Don Cossack could finally bring Michael O’Leary success in Ryanair Chase
Triple-course winner John’s Spirit may offer the value given his Cheltenham record
Don Cossack profits from Champagne Fever’s mistake in Thurles in one of four wins from four starts this season. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
There is a glaring lack of an Irish-trained winner on the Ryanair Chase roll-of-honour and no one is more motivated to fill that gap than the big-race sponsor Michael O’Leary with his long-time antepost favourite Don Cossack.
Even more than the Gold Cup contender Road To Riches, the Gordon Elliott-trained horse has been a Gigginstown House Stud bandwagon horse in the run-up to the festival and now faces the most important test of his career.
The best was in December’s John Durkan Chase and ever since a perfect sponsorship result for his owner in the festival’s day three steeplechase highlight has been the plan.
O’Leary has already stated that of all the festival races this week he wants to win the race his company sponsors and, although joking about looking forward to his wife presenting him with the trophy, the desire to finally win it is undoubtedly real.
The Ryanair boss got close when First Lieutenant was runner-up to Cue Card two years ago, and when Mossbank was also second to Our Vic in 2008, and they are as close as any Irish-trained runner has got in the 10-year history of the race introduced when the festival was revamped to four days.
If it is a sign of the new modern Cheltenham then the lack of an Irish winner is hardly reflective of Ireland’s modern festival influence but a quartet of visitors look to pack a punch.
Runner-up to Dynaste a year ago, Hidden Cyclone is back for another crack at it while the all-conquering Willie Mullins team will rely on Ballycasey. The Hennessy runner-up Foxrock has been supplemented into this rather than the Gold Cup but even still Don Cossack appears to be the big hope.
If Foxrock is proven at three miles and the two-mile Champion Chase featured on Hidden Cyclone’s radar for a long time on the run-in to the festival, then this two-mile-five-furlong trip looks perfect for the Gigginstown hope.
Elliott is convinced Don Cossack’s improved performance level this season is due to the strapping German-bred horse eventually strengthening into his frame so further improvement can’t be ruled out.
“He’s been very good this season, he’s finishing his races out a lot stronger,” the Co Meath trainer said. “He’s a short enough price but he’s entitled to be.”
Such improvement could be needed though against a home team who might be out-numbered at the top of the betting but still possess a formidable challenge.
The hurly-burly of this race might not be Balder Succes’ cup-of-tea but the mare Ma Filleule represents a similar level of form and crucially gets a 7lb sex allowance.
“The problem I had with Hidden Cyclone last year was that he wasn’t settling. He pulled his way through the Ryanair the whole way. We’ve done a lot of work and he’s learning and settling much better.”
In an open contest like this a proven ability around the track is always a significant plus and Jonjo O’Neill’s pair, Taquin Du Seuil and John’s Spirit, bring that virtue in spades.
Taquin Du Seuil landed last year’s JLT while John’s Spirit biggest victory was the 2013 Paddy Power. He is a triple-course winner who appears to have a capacity for further improvement out of handicap company. Richie McLernon’s mount could be the value.
Brian O’Connor’s Tricast
1 John’s Spirit
2 Ma Filleule
3 Don Cossack