Sea ready to sail home for O'Grady
The quality of horse that the Ryanair Chase has attracted in the past couple of renewals has gone some way to justifying its promotion to Grade One status in 2008.
This year's highly competitive 13-runner field maintains that trend, but the unavoidable truth that the featured chase on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival will be the poor relation of the 'big three' for some time yet is also reaffirmed.
Given the tradition and prestige of the Champion Chase and Gold Cup, that's hardly news. Truth be told, the connections of today's victor won't be concerned either way.
A winner at Cheltenham is a winner at Cheltenham and each of the trainers most accomplished at delivering the goods are well represented in the two-mile, five-furlong championship event. The roll of honour for current handlers at the festival reads, from the top down, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Edward O'Grady, Jonjo O'Neill, Willie Mullins, Philip Hobbs and Alan King.
Barring a real turn up -- of which Dessie Hughes' Schindlers Hunt might be capable at its best -- the winner of the Ryanair will come from that elite collective. A year after being run off its feet in the Jewson Handicap, Tranquil Sea gets the vote to deliver for O'Grady.
On the back of an impressive performance at Leopardstown, Tranquil Sea has contracted to a general 4/1, but he remains a fair option. Stage-struck 12 months ago, the eight-year-old redeemed himself by beating Joncol on his reappearance at Navan, before then landing a touch in the Paddy Power at Cheltenham in November.
Poquelin, second that day, is entitled to shade favouritism on two-pounds better terms here, having improved to beat last week's Racing Post Chase winner Razor Royale at the track in December. However, Tranquil Sea has also progressed and O'Grady has tailored his entire season around this and the Paddy Power.
In contrast to his November target, the drying ground is a slight concern, but Andrew McNamara's mount is a more hardened compaigner now than the horse that struggled to land a blow a year ago. Tranquil Sea is expected to complete the autumn-summer double, and record a first Irish win in the Ryanair in the process.
In the day's other highlight, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, Big Buck's will probably start the shortest price favourite of the week. There's no doubt that Ruby Walsh's mount is the likeliest winner of the race he took from Punchestowns in 2009, but he is un-backable at 8/13. Karabak, at 8/1, is put forward as a tentative alternative.
Tidal Bay has come into many people's considerations after making a successful return to hurdles at the track in January. A former winner of the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, he certainly has place claims, but doesn't smack of an improving type at nine.
Admittedly, Karabak won't be up to an on-song Big Buck's. Nonetheless, he has scope to progress at just seven years of age, and was a staying-on second to Mikael D'Haguenet in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle a year ago. If the favourite misfires, Alan King's charge will be poised to take advantage.
On an otherwise uninspiring card that does little to dispel the theory that the addition of a fourth day has diluted the quality in the festival handicaps in particular, Willie Mullins' The Midnight Club is worth a look at a big price in the Jewson Chase. Third to Weapon's Amnesty 12 months ago, his form when third to Jagoes Mills at Thurles also reads well now, as does that of his win at Clonmel last month, when he comprehensively outpointed subsequent winner Kind Oscar.
The one worry is that two miles and five furlongs on good ground won't prove a sufficient test for The Midnight Club, but Paul Townend's mount doesn't look that badly treated at the weights and has a touch of class. Ruby Walsh's mount Rivaliste is the danger.
Irish horses are also not without a chance in the Pertemps Final. Prince Erik, Boulavogue and Smoking Aces all tie in closely on paper, with Dermot Weld's Prince Erik just favoured at 12/1. The six-year-old, which is 10lbs higher than he would be at home, broke a long losing run in good style last time. He may still be a fraction ahead of the handicapper.
1.30 -- The Midnight Club
2.05 -- Prince Erik
2.40 -- Tranquil Sea (Nap)
3.20 -- Karabak 4.00 -- Sunnyhillboy
4.40 -- Galant Nuit