Ryanair fly to 'World' rescue as American bonus revealed
Tony Curran has saddled just a solitary winner but the fledgling trainer will strive to double his Grade One haul when Flemenstar tackles Silviniaco Conti and Dynaste in tomorrow's Betfair Ascot Chase.
Flemenstar, which sports the colours of Curran's father Stephen, capitalised on Un De Sceaux's exit at Leopardstown over Christmas to record a 16/1 Grade One coup. It was the horse's first win in two years and the handler's first ever.
The 11-year-old, Curran's only runner to date from his base in Co Meath, again emerged with credit when second to Felix Yonger in last month's Tied Cottage Chase.
Tomorrow, on forecast soft ground that Flemenstar will relish, he steps up to two miles and five furlongs in a bid to secure Curran another slice of glory in the £150,000 event.
Paul Nicholls' dual King George VI Chase hero Silviniaco Conti will be equipped with blinkers for a first time. Dynaste, another 10-year-old, will also sport first-time blinkers.
David Pipe's grey's finest moment came in the 2014 Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Next month, the Thursday of the Prestbury Park gathering will be billed as Ryanair Day rather than St Patrick's Thursday, after Michael O'Leary stepped in to also sponsor the £300,000 World Hurdle under the airline's banner.
The three-mile Grade One formerly known as the Stayers was renamed when Ladbrokes took over the promotion in 2005. Now, however, the bookmaking giant is in dispute with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), as it has failed to achieve Approved Betting Partner (ABP) status.
Bookmakers that aren't deemed to be making a "fair and mutually sustainable" contribution to racing in lieu of their online turnover are precluded from sponsoring events at tracks governed by Jockey Club Racecourses, which owns Cheltenham.
Skybet, Stan James, Coral and Betway are all Festival sponsors that have not achieved ABP status, but they have existing contracts that cover the 2016 meeting. The "World" branding is being kept for the one-year deal.
O'Leary, Ryanair's chief executive, said of the link: "We are very happy to step in to add the World Hurdle to our day's sponsorship, alongside the Ryanair Chase, and remain wholly supportive of the Jockey Club's stance with regard to Authorised Betting Partners."
Ian Renton of Jockey Club Racecourses added: "I am delighted that Ryanair have agreed to sponsor this year's World Hurdle, but would also like to thank Ladbrokes for their commitment to the race in previous years."
Intriguingly given Willie Mullins's recent comments, a $500,000 bonus is being put up for any horse that can win the World Hurdle and the Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle at Iroquois in Nashville, Tennessee in the space of 12 months. The American Grade One, held over the same trip, takes place this year on May 14.
At a recent seminar hosted by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, the champion trainer revealed a wish to see some form of world series created in an effort to internationalise racing, although a two-and-a-half-mile hurdle series was what he proposed.
"If we don't internationalise jump racing, it's going to get smaller and smaller all the time and I think it will continue to shrink, and maybe it is going to go the way of America," Mullins said at the time.
"Cheltenham and Punchestown are getting bigger and bigger, but our product is getting smaller and smaller, and we need another way of marketing the product we have."
Only time will tell how well received and practical this new initiative - sponsored by investment firm Brown Advisory - will be.
"The bonus goes to any horse successful in both races within the space of 12 months," yesterday's statement explained, "opening the door to horses that do not triumph at Cheltenham this March to make the trip to Tennessee in May and, if winning there, try to gain the bonus at the Festival in March, 2017."