All you need to know about the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Racecourse on Thursday March 18.
By Will Hayler
How good was last year's Ryanair Chase? Our experts consider the evidence
When and where can I watch the Ryanair Chase? 2.50pm Cheltenham, Thursday March 18. Live on Racing TV in glorious HD.
Which Grade? Grade One. What course is the Ryanair Chase run on? New Course
What distance? 2m5f (17 fences). How much prize-money? TBC
Ages: For 5yo+ which are allotted a BHA rating of 130 or more
Weights & Allowances: 6yo+ 11st 10lb, 5yo 11st 9lb, mares’ allowance 7lb
Key Statistics and Trends:
• None of the first 11 renewals of this race were taken by an Irish raider, but four of the past five have all been for export.
• Like the back of their hands – course experience has proved almost vital for winners of this race. All bar one of the race’s winners had run at the track at least twice before and, bar Balko Des Flos in 2018, won around Cheltenham at least once. Min had also not won at Cheltenham before success last year, but he was second in a Supreme and Arkle in previous seasons. Many Ryanair victors were regulars at the Festival and the likes of Cue Card, Albertas Run and Vautour had all scored at the meeting at least once before.
• Since the race was upgraded to Grade One status in 2008, a popular route to the Ryanair Chase has been the King George VI Chase. Every winner between 2008 and 2014 had lined up in the Kempton contest.
• Recent top form seems not to be so important in this contest as in the other championship contests. Intriguingly, only five of the 16 winners had also scored on their previous start.
• Albertas Run was successful in 2010 and 2011, and also finished runner-up in 2012.
• Five favourites have prevailed in the 14 runnings - Fondmort (2006), Riverside Theatre (2012), Dynaste (2014), Vautour (2016) and Un De Sceaux (2017).
A jubilant Bryony Frost spoke to Racing TV after guiding Frodon to victory in 2019
Did you know?
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, has owned the runner-up four times through Gigginstown House Stud - Mossbank (2008), First Lieutenant (2013), Valseur Lido (2016) and Sub Lieutenant (2017). He has also had the third in 2015 (Don Cossack), 2016 (Road To Riches) and 2019 (Road To Respect). He finally hit the jackpot with Balko Des Flos three years ago.
Race History: Created in order to establish a championship contest for chasers between the two miles of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and the extended three and a quarter miles of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Ryanair Chase was an amended version of the Cathcart Chase.
The race conditions of the Cathcart were changed significantly, being made open to all horses rather than restricted to just first and second-season chasers.
The first three runnings of the race – initially known as the Festival Trophy – were staged at Grade Two level before an upgrade in 2008. Ryanair came on board as sponsors in 2006.
Albertas Run, owned by Trevor Hemmings and trained by Jonjo O’Neill, is the only two-time winner of the race. He was successful in both 2010 and 2011, and also finished runner-up in 2012. Indeed, he ran at The Festival a total of seven times and also won the RSA Novices’ Chase in 2008.
Paul Nicholls has trained the Ryanair winner three times while Nicky Henderson and David Pipe have each enjoyed two winners. Dynaste is the only grey to have won the Ryanair Chase.
Jockey Ruby Walsh won the race four times and Sir A P McCoy was triumphant on three occasions.
McCoy partnered Albertas Run for his two victories and made all on Uxizandre in 2015. Uxizandre, trained by Alan King, was the final one of McCoy’s 31 victories at The Festival and beat a field that include future Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack.
The largest field for the Ryanair Chase in 2016 saw Vautour defeat 14 rivals, while the smallest lined up in 2019 when only six went to post. Eight horses contested the race last year.
Past 13 Ryanair Chase winners and full replays:
2020 - Min
Min finally got his turn at the Cheltenham Festival and at the fourth time of asking with a smooth-jumping success under Paul Townend for trainer Willie Mullins and owners Rich and Susannah Ricci.
Min was runner-up in both the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Arkle behind Altior before finishing fifth in the Queen Mother Champion Chase the year before, but he was not to be denied up the hill this time and repelled the challenge of Saint Calvados (16-1) in second with A Plus Tard (7-4F) back in third.
"Hes been a super horse for us and it's great he's had his day here," said Mullins. "We used the wrong tactics on him in the Champion Chase last year and it didn't work out. He likes to be up there, Paul let him do that and here he is again at the top table."
Min was contesting Grade Onbe level for the 14th time here, registering a sixth success and finishing runner-up on another six occasions.
