At first glance, the market for the Ryanair Chase looks a little misleading, as Vautour currently heads the betting at odds as short as 4/6 with Coral, whilst bet365 and William Hill go 5/4 and 7/4, respectively. This is because these firms are offering non-runner no bet, whereas as the likes of Skybet and Paddy Power, who aren't NRNB, go 9/2 about the winner of last season's JLT Novices' Chase, as the Willie Mullins trained seven-year-old is expected to lineup in the Gold Cup, instead of the Ryanair Chase.
It's safe to say that should Mullins and the owner, Rich Ricci, opt to send Vautour to the Ryanair Chase, then it'll take all the beating but for the purpose of this ante-post update, we'll assume the current market leader will run in the Festival's feature event 24 hours later.
O'Leary Out To Win His Own Race
Vautour aside, it is another Irish Raider in the form of Road To Riches, that bookmakers think is the one to beat, with the Noel Meade runner currently rated a best price 6/1 with William Hill, and as short as 3/1 with Paddy Power. The Giggingstown owned nine-year-old gave a really good account of himself on his only start at Prestbury Park in the Gold Cup, 12 months ago, before running out of gas up the hill. However, the 2m 5f trip of the Ryanair Chase should be perfect for Road To Riches, as he proved when relishing the shorter trip of the Grade Two, Clonmel Oil Chase, before Christmas. He followed that up with a second in the Irish Gold Cup, earlier this month, and Grade One victories in the Lexus Chase and JNWine Chase, last season, further supports the case for this runner providing owner, Michael O'Leary, with his first winner in the race that his airline sponsors.
In fact, no Irish Raider has won this race since it was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005, and it is likely that O'Leary will also be represented by Valseur Lido, who finished third behind Vautour at last year's Festival. The seven-year-old illustrated his credentials as a potential top prospect when landing the Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival, before being far from disgraced in his seasonal debut when second to Djakadam in the John Durkan Chase, in December. However, a fall in the King George, before unseating Ruby Walsh in the Irish Gold Cup, has cast doubts over Valseur Lido's jumping. The Willie Mullins runner looked the likely winner at Leopardstown, before his blunder, suggesting that he's more than capable of competing in Grade One company. That said, with little margin for error during any race at Cheltenham, backing him carries obvious risk, although it would be no surprise if he wound up winning.
Another leading contender from across the Irish Sea comes in the form of Smashing from the Henry De Bromhead stable. Formerly a hurdler for Willie Mullins, Smashing has found a new lease of life since switching yards and tried over bigger obstacles. He was far from eye-catching in last year's Arkle but is showing signs of progression this term, winning all three starts, the most recent of which came at Gowran Park, two weeks ago, where the seven-year-old landed a Grade Two by 11 lengths, ahead of a couple of useful types in the form of Morning Assembly and Ballycasey. Anyone keen to back Smashing should be cautious that there's an assumption that he's got the class to win a Grade One, but judged on this season's form, this grey is a live contender for the 2016 Ryanair Chase, and makes plenty of appeal at the 12/1 available with William Hill.
The British Contingent
With 11 wins from the first 11 runnings of the race, it's safe to say that British based trainers must be respected in the Ryanair Chase, and it is Al Ferof that is the shortest of the home-trained contingent with bookmakers, at odds of 6/1. A stalwart of the Paul Nicholls camp for the past several years, the winner of the 2011 Supreme Novices Hurdle is now in hands of Dan Skelton and provides the best chance of handing the young trainer his first Cheltenham Festival winner. Al Ferof's form at Prestbury Park reads 2F11415, with his best effort over fences coming when landing the 2012 Paddy Power Gold Cup. He's been an ever-present in the top staying chases since then, without making a real impact, but victory in the Peterborough Chase, before finishing third in the King George, suggest he's still got plenty to offer. However, he's now 11-years-old and no horse older than 10 has won the Ryanair Chase, thus, he could be vulnerable to his younger rivals, and a place could be his best hope.
Al Ferof's former stablemate, Vibrato Valtat, is currently a 12/1 chance, but backers will be taking a leap of faith about a horse that has never raced over the distance of the Ryanair Chase, is 0-4 at Prestbury Park and continues to find one or more too good over two miles. The seven-year-old's only start over 2m 4f came at Aintree's Grand National meeting, last year, where he finished second to Clarcam, in the Manfiesto Novices' Chase, and an extra furlong around Cheltenham in the Ryanair could well be too much to handle.
The best hope of Nicky Henderson, winner of this race twice, comes in the form of Josses Hill. The eight-year-old is heading for his third straight Festival after finishing second to Vautour in the Supreme, two years ago, before finishing third behind UnDe Sceaux in last year's Arkle. There was little in the form book to make a case for him winning the Ryanair Chase until his last start, where he eased to an eight length victory in the Graduation Chase a couple of weeks back, beating God's Own. That victory was enough to see his odds slashed from 50/1 to 14/1 for the Ryanair Chase, and whilst he cannot be ruled out, the value has long gone.
A case can also be made for the Phil Hobbs trained Village Vic, who has notched up a four-timer this season. Since moving out of novice company, the nine-year-old has blossomed and back-to-back course and distance wins on his two most recent starts means he must be respected, even though he doesn't boast the same level of form as others in the field. He's on an upward curve and should give backers a decent run for their money at the current best quote of 20/1.
The only previous winner set to take his place on the 13th March is Dynaste, who landed the spoils two yeas ago. However, he hasn't won in nine starts since, although seven places in that sequence suggest he's not one to totally rule out, but the David Pipe representative may have to settle for the bridesmaid role on this occasion.
With so many of Ryanair Chase field also entered in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it is difficult to make a confident ante-post assessment. However, of those that look certain to take their chance on day three of the meeting, Smashing looks the best bet. He's done nothing but impress since arriving at Henry De Bromhead's Knockeen operation and at 12/1, makes plenty of each-way appeal about ending Ireland's wait for success in this race.