Cossack to show why he's the Don for Elliott
Progressive chaser owned by Michael O'Leary set to soar in race that the airline chief sponsors
Don Cossack spearheads a four-pronged Irish assault on this afternoon's Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
In the 10 years since the two-mile-five-furlong contest's inception, three seconds is all the raiders have to show for their efforts.
The £300,000 event is the only Festival Grade One that hasn't been won by an Irish-based horse, and Michael O'Leary will be desperate to see Don Cossack carry his Gigginstown House Stud silks to victory in the race that he sponsors.
He hit the crossbar with First Lieutenant in 2013, so Don Cossack carries a weight of expectation now under the excellent Bryan Cooper.
A year after Hidden Cyclone's gallant turn in defeat to Dynaste, John 'Shark' Hanlon's 10-year-old vies to go one better under Andrew McNamara, while the rampant Willie Mullins operation is represented by Ballycasey and Ruby Walsh.
The cross-channel delegation is completed by Ted Walsh's Foxrock. Barry Connell opted to stump up £15,000 to supplement the progressive seven-year-old following his game effort to be second to Carlingford Lough in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
A winner over this trip at Leopardstown previously, Adrian Heskin's mount has the capacity to keep improving, and few would begrudge Connell a tangible return on his considerable and sustained financial investment in the game.
The Ryanair shares top billing on a Thursday these days with the World Hurdle.
This year's edition of the three-miler lacks a marquee name, so the likes of Lieutenant Colonel, Jetson, Abbyssial and Monksland are all contenders.
A year after turning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle into a procession with a barnstorming display, Vautour tackles the curtain-raising JLT Novices' Chase, along with stablemate Valseur Lido and Noel Meade's Apache Stronghold.
Sandra Hughes' The Tullow Tank is also in there, with Ptit Zig flying the flag for Paul Nicholls. That just might be the race of the day.
1.30 Grade One JLT Novices' Chase 2m 4f
Vautour looked poised for great things when he stormed home in the Supreme Novices' 12 months ago. He remains a fine prospect, but he hasn't entirely convinced over fences. A blunder cost him dearly on his penultimate start.
While he subsequently got back to winning ways at Leopardstown in January, he beat nothing, so it will be fascinating to see how his fencing holds up in this intense environment.
Valseur Lido is another Willie Mullins contender. He was beaten by Apache Stronghold in a Leopardstown Grade One last month, but that was his first start since he thrashed the same horse in the Drinmore in November. If he improves for the outing, he will go close.
Apache Stronghold should enjoy the decent ground if it holds up.
Beaten by Don Poli over Christmas, he wasn't winning out of turn last time. He is a very good horse when things fall his way.
Ptit Zig comes here on the back of a fall. That is far from ideal, though he was a course winner in January. His stablemate Irish Saint won well in lesser company last time and would appreciate any rain that falls.
Selection: A chance is taken on Valseur Lido (nb) stripping fitter
2.05 Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle) 3m
Edeymi was unlucky to be brought down in the conditional jockeys' race two years ago, when he was rated 139.
He has since dropped to a mark of 135 after just four more hurdle starts, latterly catching the eye when fourth at Musselburgh. Off just 10st 9lb, he should run well.
Call The Cops skipped home at Doncaster 12 days ago. A five-pound penalty leaves him seven pounds well in on his future rating, so he ought to figure off a nice weight.
It is a wide-open contest otherwise, with Jonjo O'Neill's Join The Clan on a hat-trick mission, but AP McCoy has opted for the Anthony Honeyball-trained Regal Encore.
He won nicely at Exeter but he is 10lbs higher now.
Junction Fourteen is another of interest in this one. He is fairly treated on his best form and is quite unexposed.
Selection: Just the one Irish runner but that might be enough. Edeymi
2.40 Grade One Ryanair Chase 2m 5f
Don Cossack has matured into a solid campaigner this term. He had Champagne Fever in real trouble at Thurles when the grey crashed at the last fence, the pair having drawn miles clear of two fair horses in Texas Jack and Smokey Joe Joe.
Prior to that, he had thumped Boston Bob and Lord Windermere in the Grade One John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, so his form is top-class.
The negatives are that Don Cossack has never won left-handed and that he fell here last year. However, he hasn't run left-handed this season, and his jumping is pretty sound. He is also ground-versatile.
