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Monday 12 March 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Un De Sceaux Can Retain Crown as Ryanair Chase Cutting Up

In the short but sweet history of the Ryanair Chase – added to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 – only one horse has won consecutive renewals so far.

It’s not that the prestige or prize money of this championship contest over an intermediate trip of almost 2m 5f isn’t attractive, but more connections tend to get ideas above this station.
While that wasn’t the case with sole dual Ryanair winner Albertas Run, who had already been tried and found wanting in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, this race has largely been won by younger horses aiming to step up in future.
Look no further than 2009 victor Imperial Commander who returned to the Festival 12 months later and tasted Gold Cup glory. Cue Card, winner of the 2013 renewal, is back in the Ryanair five years on as a popular and beloved veteran nearing his swansong, but his intervening campaigns saw him aimed at the Cheltenham centrepiece.
The average field size of this contest from 13 previous renewals is just 11. This year, it could be below that number for the sixth time because the Ryanair is cutting up. All to the good if you’re one of those punters backing last year’s winner Un De Sceaux, who heads the Cheltenham betting 2018.
Trained by Irish master Willie Mullins, Un De Sceaux put in a bold and impressive round of jumping while making most of the Ryanair running 12 months ago. He was certainly value for more than the winning margin.
It was one of the most eye-catching performances of the 2017 Festival. Although another year older now and aged ten, Un De Sceaux’s credentials are as solid as ever and he’s helped by a number of high-profile withdrawals even before the five-day declarations this year.
While Cue Card remains engaged for Colin Tizzard, stablemate Fox Norton – conqueror of Un De Sceaux in the Irish Champion Chase over 2m at last season’s Punchestown Festival – is out of the Ryanair through injury.

Ascot Chase winner Waiting Patiently, meanwhile, had been a leading contender to give northern trained horses a rare Festival winner, yet connections have opted to skip Cheltenham in favour of the Aintree Grand National meeting.
The fourth home in that key Ryanair trial, Top Notch, also misses out. Handler Nicky Henderson reports nothing is medically wrong with the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned gelding, but he isn’t himself at Seven Barrows.
Another to disappoint in the Ascot Chase, Coney Island, also misses Cheltenham after pulling up in that previous run. Trainer Edward Harty is instead looking to get him back on track at the Punchestown Festival.
Leading rivals with claims of challenging for Un De Sceaux’s crown have fallen by the wayside. The Ryanair will cut up even further as other entrants also have Cheltenham engagements in other Festival contests.
All the while, Un De Sceaux has done nothing wrong in two starts this season, including readily landing a third consecutive Clarence House Chase at Ascot. But for Sprinter Sacre, who had too much for him in the 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase, he’d have a flawless record at Cheltenham too.
Un De Sceaux thus looks a great bet for the Festival and back-to-back Ryanair Chase crowns despite the sentiment surrounding Cue Card.

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