With the Gold Cup such an open and trappy looking affair this season, connections of horses that would usually not even consider a crack at the race are putting their hat into the ring. This in turn leaves the Ryanair a more difficult race to get to grips with itself. However, the horse at the top of the market, Un De Sceaux, is hard to get away from.
We all know by now that UDS isn’t the flashiest of thoroughbreds. For this reason he’s typically a horse people like to oppose, but he often gets the job done and for that reason looks a top bet in a very winnable looking Ryanair. Yes, he’s top of the market and I’m not the first person to put UDS forward as the Ryanair winner, but 3/1 is a generous price, especially when you consider the consistency he has shown through the last two seasons.
The 9YO has always had to race in the shadow of his stablemate Douvan and more literally behind one of the all time greats, Sprinter Sacre, while still winning plenty of top 2M races himself. The calls for UDS to be go up in trip have been ever present and was trialled for the first time last spring in France. The first attempt showed it could be beneficial and while 3M was a stretch the next run, 2M4/5F, in my eyes, is this horses best trip. Arguably, there’s no where else for him to go as there would be no point in pitting him against Douvan in the Queen Mother; but the time has to be now for two and a half miles to become the norm.
Any rain in the build up to Cheltenham will be music to his ears and as long as it doesn’t turn into a bog, it’ll only shorten UDS in the market. He is versatile but his best runs have always come on soft, verging on heavy ground. Many of his major rivals in the market wouldn’t enjoy conditions if the rain was to fall through next week; while the Irish will be licking their lips. Sizing John has improved since stepping up from 2M but doesn’t have the ability to get passed an on song UDS. Empire of Dirt is untested at the top level and was found out somewhat against Sizing John at Leopardstown.
The possible EW angle comes from two places in my books. Fox Norton, the one time antepost favourite, is priced up at 16s. Although the Champion Chase is the more likely route, it’s far from set in stone and avoiding Douvan may make sense to connections, especially if the rain doesn’t come for UDS. The 7YO had a fine start to the season and the switch from Neil Mulholland to Colin Tizzard saw further improvement in better races. A setback over the festive period put Cheltenham plans in jeopardy but a promising enough comeback run at Newbury has thrown him back in the reckoning, and his early season exploits have been forgotten amongst most. If you can get NRNB and a nice EW price there’s no reason not to take a chance on one of the most exciting horses from the first months of the season.
At 25/1 Kylemore Lough is the other poke from further afield, especially if the rain decides to arrive in time. Kerry Lee holds this 8YO in high regard and experimenting further than 2M4F hasn’t brought the rewards she would have hoped. Two and a half miles looks to be the optimum trip and the Ryanair looks worth a shot at and he also holds no entries in handicaps, perhaps his mark now leaves a pot at the festival out of reach. Last season he looked a real star in the making and hasn’t quite built on it so far this season, but those defeats behind Frodon and Royal Regatta aren’t a disgrace. He’s only run twice at Cheltenham and was pulled up followed by a disappointing fifth behind Many Clouds and Thistlecrack – but both of these runs come with obvious excuses. A lot of the horses shorter in the market aren’t guaranteed to run in the race and the 25s might not last once declarations begin to sneak out. He may have been labelled a top handicapper rather than a true graded race hopeful by many, but in an open race lacking some quality at the top of the market, 25s again seems generous.
So as you may have worked out the weather will have a big impact on what goes off at what price come next Thursday afternoon. UDS and Kylemore Lough will be the bet if the rain arrives and leaves it mark, while UDS (at a bigger price) and perhaps Fox Norton will be the darts if we get more typical Cheltenham ground. Whatever happens, UDS is again being underestimated and in a field lacking any real depth, I can’t see much really threatening one of Mullins’ big festival hopes.