For our latest big race preview ahead of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival, we’ll be taking a look at the Festival Trophy – more commonly known by its sponsored title the Ryanair Chase. Established as a Grade Two race in 2005 when the Festival was expanded to four days, it has since been upgraded to Grade One status and the race is run over 2 miles and 5 furlongs.

As the race has only been run seven times, there are no totally reliable trends for the Ryanair Chase, but we can still glean a few nuggets of wisdom that could be useful in our hunt for the 2012 winner, such as the fact that all seven past Ryanair Chase winners had previously won at least one race at Cheltenham, with six of the seven having won a Graded race at the Gloucestershire course (the exception had placed in a Graded race at Cheltenham.

With that in mind, we can confidently put a line through any horse on the 2012 card without a place in a Graded race at Cheltenham to its name. This includes any horses that have never even run at Cheltenham, because we would much rather choose a horse with experience of the notoriously testing course than without it. Besides, these horses are likely to be Irish trained and when you consider that the Irish are 0 from 19 attempts in the Ryanair Chase… put it this way – I won’t be losing any sleep over taking on an Irish trained type in this race.

Six of the seven Ryanair Chase winners had already proven that they stay the 2m 5f trip and the only exception came in the very first running of the race. In recent years, the race has become more about stamina and when you look at the profile of past winners and at what they would go on to achieve (Imperial Commander would later win a Gold Cup, Albertas Run had won the RSA Chase, etc) it is obvious that we should be looking at staying types. We can confidently cross off any horse with no wins at 2m 5f or further.

All of the previous seven Ryanair Chase winners had run between two and four times that season, ahead of their trip to the Cheltenham Festival. This suggests that we should be looking for a horse that hasn’t been campaigned too heavily so as to be fresh enough to win, but equally, we don’t want an unfit horse. This trend bodes especially poorly for Nicky Henderson’s Jack The Giant (best price 101.00, Stan James) who has been off the race course since April 2010, but also the likes of Realt Dubh (best price 21.00, Ladbrokes).

Since the Ryanair Chase was upgraded to a Grade One, all twelve horses were officially rated 156 or higher, so I will only be looking at horses with similar ratings in my hunt for the 2012 winner.

Of the horses we’re left with in the 2012 Ryanair Chase, the three that interest me most are Medermit, Great Endeavour and Captain Chris.

Last year’s Arkle winner Captain Chris (best price 26.00, Stan James, SportingBet) certainly has some top class form in the book, but his last three runs have been a real mixed bag. The horse unseated Richard Johnson in the Haldon Gold Cup, before running a creditable third to Kauto Star and Long Run in the King George. However, his last run (in the Argento Chase) was an absolute horror show, having repeatedly jumped to the right before pulling up. Even if he does prove to be over these problems at the 2012 Festival, we still can’t be certain he’ll run in the Ryanair as connections have talked up a tilt at the Gold Cup. There’s no way I can justify an antepost punt here, even though the price is tempting.

Great Endeavour (best price 13.00, SportingBetBetVictor, William Hill) is interesting because of his win in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, which has proven to be a great trial race for the Ryanair Chase (the winner of that race has gone on to win the Ryanair Chase once, as well as placing four times). But his run in the December Gold Cup was woeful, finishing well down the field and behind plenty of others entered in the 2012 Ryanair Chase.

One of those was Medermit, who finished second that day and who has a decent record at Cheltenham, even though a win has somehow escaped him. The grey finished second in the 2009 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on his Cheltenham Festival debut and has a string of placed efforts at the course to his name. In my opinion, the Ryanair trip of 2m 5f suits him better than the shorter trips that we’ve often seen him take on and this year could finally be the year for Alan King’s talented charge to cover himself in glory. At a best price of 9.00 (Ladbrokes), he looks a nice price to do just that.

Advice:

The Ryanair Chase
Thursday 15th March 2012, 14:40

Medermit (Each-Way) @ 9.00 (Ladbrokes)