Ryanair Chase Betting

The Ryanair Chase was added to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005, when the current four-day format was adopted. Currently appearing third on the schedule for Day Three, it is a Class A Grade 1 National Hunt chase, which features seventeen fences and covers two miles and five furlongs on the left-handed turf of the New Course. Horses carry a weight of 11 stone 10 pounds, with a 7-pound allowance for mares.

Prior to 2005, the Cathcart Chase (aka Cathcart Challenge Cup) was run over this distance. It was restricted, however, to novices and second-season chasers. The decision to replace the Cathcart resulted in two new 2m5f races being introduced—this one open to horses aged five years old and upwards and the Jewson Novices Handicap Chase, which is now known as the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase and restricted to novices rated 0-140.

For the inaugural running, this event was offered as a Grade 2 level race known as the “Festival Trophy,” which remains its registered, non-sponsored title to this day. The event was initially backed by the Daily Telegraph, and then the Irish low-cost airline Ryanair took over sponsorship from 2006 onwards. In 2008, the Ryanair Chase achieved its current Grade 1 status.

There was some concern at that time about how the introduction of a new championship level race might impact the quality and stature of other Festival events. Specifically, many feared the middle-distance Ryanair Chase might detract from the shorter Queen Mother Chase and perhaps even the longer Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. Fortunately, such concerns have proved to be unfounded. Today, the Ryanair Chase combines with the ladbrokes World Hurdle to make Day Three a separate highlight of the schedule.

In 2011, the total prize fund for the Ryanair Chase was pegged at £260,000, up slightly from the previous season’s high of £250,000. The very first winner here, Thisthatandtother trained by Paul Nichols and guided by Ruby Walsh, rode off with £87,000 in 2005. The 2010 victor, Jonjo O’Neill’s Albertas Run with Tony McCoy aboard, carried away £142,525 for first place. As an interesting side note, Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Dublin-based Ryanair, came within five lengths of winning his company’s own money when an entry that he owned, Mossbank, came runner-up to the David Pipe-trained Our Vic.

The combination of Nichols/Walsh also won in 2007 with Taranis, making them the first and only trainer and jockey to register two victories here. Irish mounts have done exceptionally well in the Ryanair Chase, taking all but the 2006 running, when the Nicky Henderson-trained Fondmort crossed the finish line first as the joint favourite at 100/30 odds.

As it turns out, Fondmort has been the only fancied horse to win the Ryanair Chase to date, but don’t look for long odds to prevail here. The race has attracted fields of just 9~13 starters, and all of the winners have paid out at single digits (6/1 or less) except the most recent one, Albertas Run, who delivered a fine payday at 14/1.

Previous experience at Cheltenham is definitely a plus for the Ryanair chasers. Of the past dozen winners and runners-up, all but one had a victory here before. What’s more, every first-place runner had been rated between 152 and 157 going in. One other good bit of advice is to look to other mid-distance races such as the paddy Power Gold Cup or the boylesports Gold Cup as form guides for this race. The 2009 winner here, Imperial Commander, took the 2008 paddy Power Gold Cup and went on to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2010.

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