It's been a memorable Cheltenham Festival week already for top amateur Jamie Codd and Donn McClean backs him for more success today.
There was a point, about 10 days or two weeks ago, when it was looking like the Ryanair Chase might not be that strong a contest. And now look.
Monalee had the option of going for the Gold Cup tomorrow, but Henry de Bromhead’s horse is running today. It was looking for a long while as if Frodon was going for the Gold Cup, but he’s here today too. Balko Des Flos also had the Gold Cup option, but he’s back to try to defend his title, to become the only horse since Albertas Run to win back-to-back renewals of the Ryanair Chase. And we thought that Road To Respect was Gold Cup-bound, but he’s here. Add Footpad and Un De Sceaux and others, and you have a deep contest.
Footpad has taken over at the top of the market, and you can understand that one. Willie Mullins’ horse was a top-class novice chaser last season. He went unbeaten in five, taking in an Arkle, an Irish Arkle, a Racing Post Novice Chase and a Ryanair Novice Chase along the way.
This season hasn’t played out as you might have hoped, but there have been excuses. He made a bad mistake early on and he suffered an over-reach at Naas on his debut. His jumping was very good last time at Leopardstown, he looked home for all money when he landed over the last in front, but lack of a recent run probably told as he was caught by Simply Ned on the run-in. He reportedly suffered a slight over-reach that day as well.
He is stepping up in trip to two miles and five furlongs today, but he won the Grade 1 Prix Alain de Breil as a four-year-old over two and a half miles, and he finished third behind Unowhatimeanharry and Nichols Canyon in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown over three miles two years ago. The distance shouldn’t be a negative, and there are lots of positives. He is a Cheltenham Festival winner, he is trained by Willie Mullins, and he will be ridden by Ruby Walsh.
That said, Monalee may represent better value at a bigger price. Henry de Bromhead’s horse has Cheltenham Festival form too. He finished second to Penhill in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle as a novice hurdler in 2017, and he finished second to Presenting Percy in the RSA Chase as a novice chaser last year.
He is a high-class chaser. Winner of the Grade 1 Flogas Chase as a novice, he was travelling best of all in front in the Grade 1 Growise Chase at the Punchestown Festival last April when he came down, and he finished second behind Kemboy and in front of Road To Respect and Bellshill in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival in December.
Those two runs were over three miles, but it may be that he is at his best over today’s intermediate trip and ridden aggressively. He made all the running under Rachael Blackmore last time, when he ran out an impressive winner of the Red Mills Chase over two and a half miles at Gowran Park. He won well that day. He probably had more in hand than the two lengths by which he beat Anibale Fly.
His record over distances between two miles and four furlongs and two miles and six furlongs reads 12111. We know that he goes well at the track, this could be his optimum trip, his trainer’s horses remain in really good form and Rachael Blackmore is a top rider who recorded her first Cheltenham Festival win on Tuesday. There is a lot to like about Monalee.
Measureofmydreams is short enough now for the Kim Muir, but there is still a strong case to be made for him. Gordon Elliott’s horse ran an encouraging race to finish third behind Snugsborough Benny and Call It Magic at Fairyhouse last time. That was his first run in almost two years, so it is legitimate to expect that he will come on appreciably for it.
The handicapper left him on his mark of 137 after that, and that was fair. That is 10lb lower than his peak.
He is a classy horse, he won the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase as a novice chaser. Black Hercules fell at the final fence that day when looking the likely winner, but Monalee had Noble Endeavor and Sub Lieutenant and Pleasant Company behind him, all of whom are now rated in the 150s. That gives him plenty of leeway off a mark of 137.
He has good Cheltenham Festival form too. He finished third behind Minella Rocco and Native River in the National Hunt Chase three years ago. He is trained by Gordon Elliott and he will be ridden by Jamie Codd, one of the best amateur riders in the business, who already has two winners in the bag at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. He could make it three today.