Last year's runner-up Hidden Cyclone won nicely over two miles last time. He will doubtless run his race again, but it won't be easy to lead these from flag-fall.
Foxrock was a surprise addition to the field. He landed a decent handicap over this trip at Leopardstown before keeping on for second in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
While he might prefer further and he needs to keep improving, he could still have a say.
Ballycasey, for Mullins (below), is pretty frustrating - finishing well held by Balder Succes at Ascot. Alan King's charge has come of age this term, and this trip seems to suit him ideally.
The ratings suggest he could be as good as any of these, though he has failed to complete the course in three Cheltenham visits.
Ma Filleule was second in the Ascot race so she has claims, while Johns Spirit loves Cheltenham. Both have a little to find on official figures.
Last year's JLT runner-up Uxizandre sports a first-time visor and saves his best for here, likewise the winner Taquin Du Seuil. Neither has fired of late.
Selection: Don Cossack appeals as solid nap material
3.20 Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle 3m
Lieutenant Colonel has progressed brilliantly this term. He has a slightly ungainly head-carriage, but you couldn't question his attitude in defying a fair old yardstick in Jetson to claim two Grade Ones.
Sandra Hughes' charge has the scope to continue his ascent at just six years of age.
Jetson is a late maturer, having caused a massive shock when thwarting Quevega at the age of nine in May.
An honest horse that has been beaten just a couple of lengths in handicaps here previously, he is no forlorn hope in this contest.
Monksland ran a blinder to be third behind the above duo on his return from a long lay-off at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He looked poised to build on that at Gowran Park, only to be mugged by Dedigout, which has won again since. If he comes on a little more, he could be thereabouts.
Tony Martin's Dedigout is clearly a very good horse, but he could really do with the rain coming in volume.
The softer the ground the better his chance. Abbyssial is another raider with potential.
On his belated reappearance at Gowran, he was giving Kitten Rock plenty of it when he fell two-out.
He also turned over here last year so that is a concern, but he has an engine and this step up to three miles should help his cause.
At Fishers Cross sports first-time blinkers today but is not to be trusted, while Zarkandar is another mercurial sort.
Last year's fourth got chinned by Reve De Sivola at Ascot.
Whisper, which had Zarkandar behind at Aintree in April, reverts to hurdling after getting beaten over fences. He won the Coral Cup last year and has the scope to improve, as does Saphir Du Rheu.
Another to switch back from fences, he beat Reve De Sivola, Un Temps Pour Tout, Cole Harden and The Druids Nephew in the Cleeve Hurdle. That is pretty solid form.
Selection: Saphir Du Rheu for the win with an each-way nod going to Monksland
4.00 Grade Three Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (Handicap Chase) 2m 5f
Make A Track will probably need a deluge to figure, while Aupcharlie also relishes getting his toe in. Burn And Turn would be less ground-dependent.
Just three pounds higher than when second to Road To Riches in the Galway Plate, she looks competitively handicapped.
The booking of AP McCoy aboard Kim Bailey's Un Ace is interesting.
His only defeat in three completed starts over fences came when he was a good second to Champagne West here in December. He hasn't run since but that may be by design.
Rawnaq claimed the considerable scalp of Gilgamboa in a Navan Grade Two. Dromnea, third off levels, ran well for a long way on Tuesday, so Matthew Smith's charge could have a say under just 10st 12lb.
A tenacious sort, he was third in the Greatwood Hurdle off 138. A mark of 141 gives him a chance, albeit he has run just three times over fences.
Buywise and Monetaire are also of note, particularly the latter David Pipe lightweight following a convincing Newbury success in November.
Selection: Dropping in class, Burn And Turn looks weighted to collect
4.40 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (Amateur riders) 3m 2f
Derek O'Connor's booking aboard Gold Bullet is significant.
Tom Taaffe's seven-year-old is massively unexposed, and he will appreciate better ground than he had when he was third to Los Amigos at Fairyhouse last time.
Having not run since July, Guess Again could be up against it, so Buddy Bolero might be the pick of Tony Martin's two.
He fell four-out when still just in contention last year and is two pounds lower now.
Clondaw Knight lost a shoe when second at Ascot recently. He made a bold bid that day and is capable of doing the same now.
Champagne James and Tap Night are others that could have genuine cases made for them on their best form.
Selection: Gold Bullet has the ability to compete in this