It only takes a quick glance through the betting for the Ryanair Chase to realise it’s all about the 7/4 favourite Allaho.
He’s the back-to-back champ, who looked at the very peak of his powers last term. At his best, you’d struggle to think of a horse who could contain him over 2m4½f at Cheltenham.
However, the nine-year-old suffered a setback a few months ago which means he hasn’t been seen yet this season. Owners Cheveley Park have recently said “it’s likely he’ll be going for another Ryanair”, but the fact is that the Willie Mullins inmate now comes with big risks attached.
Will he make it? If so, can he perform to expectation without a prep run? They’re the million dollar questions.
So, if not Allaho, who?
Straight off the bat, I think the only chance we see either Galopin Des Champs (9/2) or Blue Lord (6/1) line up in the Ryanair is if stablemate Allaho isn’t fit. As it stands, they look destined for the Gold Cup and Champion Chase respectively.
Conflated (10/1) fell in the Ryanair last year when already well-beaten. He’s surely Gold Cup-bound this time after winning the Savills Chase in great fashion over Christmas.
One that interests me greatly is Edwardstone at 12/1. He’s another that, as it stands, seems more than likely to show up elsewhere (Champion Chase), but if both he and Energumene were to take up their engagements in the Clarence House at Ascot in late January and he was well-beaten, I wouldn’t be surprised if trainer Alan King begins to consider the Ryanair, as he was doing before the season began anyway.
After that, you’re looking at the likes of Fakir D’oudairies, Envoi Allen and Hitman – all of who you’d struggle to make a case for as of right now.
There’s one I haven’t yet mentioned – Shishkin, at 6/1.
After his disappointment in the Tingle Creek, Nicky Henderson wasted no time in saying his dual-Festival winner will be going up in trip for his next assignment – since suggested to be the G2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton in January.
In fact, entries for the Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival were released the day I’m writing this, and Shishkin only has engagements in the Ryanair and the Gold Cup.
I don’t think Henderson will make as drastic a decision as to step him all the way up to 3m2f at one of the most testing tracks in the country, so the Ryanair will surely be the aim should the nine-year-old be successful in the aforementioned Silviniaco Conti Chase.
Could he be the one to put it up to Allaho (if he makes it…)?