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Just weeks remain between today and the 10th March - when the 4 day Cheltenham Festival opens with Champions Day. As the tape is cut for the first race, The Supreme Novices Hurdle, 75,000 spectators in the grandstand make a noise so famous it has acquired its own name the “Cheltenham Roar”.
The time preceding Cheltenham is a tense time for jockeys, trainers and owners as they attempt to judge whether its worth risking a cherished, and expensive, mount in one or more of the festival’s 27 races. As the UK prepares for race season, all news from National Hunt events will be examined in detail by bookies, punters, sports writers and strategists - all looking for that crucial edge.
In recent weeks we have have seen a number of developments in the field of the Ryanair Chase, to be run on St. Patrick’s Day (March 12th). The race, run since 2005, has already acquired a reputation as one of Britain’s premier jumping events and attracts a talented field - previous winners include Imperial Commander, Cue Card and Dynaste.
The King George VI Chase, raced at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, traditionally serves as a testing ground for the Ryanair Chase. The winner, Silviniaco Conti, is to be saved for the “Blue Riband” Gold Cup, but Dynaste and Al Ferof (2nd and 3rd respectively) booked their places in the starting line up with strong showings. Champagne Fever (12/1), who also ran strongly before tiring at the end, will also appear; with his owners hopeful that the shorter course at Cheltenham (2m 5f) will prevent a repeat.
Almost as soon as Dynaste had been established as favourite, fate intervened by way of a leg injury which ruled him out for the rest of this season. However, the 2 current favourites did not run at Kemptown at all. Don Cossack (4/1) earned his stripes at Kinloch Brae, edging Champagne Fever who fell at the last fence. Second favourite is the enigmatic 9 year old steeplechaser Cue Card (5/1), the 2013 winner who has triumphed in 10 of the 19 races he has entered, though none of the last 4.
As the current field contains dozens of potential entries it isn’t possible to give a profile on them all. Trainer Tom George has added an exciting twist to proceedings by adding Module (25/1) who had been written off having been comfortably beaten twice over the 2 mile distance this year. However Module has shown flashes of real quality in the past - beating Dodging Bullets by a neck at Newbury last year. George is unlikely to have entered Module on a whim - so perhaps he has reason to believe the horse is returning to past glory.
Finally is the French steed Balder Success (12/1), trained by Alan King. Although untested at the highest level, a 10 length victory in the Williamhill.com chase suggests that he might have a surprise in store for the Cheltenham crowd!
The Ryanair Chase promises a talented and large field which will make it one of Cheltenham’s highlights. As with all Cheltenham events, we can certainly expect a few more twists and turns in the field and pricing between now and race day!