loved the way he travelled in last year’s RSA Chase where he tanked his way around and the shorter trip and stronger pace will surely only play to his strengths.
Frodon looks likely to go strong and hard from the front, but it’s another horse who lines up here rather than tomorrow’s Gold Cup who I’ll be having a saver on.
The rain that fell at the beginning of the week has persuaded connections of ROAD TO RESPECT to take this instead and he won’t be far away.
He routed the field in the course and distance handicap here two years ago and has had his stamina stretched over further since.
Fourth in last year’s Gold Cup, he will be ridden to pounce late on and the 5/1 on offer looks a little too big.
Looking at the remaining races on the card and everyone assumes Nicky Henderson’s Epatante only needs to turn up to take Mares Novices’ Hurdle (4.50pm).
She wouldn’t be for me at the prices though and the first-time hood also slightly puts me off. At the prices I can see Emily Moon running well at 28/1, but I would prefer to sit the race out.
The Kim Muir (5.30pm) looks an equally impossible puzzle to solve and if pushed I’d side with Livelovelaugh off topweight at around 16/1.
The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (4.10pm) looks far more interesting from a betting perspective with top-weight Janika looking the obvious one.
However, I’m prepared to take him on with a couple at bigger prices.
The Skeltons are already on the board this week and saddle SPIRITOFTHEGAMES here who could have easily lined up in the JLT Chase.
Fifth in last year’s County Hurdle, he is only 1lb higher than when third behind Kildisart over a slightly shorter trip on Trials Day.
The step up in trip will help and an each-way play at 10/1 with Paddy Power looks the call.
I’ll also have a small each-way saver on KALONDRA who has plenty of decent course form and just needs a little more luck.
He can be backed each-way at 14/1 and could still be well-handicapped.
Road To Respect 2.50pm Cheltenham
Spiritofthegames e/w 4.10pm Cheltenham
Kalondra e/w 4.10pm Cheltenham
Monalee e/w 8/1 Cheltenham 2.50pm