Cheltenham Festival Previews – Ryanair Chase Selections

Thursday at Cheltenham hosts two spectacular feature races. The Ryanair Chase comes first at 3.50pm and Joe Napier gives his verdict on the race.


Without the Ryanair Chase, ALLAHO may have found himself in Noman’s Land.

As it is, the star intermediate chaser in Britain and Ireland has found his place unrivalled at the top of this division. In days of yore, he would have been pushed into either the Champion Chase, which boasts a truly remarkable number of top names, or the Gold Cup, involving a trip over which he may struggle to get home.

Last year’s Ryanair turned into a procession, with Allaho scoring by an unchallenged 12 lengths. He poured it on from an early stage that day and there’s a chance a repeat performance is in the offing.

He was even more brilliant in his warm up race at Thurles than he had been a year previously and may have won the strongest Grade 1 of the season so far when taking the John Durkan on his reappearance. He is virtually unopposable.


Some races take you so completely by surprise that it takes a while to truly believe the result was genuine.

Many will still be processing CONFLATED’s romp in the Irish Gold Cup, where one of the outsiders on the day travelled superbly, jumped brilliantly and sauntered clear on the run-in. It marked him as a massively improved horse from earlier in the season.

However, that performance earned him an RPR a full stone above anything he had ever done previously. As such, there have to be doubts about how he may back that performance up.

Even with that improvement, he has still not reached the levels of Allaho and he is easy to leave alone until he demonstrates his very best again.

Eldorado Allen

Another who put in easily his best career performance last time out, ELDORADO ALLEN took Newbury’s Grade 2 Denman Chase last month.

That saw him defeat Gold Cup contender Royale Pagaille, as well as two-time King George winner Clan Des Obeaux. It was also his first try at three miles, which makes it curious that connections have dropped him back in trip.

The 2m4½f of the Ryanair Chase is a challenging one in terms of stamina, so it suits horses who are good over three miles on flatter tracks. However, the Gold Cup may have been more there for the taking.

On a reading of his penultimate run, when behind Mister Fisher, he has a lot to do.

Fanion D’Estruval

FANION D’ESTRUVAL was still learning when a distant fifth in this race last season.

This term has been much more successful and he has been campaigned exclusively at middle distances. His victory at Newbury came in splendid isolation, while two of his defeated in particular can be massively upgraded.

His fourth in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree saw him make up loads of ground late on, as did his most recent third to Fakir D’oudairies at Ascot in Grade 1 company. Put simply, those efforts, in particular the latter, suggest he is an improved horse to 12 months ago.

With a decent pace to aim at, he could outrun his odds massively. His low jumping style is not ideal if the pace is fast, but he will be finishing off better than most.


Allaho’s stablemate has easily been the closest to beating him in any of his last three starts.

JANIDIL was beaten only two lengths in a strong edition of the Grade 1 John Durkan at Punchestown earlier in the season. Since then, Willie Mullins has tried him over three miles and while he has run respectable races twice, it may be that he is better over a few furlongs shorter.

He ran on well enough behind Conflated last time having been a bit scruffy in the jumping department. However, if Mark Walsh can get him setted, there is every chance he will be right in the thick of things.

If Allaho does not kick as far clear as 12 months ago, Janidil may well be the one to threaten his superiority the most.


So often a bridesmaid at this meeting, MELON has four second placed finishes at the Cheltenham Festival in his career.

One came in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in his first season for Willie Mullins, two came in the Champion Hurdle and one more in the dying strides of the Turners Novices’ Chase in 2020. His only disappointment came last year.

He was quietly fancied for the Ryanair Chase a season ago, but could never live with the gallop set by Allaho. He was then pulled up in the Punchestown Gold Cup too, seemingly spelling a downturn.

However, he has been very solid once more this season and broke a duck of over two years when winning at Gowran Park in a presentable Grade 2 last month. A lingering doubt over last year’s performance remains, but he has place possibilities.

Mister Fisher

Consistency has not been MISTER FISHER’s strong suit during his career to date and that makes it very difficult to predict what he will do int his race.

He was pulled up in it a year ago, but could easily have won two Grade 2s since. Frodon outbattled him at Sandown to prevent him one success at the end of last term, but he did overcome Eldorado Allen at Kempton in January.

However, either side of that victory he proved lifeless in the King George and was also 74 lengths behind Fakir D’oudairies in a gruelling Ascot Chase. That cannot have been ideal preparation and while he may improve given his stop start formbook, there is little to confidently recommend him on.

Saint Calvados

Melon’s losing run was substantial, but it has now been the best part of two-and-a-half years since SAINT CALVADOS scored in any capacity.

There have been some near misses, most notable when second to Min in the 2020 edition of this race. He has very solid Cheltenham form in the book over this trip, which is definitely a positive compared to some of the other outsiders here.

However, despite tanking through the King George before fading to third, he was extremely disappointing next time out at Ascot. It will take a big revival for him to suddenly challenge the places here.

Shan Blue

The great unknown in the Ryanair field this year is SHAN BLUE. The phrase “could be anything” really is apt to describe him.

While he was evidently a talented novice chaser last term, he fell short at the big spring Festivals, with Harry Skelton perhaps trying to force the pace too much. He is a bold-jumping front-runner, which will be very interesting up against the similarly powerful Allaho.

It is on this season’s sole run which his price seems to be judging him on though. Off a modest temp on the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, Shan Blue suddenly grew wings and burst 20 lengths clear, certain to win as he liked and by a wide margin.

However, he toppled down at the third last with the race at his mercy. That was set to be a performance of the highest calibre. He is very intriguing after an enforced layoff from that race, for all that he may have been better placed in a handicap.


Shan Blue could well cause a surprise, but he is a risky betting proposition and could easily be a better price. Realistically, there should be little stopping ALLAHO, who was so destructive in this last year and who has taken all before him over middle distances. Stablemate Janidil is fancied to be his biggest danger as he was in the John Durkan, while maybe Fanion D’Estruval is worth an each-way chance at a massive price.