THE outspoken Michael O’Leary has made no secret of his desire to see one of his horses, running in the famous maroon Gigginstown Stud colours, win the race sponsored by the airline that made his fortune.
Apart from the inaugural running of this Grade One contest in 2005, the Festival Trophy has run as the Ryanair Chase and an Irish horse is still yet to win.
There is a really strong challenge from across the Irish Sea this year, though, and I’m expecting BENEFFICIENT to follow up his win last term here in the JLT Novices’ Chase.
We’ve seen already in the last couple of days with the likes of Champagne Fever, Quevega and Holywell how previous Festival form is so important.
Benefficient caused a bit of a surprise when lowering the colours of favourite Dynaste last year – who reopposes as BetBright’s joint 18/5 favourite here – but won the JLT on the back of a Grade One victory. Odds of 20/1 were generous in hindsight.
Tony Martin’s horse is less than a fifth of those odds today but the best-priced 18/5 with BetBright still looks fair value. What I like about this horse is he’s a real tough and durable character, who can generally be relied on to give his running.
Once more the eight-year-old comes to Prestbury Park on the back of a top-level win after beating a high-class field at Leopardstown last December. With the likes of Hidden Cyclone, Arvika Ligeonniere, Sizing Europe and Baily Green all behind him that day, Benefficient’s form is arguably the strongest on offer.
BetBright are offering new customers a fantastic £30 risk-free bet on any race at Cheltenham this week and Martin’s beast could set you up nicely.
O’Leary’s wait for a winner in his race is set to continue as I don’t think his admirable representative Rathlin is quite top-class. A good money spinner for connections, he’s been found out in lesser races before and a weak Grade Two win back in early 2012 is his only Graded honour.
David Pipe and Tom Scudamore have had a decent couple of days and Dynaste is very good, but was beaten by Benefficient 12 months ago and there’s no real reason to expect him to reverse form. The grey also arrives on the back of a flop in the King George and has a bit to prove.
Al Ferof has great Cheltenham form but had a hard race on really heavy ground last month and has yet to win a Grade One chase in open company.
Boston Bob is all or nothing over fences, winning twice and falling twice. He reverts from a couple of spins over hurdles to the bigger obstacles, but you’d be brave to take a chance on the 10/1 shot with his inconsistent profile.
Those looking for a place angle might want to consider the consistent Hidden Cyclone. Andrew McNamara’s mount has only once been out of the frame in 12 chase starts and was runner-up to my selection earlier this season, and then again to Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy in January. The rest just aren’t good enough and that’s reflected in their big double-figure prices.
However, I’m happy to stick with Benefficient to finally give Ireland the winner that has eluded them for the past nine years. The Kim Muir Handicap Chase (4.40pm) has been a good Grand National trial in recent years. Ballabriggs won it in 2010, the year before he went on to taste Aintree success, and Sunnyhillboy was denied by the narrowest of noses in the 2012 National, having won this handicap the previous month.
I’m not sure if this year’s National winner is lurking in the field, but it looks a decent renewal and the first port of call has to be Indian Castle who was so impressive here on Trials Day.
Donald McCain loves to target this race and his Super Duty was just touched off last year. He has booked leading amateur Derek O’Connor and Indian Castle must have a great chance.
However, I get the feeling he might be a little better on softer ground and at the prices I’m going to take him on with Gordon Elliott’s CAUSE OF CAUSES.
This six-year-old won last season’s Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot and he is proven on all types of ground. AP McCoy and Cause Of Causes just failed to beat Ruby Walsh and Rockyaboya in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Elliott has put him away since then and Nina Carberry is a positive jockey booking, so take the 7/1 available with Star Sports.
Jonjo O’Neill is the master of the Cheltenham handicaps and I would suggest having a saver on his TWIRLING MAGNET at around the 20/1 mark. He needs decent ground and was a good winner here back in October.
BENEFFICIENT 2.40pm Cheltenham
CAUSE OF CAUSES 4.40pm Cheltenham
TWIRLING MAGNET e/w 4.40pm Cheltenham