The Ryanair Chase is Thursday's most valuable contest at Cheltenham but in terms of anticipation it concedes the spotlight to an opening race containing just four runners. The intriguing pull of the Turners Novice Chase is that two of those four runners are already first and second favourites for the Gold Cup - in 2023!
Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs are probably the two most exciting young jumpers in the game and after months of 'will they - won't they' speculation are finally set to go head to head. All but two opponents have been scared off and one of them, El Barra, is a stable companion of Galopin Des Champs that ran at Limerick on Sunday.
Such a paltry turnout for a Grade 1 prize, and the fact it’s an all-Irish quartet, has already provoked plenty of comment. Even the role of the race in all its various guises over the last 11 years will get questioned in the context of a festival with two other top-flight novice options.
Certainly the biggest fear all round will be any last minute injury scare for any of the big two. But the quality contained in both of these horses is such that the prospect of them facing off is guaranteed to have most fans happily leaving quantity considerations to the side.
It’s not like four runner races containing two ‘rags’ don’t produce memorable races. Perhaps the most famous Cheltenham race of all, Arkle’s evocative Gold Cup defeat of Mill House in 1964, saw only four go to the start. Pas Seul and King’s Nephew are barely even footnotes now but the race itself is seared into racing history.
It is long odds-on about Bob Olinger v Galopin Des Champs ever comparing to such a scenario. But at 1.30pm on Thursday the potential both possess still makes the sky their limit.
Both are unbeaten in two starts over fences and both are proven festival winners over flights. Where they appear to differ to date this season is in how Galopin Des Champs’ standard appears to have jumped again for the transfer to fences.
If his Grade 1 success at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival didn’t visually match a spectacular Christmas debut then the form nevertheless looks to stand up. If anything, both displays were almost too flamboyant and brave, a better complaint for a novice than the alternative.
In contrast some serious judges were underwhelmed by the shape Bob Olinger made jumping over the fences on his Gowran chase debut. He was subsequently better at Punchestown in January when proving too quick for Capodanno on the run in.
That reminded everyone of what they'd known anyway about Bob Olinger since last year's Ballymore victory, that he possesses a serious amount of class.
The worry persists for some about that being fine between the obstacles but what about actually over them? Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore have worked extensively on his jumping - more than most novice chasers at the yard - and there were encouraging reports of a recent schooling session at Navan.
When it counts
Nevertheless until he does it when it counts, plenty will take a view about Galopin Des Champs being the more natural jumper and that jumping really is the name of the game.
Either way it promises to be a superb spectacle. It only takes two to make a race and right now there are no more exciting young steeplechasers around than this pair.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s decision to switch Conflated from the Gold Cup to his own race on Thursday has injected some welcome competition into it. Almost everyone’s ‘banker’ bet for the week has been the defending Ryanair champion Allaho who would otherwise have been regarded as all but home and hosed.
Given he has appeared an even more potent force so far this season it could still be the case that Allaho will simply run everything else into the ground. However, Conflated looked a transformed character when landing last month’s Irish Gold Cup.
Gordon Elliott’s willingness to throw him in at the deep end paid off spectacularly. Dropping in trip shouldn’t be a problem for what looks a naturally speedy horse. Dropping the combustible Conflated into the Cheltenham cauldron may not be so straightforward.
England's main hope, Shan Blue, threw away certain victory by falling on his last start. So it's hard to escape the conclusion that anyway you examine this Ryanair all signs still point to an Allaho repeat.