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Ryanair Chase 2019 Ante-Post Preview: Aso has more to offer

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Posted in: Cheltenham Festival Tips

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With the entries for the 2019 Ryanair Chase now released, we take a long-range look at one of the big five races at the Cheltenham Festival and give you our best ante-post bet.

Inaugurated in 2005, the Ryanair Chase, which takes place on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival, was one of several races added to the Festival when it grew from three days to four.


The leading jockey in the Ryanair is Ruby Walsh, who has won it a total of four times – with Thisthatandtother (2005), Taranis (2007), Vautour (2016) and Un de Sceaux (2017), and he looks sure to have the pick of Willie Mullins’ rides this year, of which choosing could be tough. Mullins has 13 of the 44 entries, including the 2017 winner Un de Sceaux who gave valiant chase to Altior in the Tingle Creek at Sandown when last seen, as he did when second to Balko des Flos – who would be a major player if defending his crown – in last year’s Ryanair.


At the top of the ante-post market are stablemates Min and Footpad, both of whom have been mainly campaigned over shorter. Despite finishing runner-up in the Champion Chase and Arkle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival respectively, both look good fits for this race, the latter having been tried over as far as three miles over hurdles in the past. Min, meanwhile, impressed over two and a half miles when winning the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown when last seen. He has since swerved an engagement over two miles at Leopardstown, and may now be campaigned at this sort of trip; he’s a leading contender.


Other Mullins entries to consider include Al Boum Photo, who won over this trip at Tramore on his return but may have his sights set on the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a comment that also applies to recent Savills Chase fourth Bellshill and that race’s impressive winner Kemboy. Perhaps of more interest is Killultagh Vic who was pulled-up when well-fancied for last year’s Gold Cup but may be more at home over this shorter trip.


Other Irish runners to consider include Monalee and Shattered Love. The former ran very well when chasing home Kemboy in the Savills Chase last time, and this trip should suit him very well, while the latter ran too badly to be true at Leopardstown last time. Having won the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival last year over this sort of trip, she is afforded plenty of respect with her handy mares’ allowance.


Mullins is seeking his third win in the race, as are Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls. Henderson has Top Notch and Terrefort amongst his entries, with Top Notch considered the main contender after a fine return over hurdles. Along with Waiting Patiently, who has had this race nominated as a target by Ruth Jefferson, he could run at Kempton this weekend. Waiting Patiently departed through no fault of his own in the King George VI Chase there on Boxing Day, but connections have previously suggested that the Cheltenham is not the be-all and end-all.


 

Nicholls, meanwhile, has leading candidates in King George fourth Politologue and Frodon, though the former has shown his best form going right-handed and the latter was given quite an easy lead when making all in a competitive handicap at the track in December. He was only fifth in this race last year, and will need to improve markedly on that.


Of more interest from previous Ryanair runners is Aso. The Venetia Williams-trained runner is another who has been in good form in handicaps this season, winning a handicap at Newbury (by 13 lengths from Touch Kick) in November before following up in a Grade 3 handicap at Cheltenham last time. He was third in this race in 2017, only beaten by seven and a half lengths despite being sent off at 40/1, and he looks an improved performer this season. At 25/1, he looks overpriced.


Sizing John and Fox Norton race in the colours of Ann and Alan Potts, who died within three months of each other in late-2017. While Sizing John may be another who is more likely to head for the Gold Cup, a race he won in 2017 before suffering an injury last season, Fox Norton is being aimed at this race. He is another who has been off the track for a long time, pulled up in the 2017 King George when last seen, but he has been placed in both an Arkle and a Champion Chase, and it may be that this trip is within his stamina range. He is on target to take on Altior in the Clarence House at Ascot, and that may determine whether he stays over the minimum distance of two miles or heads back up in distance again.


A final mention goes to Charbel, an impressive winner of the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon last time. He hasn't been over-raced and still has youth on his side, but the Melling Chase at Aintree appeals more as a potential Grade 1 target in the spring (his trainer noted after his last run that he'd be kept to flat tracks) and his Cheltenham record over fences is generally one of disappointment.


In summary, the one who stands out at the prices at this stage is the 25/1 chance Aso. He has proven he can do it in this race before and has looked as good as ever in recent wins, so looks worth backing each-way. Willie Mullins will undoubtedly have a say, but none of his battalion look unbeatable, and it may be that the Gigginstown pair of Shattered Love and Balko des Flos emerge as the main horses to beat.


Recommendation:


Back Aso each-way at 25/1 for the Ryanair Chase


 

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