Most days at Cheltenham have one main race that everyone looks forward to and that the day is somewhat built around. That is still the case on Day Three, but there’s a strong argument to make that the Ryanair Chase captures the imagination of those in attendance just as much as the Stayers’ Hurdle which follows it. Often the Cheltenham Festival organisers will allow for a bit of a lull before the main event, but that’s certainly not the case on St. Patrick’s Day. Is that because of the Irish link between this race and the day itself?
It’s somewhat surprising that the Ryanair Chase is so popular, considering it wasn’t even introduced to the Festival until 2005. That was when the meeting changed from having three days to adding a fourth, so they obviously needed to come up with some more races to fill the day. Its registered title is the Festival Trophy, but it has been sponsored ever since it was introduced to Cheltenham. In its first year that honour went to the Daily Telegraph, but it has been associated with Ryanair ever since 2006. It was a Grade 2 race until it was upgraded to Grade 1 in 2008.
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|Course||Grade||Fences||Distance (m)||Winner / Purse|
|New Course||Grade 1||17||2m 4f 127y (4140m)||£196,945 / £345,000|
You’ll no doubt remember from the other races we’ve already covered that Day Three switches onto the New Course, which is where this race is run. It’s left-handed and features seventeen fences that the five-year-old or older horses must jump. There’s a weight restriction of eleven stone nine pound for horses aged five and eleven stone ten for those six or over, with Mares getting a seven pounds allowance.
The race is run over two miles and five furlongs with Ruby Walsh being the leading jockey with 4 wins to his name. 2018 was a great year for the long term sponsor Ryanair as winner Balko Des Flos was also owned by Michael O’Leary the Ryanair chief. The first time he has won his own race.
Despite its relative youth as a race, its prestige means that a couple of jockeys have won it more than once. The honour first went to Ruby Walsh, winning the inaugural running of the race in 2005 as well as the one in 2007. He won it for the first time on the back of Thisthatandtother, then two years later on Taranis. Both of those rides came on horses trained by Paul Nicholls, who also holds the trainers record with four wins when he won with the Bryony Frost ridden Frodon in 2019 and then with Paul Townsend riding Min in 2020. This was even more significant as Frost became the first ever woman to win a Grade 1 race at the Cheltenham Festival when she rode home on the seven year old, even more astonishing when you consider she beat the favourite Footpad ridden by the record race winner Ruby Walsh, trained by record festival race winner Willie Mullins.
There are several trainers to win the race twice. We’ll stick with the jockeys for now, though, and Tony McCoy is the other one to have picked up more than one win in the race. What makes McCoy’s wins even more impressive is that he is the only jockey to have won back-to-back races with the same horse. The first win for McCoy and Albertas Run came in 2010 and then again in 2011, thanks to the training of Jonjo O’Neill. McCoy completed his hat-trick in 2015, the same year that he decided to retire from the sport. That was on a horse trained by Alan King who is one of just three trainers to have only won the race once; the other two are Colin Tizzard and Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Only Jonjo O’Neill and Willie Mullins have trained the winning horse two years in a row, with O’Neill’s victories coming courtesy of Albertas Run, the only horse to win it twice. Other than Paul Nicholls with 3 wins, Nicky Henderson and David Pipe are the only other trainers with two wins to their name.
CBO Rating | 8/10
As mentioned at the start, the Stayers’ Hurdle is unquestionably the premier race of the day. The Ryanair Chase has plenty to recommend it, however, not least of which is the fact that winners often go on to be competitive in the Gold Cup at future festivals. The 2013 winner Cue Card, for example, was in line to challenge for the trophy in 2016 only to take a heavy hall three from home. He would have followed in the footsteps of the 2009 winner, Imperial Commander, who went on to win the Gold Cup the following year.
The Irish connection to Day Three means that a race sponsored by an Irish company is always likely to win the favour of punters. It’s a favourite of talented middle distance chasers, so keep an eye on the winner of this one if you’re a racing regular who likes to make a note of winners to bear in mind for future races of a similar ilk. Equally it’s worth seeing what the form is of horses from similar races earlier in the season.
Beloved by the Irish and other punters alike, the Ryanair Chase is the perfect preparation for the Stayers’ Hurdle that follows it. It’s a decent race that can tell you a lot about how the rest of the day is going to pan out.