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2016 Ryanair Chase runners - Vautour the class act at Cheltenham on Thursday

Jon Wilde in Thur. 16th March 16 Mar 2016
  • A field of 15 has been declared for the 2016 Ryanair Chase
  • Get the latest news on Thursday's Cheltenham showpiece
Ruby Walsh celebrates a Cheltenham Festival victory aboard Vautour (credit: Cheltenhampro.com)

Vautour’s inclusion among a 15-strong line-up has added a huge amount of interest to the 2016 Ryanair Chase – especially as his jockey Ruby Walsh believes one of his main rivals is “too slow”.

Trainer Willie Mullins has re-routed the highly talented seven-year-old to Thursday’s contest which is nearly six furlongs shorter than his previous target of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, partly due to stamina doubts but also because he and owner Rich Ricci also have Djakadam among the leading contenders for the blue riband event of the Cheltenham Festival.

As soon as it was confirmed Vautour was heading for the Ryanair Chase he became the hot favourite as he targets a Festival hat-trick having won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the JLT Novices’ Chase in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Since then, the French-bred gelding has maintained his record of never finishing out of the first two in his career and was beaten a head by Cue Card in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day having been caught close home by that rival.

Owner Ricci added his own take to the discussion about Vautour’s target by admitting the horse “in recent weeks hasn't been pulling up trees in his work” but that “he has been working better lately and the Ryanair Chase is the best alternative to the Gold Cup - it's not ideal but still a great race.”

But while Ricci also said “if he's only 90% right then we don't want to ruin the horse”, the quality of the opposition needs to be put into context and jockey Walsh feels the right decision has been made.

The two biggest dangers to Vautour appear to be his stable companion Valseur Lido, ridden by David Mullins, and the other Gigginstown House Stud-owned runner Road To Riches, trained by Noel Meade, a horse of whom Walsh is clearly not afraid.

Walsh said:
“I think Road To Riches is too slow for the Ryanair Chase. I think it’s probably the weakest (Grade 1) race of the Festival and I dearly wanted Vautour to run so I wouldn’t have to choose between him and Djakadam in the Gold Cup.” 

One opponent whose chances Walsh does rate is Smashing, trained by Henry De Bromhead and unbeaten in three starts this season, while other contenders are Dan Skelton-trained veteran Al Ferof and progressive Village Vic.


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2016 Ryanair Chase runners - Vautour the class act at Cheltenham on Thursday

Vautour’s inclusion among a 15-strong line-up has added a huge amount of interest to the 2016 Ryanair Chase – especially as his jockey Ruby Walsh believes one of his main rivals is “too slow”.

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