Handicapper’s Blog: Ryanair Chase, Stayers Hurdle and Champion Chase

15 Mar 24

BHA Handicappers give their initial take on the Ryanair Chase, Stayers Hurdle and Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ryanair Chase

A competitive looking renewal of the Ryanair Chase with only two pounds between the top four horses’ pre-race, two of which finished in the first three. The most interesting aspect to this year’s race looked to be that several of the leading contenders were dropping back in trip having been campaigned over 3 miles, amongst those Protektorat who had not run over this sort of trip since 2021. A keen going horse, he settled well on this occasion in behind the leaders before coming home strongly to record a decisive success from last year’s winner Envoi Allen. The latter had run to 164 in that renewal, and on first viewing he would seem to have run to a very similar level again this year in defeat.

Allaho (177) has produced two standout performances in this race in recent years, but aside from him a 5-year average winner of the Ryanair would come out at 168, whilst historical pre-race standards suggest a range of 164-170 for the winner. On a line through Envoi Allen, somewhere in the middle of that bracket seems likely for Protektorat. Conflated and Capodanno both ran on well dropping down in trip.

Michael Harris

Stayers Hurdle

Last year’s third, fourth and fifth, finished first, second and third this time around yet there is still a sense that we saw a somewhat overdue changing of the guard in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Dual winner, Flooring Porter was gallant in a bid to regain his crown, typically well-positioned in this relatively steadily run contest, but he was ultimately no match for the younger legs of Teahupoo from the final hurdle.

This seven-year-old, perhaps unlucky not to take the prize a year ago, won with authority. Kept fresh since taking a second consecutive Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in early December, he returned to the biggest stage with a career best. A provisional rating of 165 surpasses the level achieved by runner-up Flooring Porter in either of his wins and is the highest winning figure since Paisley Park in 2019. Based on this performance, Teahupoo looks likely to prove the dominant force in this division in the short term at least.

James Norris

Champion Chase

The feature race on the second day of the Cheltenham festival was the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. With the withdrawal of Jonbon, who was likely to be sent off as the second favourite, the race looked to be at the mercy of El Fabiolo. He was rated 9lbs and upwards clear of his rivals and started as the 2/9 favourite, but he made a couple of fiddly jumping mistakes early on before a heavy blunder at the fifth fence saw him pulled-up.

The race was won by Captain Guinness who beat Gentleman de Mee by 1½ lengths. They’d raced against each other at the Dublin Racing Festival on their latest starts where they finished 3rd and 4th behind El Fabiolo, beaten by 14½ lengths and 16¼ lengths respectively. For all that he is an admirable horse who usually turns up in all the big 2-mile chases, Captain Guinness was winning his first Grade 1 race on his 14th attempt at that level. He arrived here rated 162 and, while he might have eked out a career-best figure, this contest cannot be viewed as vintage form.

The lowest rated winners of this race this century have been Edredon Bleu (166) in 2000 and Put The Kettle On (159, but as a mare this converts to 166) in 2021. With the first two home being trained in Ireland I will have to consult my Irish colleagues before finalising a rating for the winner, but the likelihood is that Captain Guinness may well have recorded the lowest winning figure for this race in the last twenty-five years.

Chris Nash