The second of three Group One races that take place on day three of the Cheltenham Festival is the Ryanair Chase, a contest that people regard as the unofficial fifth Championship race at the meeting.
Here's our ante-post guide to the 2024 Ryanair Chase
, including an early Cheltenham Festival tip.
2024 Ryanair Chase Odds
👑 The Defending Champion 👑
Envoi Allen claimed the third Cheltenham Festival win of his career by claiming a surprise victory in the 2022 Ryanair Chase. Henry De Bromhead's charge hadn't won since scoring at Down Royal at the start of the season, but travelled powerfully throughout under Rachael Blackmore and stayed on well to claim victory.
The absence of two-time defending champion, Allaho made Envoi Allen's task easier. As did the antics of odds-on favourite Shishkin, who was keen and jumped terribly throughout, but would still probably have won had the finishing line come a furlong later.
Take nothing away from Envoi Allen, who is undoubtedly a worthy winner of the Ryanair. That being said, I'd be disappointed if he was good enough to win this year's renewal.
⚠️ The Main Danger ⚠️
If you made a list the best chasers that we've seen over the past five years - the likes of Al Boum Photo, A Plus Tard, Energumene, Galopin Des Champs and Altior - I would put Allaho right at the top of the pile.
Allaho's first victory in the Ryanair was nothing short of sensational. Willie Mullins' star produced another emphatic performance to retain his crown at the Cheltenham Festival
in 2022, before trouncing all of the top three-milers to win the Punchestown Gold Cup by 14 lengths. If Allaho was to return from injury in similar form, he would take plenty of beating.
I must include Jonbon in this section too, considering he currently heads the betting. Nicky Henderson has been keen to try his star over longer trips for a while now. Yet, in a recent interview with the Racing Post, Nicky was talking about trying to close the gap between Jonbon and El Fabiolo from the Arkle.
If Jonbon wins the Tingle Creek and possibly the Game Spirit at Newbury in February, I suspect he'll be taken down the Champion Chase route.
♞ The Dark Horses ♞
Having missed Cheltenham when the ground turned soft, Banbridge claimed top honours in the Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree and Joseph O'Brien's seven-year-old remains open to further improvement. As does Turners' Novices' Chase winner Stage Star, who might have fluffed his lines at Aintree, but proved at Cheltenham that he's a front-runner to be feared.
features in the Ryanair betting, despite sitting atop the ante-post market for the Champion Chase
, which will undoubtedly be his destination.
El Fabiolo could lock horns with defending two-time Champion Chaser, Energumene at Cheltenham, or even earlier in the season. If El Fabiolo was to defeat his stablemate over Christmas or in the Dublin Chase, then I could see Willie Mullins stepping Energumene up in trip for the Ryanair - especially if Allaho doesn't return.
Having won the Betway Bowl in impressive fashion, Shishkin is being aimed towards the King George, before potentially going onto the Gold Cup. If things don't work out for Nicky Henderson's star during the first half of the campaign, and Jonbon maintains his winning form over two miles, then I wouldn't be shocked to see Shishkin return to the Ryanair with unfinished business to settle.
Another interesting dark horse is Conflated
, who ran on well for third in last year's Gold Cup. Gordon Elliott's star earned his spot in the Gold Cup
by winning the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, meaning stablemate Fury Road would represent sponsors Gigginstown in the Ryanair. I'm sure Michael O'Leary would have preferred to run Conflated back down in trip and the head honcho of Gigginstown may get his own way this season.