2019 – Frodon
Frodon and Bryony Frost combined for the defining moment of the Festival that year and made the front pages of Friday’s newspapers with a fantastic all-the-way success.
Horse and rider are quite a partnership and this was front-jumping poetry. Overtaken by Aso after the second-last, the admirable Frodon found more on the run-in and was ultimately a cosy winner on a remarkable afternoon at Cheltenham.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Frost – the first woman to ride a Grade One winner over fences at the Festival. “I love you, mate!”
Even Paul Nicholls allowed himself to be carried on the tide of emotion.
“One of the best days ever,” said the 11-times champion trainer.
2018 - Balko Des Flos
If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again. Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, had endured a frustrating time trying to win his own race but finally cracked it with the Henry De Bromhead-trained Balko Des Flos.
"It's taken me 15 years to win the Ryanair, so I'm going to enjoy it," he said. "I'm going to get seriously drunk upstairs in the next couple of hours!
"On a serious note, it's great for Henry. Henry has hit the bar a couple of times this week, so it's great to see him have a winner. Today was our day - it's usually Willie's and Ruby's."
There were fears Balko Des Flos, sent off at 8-1, would not enjoy the soft ground but he was always cruising and put Un De Sceaux, the 8-11 favourite, firmly in his place. Cue Card (9-2) did not fire and was pulled up a long way from home. The tremendous equine warrior was subseqently retired.
2017 - Un De Sceaux:
Twelve months on from being beaten by a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase, Un De Sceaux produced his brilliant best under Ruby Walsh.
The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old followed up victories in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and Clarence House Chase as he stepped up in distance to strike.
Walsh eventually conceded to let his free-going partner go take the lead at the fifth fence and the pair gave a display of controlled aggression from there, producing a number of spectacular leaps on their way to success.
Sub Lieutenant did his best to reel him in after the last, but Un De Sceaux saw it out to score by a length and a half as the well-backed 7-4 favourite.
Mullins said: “He's an absolute iron horse, he's like that on the gallops every day, he wears his heart on his sleeve and I wonder how he can do it without wearing himself out.
“He's so hard on himself. I don't know how he keeps the energy and keeps wanting to do it.”
2016 - Vautour:
The most dominant display in the race’s history, but a controversial success too as Vautour justified the late decision to bypass the Gold Cup with a bloodless victory.
Scoring at the Festival for the third time in a row, the even-money favourite was giving Mullins and Walsh their sixth winner of the 2016 meeting.
Village Vic had done the majority of the donkey work until Walsh asked Vautour to go about his business after the fifth-last fence.
Road To Riches, who was also switched from the Gold Cup, tried to serve it up to the Rich Ricci-owned Vautour but it cost him second place as Valseur Lido snatched the runner-up spot close home.
Mullins and owner Rich Ricci came in for criticism after the race over comments made in the build-up to the Festival that Vautour would either run in the Gold Cup or miss the Festival altogether, and Ricci said afterwards: “I feel odd, to be completely honest. I wanted the horse to run in the Gold Cup, but of course I'm delighted to win. We just wanted to do the right thing for the horse.”
2015 - Uxizandre:
Sir AP McCoy ensured he would not leave his final Cheltenham Festival empty handed when Uxizandre led from pillar to post to give the jockey a third success in the race.
The Alan King-trained seven-year-old put in some spectacular leaps on the way round under a characteristically positive ride and built up a sizeable mid-race advantage before McCoy gave him a breather coming down the hill and the challengers stacked up.
The previous year’s runner-up Hidden Cyclone, favourite Don Cossack, Eduard, Johns Spirit and Nicky Henderson's mare Ma Filleule all attempted to get involved.
McCoy had saved plenty, though, and Uxizandre (16-1) kept up the gallop to win by five lengths from subsequent Gold Cup hero Don Cossack with Ma Filleule third.
The jockey said: “I would love to say it's a relief, but I actually got such a thrill riding him. I was actually thinking I wouldn't mind riding the horse again next year! He stuck at it well and it's days like this I am going to miss most.”
Trainer David Pipe put the seal on a successful Cheltenham Festival as Dynaste justified favouritism in the fog under Tom Scudamore.
Early leader Kauto Stone was headed by Hidden Cyclone three out with Rajdhani Express also going well for Sam Waley-Cohen close behind.
Still in front over the last, Hidden Cyclone gave his all but Kauto Stone faded away and Benefficient was beaten after looking tired.
