The Ryanair Chase is one of the co-feature races on Thursday’s card of the Cheltenham Festival. This year sees a warm favorite in the shape of Allaho, who is going to go off at odds on - having won the race very impressively last year. This year, he has gone no end to enhancing his reputation again and looks to have the race at his mercy.
The best place to start looking at this race this year, is to look at the form of the Ryanair Chase last season. Willie Mullins had a stranglehold on the race last year and had some very impressive horses running against each other. Allaho, under Rachel Blackmore on that occasion, was superb from the front - jumping tenaciously and making ground at most of his obstacles. This was the best we've ever seen Allaho perform, and he put in a resounding performance to thrash future King George winner, Tornado Flyer, who was well beaten back in 3rd, alongside previous race winner Min, who was tailed off and pulled up turning in.
This season Allaho has ran twice so far over fences making a winning return in the John Durkan Chase of Punchestown, before winning again the Kinloch Brae Chase down at Thurles. He was perhaps a shade lucky to win at Punchestown, when the strong traveling Asterion Forlonge unseated at 3 out when making a challenge - but he dug down gamely to repel all of his other rivals. He was a lot more impressive at Thurles, when again showing a superb jumping aptitude to beat future Grade One winner Fakir D’Oudairies. He seems to be improving with each run this season and it very hard at this stage to look past him.
The main challenge for the favorite in today's race may well come from the inform Gigginstown ownership with the Gordon Elliot trained, Conflated. Conflated has been a steady improver this season and put in by far his best performance when winning the Irish Gold Cup last time out. He perhaps nicked that race from the front though and might not be quite as effective back over 2 1/2 miles on this ground. His jumping is usually slick but connections have been quick to emphasize that there's a quirkiness about him and he's not the most straightforward - so he's not necessarily going to take to the big occasion at Cheltenham. With this being in mind, I think one can quite comprehensively swerve past him.
Perhaps the most likely horse to fill the places behind Allaho, is his stablemate, Melon. Melon has been a stalwart of the Cheltenham Festival in recent years, and despite finishing second on four occasions at four back-to-back festivals - he is yet to taste the winner’s enclosure. He was disappointing in this race last season, when never landing a blow behind the market leader. However, his form this year has been good and after a string of good, placed efforts in Grade Ones - he deservedly got a day in the sun at Gowran Park the last day. With that experience giving him an enjoyment of winning again - he may well be one to outrun his odds at 16/1.