Menorah a solid option in Ryanair
Connections of Flemenstar dismissed the Ryanair Chase as a 'non-entity' earlier in the season yet their pride and joy could end up winning the race and he's as short as 5/2 to do just that.
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As big as 7/1 elsewhere, the discrepancy in price tells you all you need to know about the likelihood of him running in the contest and though he'd probably go off at something like 2/1 if he did turn up, the gut feeling is he'll be going for one of the more prestigious prizes.
But there will be no Ryanair bashing here. Though it's seen by some as a race that houses horses too slow for a Champion Chase and without the engine for a Gold Cup, it's getting better year on year and the 2012 renewal was a thriller.
And from an antepost perspective it appeals greatly. More so than the Gold Cup and Champion Chase that have also seen their initial entries released this week.
Thankfully Nicky Henderson doesn't have a Bobs Worth or a Sprinter Sacre heading the market in the Ryanair, but he does have last year's Champion Chase winner Finian's Rainbow in the betting at a general 9/1.
He's a key horse to consider here. It is the obvious race for him presuming he won't take on stablemate Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother, but a bizarre entry in the Gold Cup somewhat puzzles me. Connections seem just as baffled.
It seems to me he could suffer because of Sprinter Sacre's arrival on the two-mile chase scene and I'm certain if he was trained by anyone else he would be going for the Champion Chase.
A relentless galloper over two and a sight to behold when in full flight over a fence, forcing it at the minimum trip is perfect for him and I'm not sure he'll stay the 2m5f in the Ryanair nevermind the extended 3m2f of a Gold Cup.
For that reason the 9/1 doesn't appeal, even though he could end up being the best horse in the race. For the record, his poor Ascot run wouldn't bother me one bit as he clearly struggled in the heavy ground.
Henderson's other entry is last year's winner Riverside Theatre, and, though it may sound ridiculous, I couldn't have him on my mind as I'm convinced he doesn't like Cheltenham.
The reigning champion he may be, and he seems to relish the stiff uphill finish, but his crazy run when fifth in the Arkle plays on my mind and he didn't travel or jump with any fluency despite winning here last year.
He is a specialist at the trip but two poor runs on his last two starts don't inspire confidence either and this is one of the few Grade Ones that might escape the clutches of the master of Seven Barrows during Festival week.
To the rest. Cue Card is favourite and understandably so. He travelled well in the King George before his stamina gave way and you would think this trip would be absolutely ideal.
You would think that, but we've no hard evidence as all his best efforts have come around two miles and again, if Sprinter Sacre wasn't around, I'm sure we'd see Cue Card line up in the Champion Chase.
He still might do and at 6/1 he's not for me.
Sizing Europe would be interesting at 10/1 but the feeling is he's one of the few that actually WILL take on Sprinter Sacre, First Lieutenant could be a player if he comes here instead of the Gold Cup but he's in the habit of finding at least one too good, while Champion Court is interesting judging by his King George fourth but there's no juice in his price at 10s.
After all that, the one I like is MENORAH who looks well worth an investment at 14/1.
While most of the horses in the Ryanair have multiple entries at the Festival, it looks to be all about this race for Menorah who is unbeaten over fences over trips in excess of 2m4f.
He was well beaten in third by Sprinter Sacre in last year's Arkle but finished in front of Al Ferof and improved on that form when beating Paul Nicholls' grey by 12 lengths in the Manifesto at Aintree.
I'm sure Al Ferof would be much shorter than 14/1 for this race were he fit after his exploits in the Paddy Power and though Menorah hasn't hit such heights this campaign I like the way he's progressing.
His effort on his seasonal reappearance behind Cue Card wasn't so bad given he needed the run and had to give weight away, the distance he lost by exaggerated by a mistake at the last.
Next time, in the rescheduled Peterborough Chase at Kempton, he won well from Hunt Ball considering the ground might've been heavier than he'd like. He was previously beaten soundly in such conditions at Punchestown.
I just get the feeling anything he does in the winter is a bonus as he goes very well on better ground, as you would expect from a Festival winner (2010 Supreme Novices') who has also won at Aintree (that Manifesto win).
With doubts over the participation of most of those above him in the market, Philip Hobbs' Menorah, who has form claims from this season and from throughout his career, looks well worth an investment at this stage at a top-price 14/1.