Hidden Cyclone was still in front over the last but under a brilliant ride from Scudamore, it was Dynaste who swooped late to storm up the hill and score. Hidden Cyclone ran a blinder to stay on for second while Rajdhani Express took third.
“He's a horse who has taken some knocks so I'm pleased for him as he's gone and shown how good he is, and he's gone and shown it at Cheltenham in a Grade One,” said Scudamore.
2013 - Cue Card:
Cue Card made all to claim a second Cheltenham Festival success after his win the Champion Bumper in 2010.
Jockey Joe Tizzard had Cue Card smartly away and only Champion Court went with him as they set a nifty early pace.
Bryan Cooper made a move three out aboad First Lieutenant, however, he pecked when jumping that fence, costing him valuable momentum and handing the initiative back to Cue Card, who galloped all the way to the line.
A prescient winning trainer Colin Tizzard commented: “They went a good old gallop and he proved he stays. His jumping was fast and fluent and I think we've seen him at his best today. He's been a good horse for four years now and hopefully there's a few more years left in him.”
2012 - Riverside Theatre:
Actor James Nesbitt was thrown into the racing spotlight after Riverside Theatre, the horse he co-owned, snatched a dramatic victory from the jaws of defeat.
After a slow jump at the first fence, Riverside Theatre almost immediately looked in trouble. And yet despite continuing to jump poorly throughout, he kept on dourly and somehow found the strength to fight his way past two rivals on the run-in.
At the line, he had half a length in hand of 11-year-old Albertas Run, bidding for a hat-trick of wins in the race, and the consistent Medermit.
“I rarely am lost for words but that was extraordinary,” said Nesbitt.
“Forget the Oscar. That's it, I've done it all now.
“The courage the horse showed, the ride that Barry gave him and the training performance that Nicky has given. Even to have a wee bit of that, it's pasted into the album of my memory, I'm telling you.”
2011 - Albertas Run:
Having completed a double-century of winners for the season just an hour or so earlier, it was business as usual as AP McCoy drove Albertas Run out for a repeat success in the race, despite the involvement of a trespasser on course claiming to be protesting against the race sponsors.
Trainer Jonjo O'Neill's horses had not been enjoying the best of fortunes in the build-up to the meeting but the 6-1 chance blossomed on his return to Cheltenham to beat Kalahari King by a length with Rubi Light back in third.
“God’s shining on us today,” said O’Neill 25 years to the day after winning the Gold Cup on Dawn Run. “There’s nothing this horse likes more than the sunshine on his back. He loves this place and this time of year.”
2010 - Albertas Run:
AP McCoy walked away from a crunching fall in the first race to guide Albertas Run to success in the Ryanair Chase just an hour later. It was the champion jockey's first success in a Grade One race over fences for more than a year.
Prominent from the off, Albertas Run clearly appreciated the good ground and responded to all of McCoy's urgings. The pair went past Deep Purple before the second-last fence and were a few lengths ahead of the scrimmaging on the home turn which saw Poquelin collide with J'Y Vole.
After bumping again, J'Y Vole and Poquelin eventually stayed on to chase the winner home, the latter just getting the verdict for second place, four and a half lengths behind the winner.
Sporting stitches in his chin where he was kicked in his earlier fall, McCoy looked in considerable discomfort as he returned to the winner's enclosure. "I'm a bit sore," he said. "I got a good old kicking in the first race. It hurt, it really did.”
2009 - Imperial Commander:
Voy Por Ustedes was sent off the odds-on favourite to score but a bad blunder four out put paid to his chances just as Robert Thornton was attempting to throw down a challenge to the winner.
Not that Imperial Commander was stopping in any case. Paddy Brennan’s mount, the winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the same track earlier in the season, maintained an impressive gallop all the way to the line.
“The idea was to take the sting out of the others,” said winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. “We know he stays, and we know he can come up this hill.”
2008 - Our Vic:
Our Vic went one place better than the previous year when landing the spoils in the race’s first renewal as a Grade One.
Always prominent, the 10-year-old saw out the trip well to record a five-length victory over Mossbank.
Winning trainer David Pipe said: “He is a real old favourite and has been around a long time. This is a great result for Pond House as well as David Johnson and his family. This horse deserved to win a race at The Festival.
“Today’s trip on an undulating course like Cheltenham really suited him and the blinkers just sharpened him up a bit.”
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