FAKIR D’OUDAIRIES could be the value call in a fascinating renewal of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
The two-mile-five-furlong contest looks the most wide open of the five championship races at this year’s Festival, with as many as seven horses single figure odds.
Few begrudged the Willie Mullins-trained Min his day in the sun in last year’s renewal, but he was pulled up on his latest outing and even the form of his third win in the John Durkan at Punchestown on his previous start is questionable.
He is joined by two high-class stablemates in Allaho and Melon, but the former has yet to prove himself as a Grade One horse in open company, while Melon is certainly admirable as a four-time Festival runner-up but finds victories hard to come by.
Last year’s runner-up Saint Calvados, Imperial Aura and Mister Fisher all merit consideration, but narrow preference is for Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies.
The six-year-old is out to make it third time lucky at the Festival, having previously finished fourth against his elders in the 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and runner-up in last year’s Arkle.
He was well-beaten by Notebook on his first start of the current campaign at Naas in November, and was pulled up when stepped up to three miles for the first time in a deep renewal of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
However, the form of O’Brien’s string has improved significantly since the turn of the year, and Fakir D’oudairies ran easily his best race of the season so far when runner-up to Chacun Pour Soi back over a shorter distance at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival.
The intermediate distance of the Ryanair should see him in an even better light and he looks a good bet to be placed at the very least.
The disappointing defection of Thyme Hill due to injury has robbed of us a mouthwatering third clash with Paisley Park in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.
Emma Lavelle’s stable star is now a hot favourite to win back his crown, but taking short odds about a horse who has previously had a heart issue might not be the most sensible call.
A horse likely to give his running at more rewarding odds is The Storyteller, who is a previous Festival winner over fences and was beaten just half a length by stablemate Sire Du Berlais in last year’s Pertemps Final.
While the latter will be in opposition again, The Storyteller finished ahead of him when they last met at Leopardstown, since when the selection has turned in another tremendous effort to fill the runner-up spot in the Irish Gold Cup.
A double-figure price is too tempting to turn down about a horse who does not know how to run a bad race.
The day three ‘banker’ is undoubtedly Envoi Allen in the curtain-raising Marsh Novices’ Chase.
Arguably the most exciting horse in training on either side of the Irish Sea, the Cheveley Park-owned star counts two Cheltenham wins – in the Champion Bumper and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – on an unbeaten record of 11 races under rules.
A change of yards just a fortnight before his return to the Cotswolds is a slight concern, but such is Envoi Allen’s superiority, it would be a huge shock if he is beaten.
The Paul Nolan-trained Mrs Milner catches the eye in the Pertemps Final.
The daughter of Flemensfirth was only narrowly beaten at Cheltenham in November, after which she qualified for this race by finishing fourth in a Leopardstown qualifier.
She suffered a heavy fall back at the Dublin circuit last time, but is reported to be none the worse and a mark of 134 could underestimate her potential over three miles.
O’Brien’s Fils D’oudairies moves into handicaps for the first time in the Paddy Power Plate.
The French recruit fell on his Irish and chasing debut at Punchestown in November, but impressed on his second start at Navan.
The six-year-old subsequently found only Envoi Allen too strong in a Grade Three at Punchestown, and while he was never a factor behind another star novice in Monkfish last time, that has enabled him to line up for this race on a workable mark of 145.
Willie Mullins has won every renewal of the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle since its inception and is expected to add to his tally with Hook Up.
The daughter of No Risk At All could be spotted making late progress to finish fourth in a Grade One contest won by esteemed stablemate Appreciate It, which is strong form in the context of this race.
Shantou Flyer might appreciate slightly better ground in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup after being beaten twice on heavy conditions so far this season.
CHELTENHAM: 1.20 Envoi Allen, 1.55 Mrs Milner, 2.30 Fakir D’oudairies, 3.05 The Storyteller, 3.40 Fils D’oudairies, 4.15 HOOK UP (NAP), 4.50 Another Venture.