One of the newest Grade 1 events at the Cheltenham Festival, the Ryanair Chase first appeared in 2005 when introduced as part of the meeting’s expansion from three to four days. Initially a Grade 2 affair, the quality of the contest saw the race upgraded to Grade 1 status in 2008 – a rating it has maintained ever since.
This 2m5f affair filled a notable gap on the festival menu. Whilst the two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase catered to the speedsters and the 3m2f Gold Cup to the stayers, the meeting had been missing a top-level event for those runners who fell somewhere in between – not quite fast enough for the Queen Mother but lacking the staying power for the Gold Cup. Immediately popular with trainers and punters alike, for many, the race shares top-billing with the Stayers’ Hurdle on the Thursday of the fixture.
The incredible quality of the winners has been a significant contributing factor to the success of the event, with the roll of honour featuring the names of dual champions Albertas Run and Allaho, in addition to Un De Sceaux, Cue Card, Frodon, and the brilliant Vautour. Now an established festival highlight, the Ryanair Chase is one of the most hotly discussed ante-post events. But what does it take to win? Here, we look at the 19 results between 2005 and 2023 and pick out the standout stats and trends which may assist in whittling down the list of contenders.
Ryanair Chase: Age Trends
Whilst open to runners aged five and over, no horse so young has ever come home in front –2007 champ Taranis being the youngest winner in the history of the race at six. At the other end of the spectrum, Fondmort (2006), Our Vic (2008), and Albertas Run (2011) all prevailed as a 10-year-old. Overall, seven to nine appears to be the optimum age range, with 15 of the 19 winners – including 12 in a row between 2012 and 2023 – falling into that bracket.
Ryanair Chase: Trainer Stats
Nine different trainers shared the 19 editions in our sample. There’s no surprise that the greatest trainer in the history of the meeting, Willie Mullins, leads the way. Without a win until the success of Vautour in 2016, Mullins promptly rattled off another four in the space of the next six years. Paul Nicholls, who landed the inaugural edition with Thisthatandtother, is next best on three, followed by the trainer of Albertas Run, Jonjo O’Neill, and English and Irish training titans Nicky Henderson and Henry de Bromhead.
The home team made a flying start in this race, with each of the first 11 editions falling to a runner trained in England. However, the tide appears to be turning, with seven of the eight renewals between 2016 and 2023 being claimed by Ireland.
Ryanair Chase: Finishing Position Last Time Out
A solid previous outing has proven to be a positive in the Ryanair Chase without being absolutely essential. Only seven of 19 winners arrived on the back of a success, with 14 of 19 (73.68%) at least finishing in the first three on their most recent outing. Interestingly, four of the five winners who were unplaced or failed to complete on their previous start arrived at Cheltenham directly from the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
Rating of Winner
The first thing to leap out when looking at the results of this race is the trends line, which has climbed impressively since that first 2005 edition. Thisthatandtother had an Official Rating of 155 when becoming the debut winner – only Taraanis (also trained by Paul Nicholls) was rated lower than that in the 18 subsequent editions. A pair of Willie Mullins superstars top the rankings, with Vautour (2016) doing full justice to his 176 mark when blitzing to a six-length success and Allaho (2022) more than doubling that winning margin when claiming the prize for a second time. Overall, 15 of the 19 winners (78.95%) arrived at Cheltenham with an Official Rating of 161 or higher.
Ryanair Chase: Route to the Race
Runners have taken a variety of routes to Ryanair Chase success – ranging from relatively low-key handicap hurdles to top-tier Grade 1 Chase affairs. The two standout contests have been the British events of the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day and the Ascot Chase in February. However, the performance of the runners from each of those events has been markedly different. Of the five winners who arrived from the King George, only one managed to hit the frame at Kempton. In contrast, all four who took the Ascot Chase route had finished in the first three, with Riverside Theatre (2012) and Cue Card (2013) winning both races.
Ryanair Chase: Fate of the Favourite
The favourites started slowly in this race, with just one win in the first seven renewals. However, the market leaders have performed much better since, bringing the total up to seven wins between 2005 and 2023. That solid 36.84% strike rate has been enough to hand jolly backers a profit of £1.99 to £1 level stakes.
The market rarely gets it too far wrong in this Day 3 highlight, with 17 of the 19 winners returning a single-figure SP, including 13 at 9/2 or below. The two big shocks came courtesy of 14/1 shot Albertas Run (2011) and 16/1 chance Uxizandre, who handed Tony McCoy his final Cheltenham Festival success in 2015.
Ryanair Chase: Other Stats
- 15 of 19 winners had previously won at Cheltenham.
- 18 of 19 had already scored at Grade 3 level or above, including 13 Grade 1 winners.
- 14 of 19 arrived at Cheltenham following a break of 61 days or less. All 19 had run within the last 82 days.
- Ruby Walsh tops the jockeys’ table with four wins, followed by Tony McCoy with three. Of those jockeys still riding in 2024, Paul Townend and Rachael Blackmore have fared best with two wins apiece.
- King’s Theatre is the only stallion to have sired two different winners – Riverside Theatre (2012) and Cue Card (2013).