Ryanair still favourite for Benefficient

Europe heads to Champion again

Even the absence of Sprinter Sacre from the

Queen Mother


Chase appears unlikely to sway


Tony Martin

from aiming Benefficient at the




although very testing ground conditions could yet provoke a late change of plan.

Benefficient, winner of the Jewson in 2013, but a Grade One winner at two miles over Christmas, holds entries in both races at the festival and is a 5/1 favourite in some ante-post lists for the Ryanair on Day Three of Cheltenham.

Martin though took the precaution of leaving the horse in the two-mile championship feature the day before after doubts arose about Sprinter Sacre’s participation on the back of a heart-scare at Christmas.

The outstanding two-miler of his generation is now out.

Benefficient is as low as 5/1 for the Queen Mother as well and ground conditions will largely determine which festival option he eventually takes up.

“If the ground comes up on the yielding side then I would say we will stick with the Ryanair. The other horse coming out doesn’t alter things that much. But if it came up heavy we could definitely go for the two-mile race. At this stage I’d say it’s looking likely we’ll stick to the longer race,” Martin said yesterday.

"He's a horse that got two and a half miles well at Cheltenham last year and he almost got three miles at Newbury before that when he was a bit hard on himself through the race. But if it came up very soft, we'd have to look at how the other race is shaping up too. The obvious one though is the Ryanair," the Co Meath trainer added.

Tops the betting
Sire De Grugy, a dual-Grade One winner this season now tops the Champion Chase betting in the absence of Sprinter Sacre with Willie Mullins's Arvika Ligeonniere disputing second-favouritism in some betting markets with Benefficient.

The prospect of no Sprinter Sacre though has tipped the scales in favour of another attempt on the Queen Mother by the veteran former champion two-miler Sizing Europe.

Trainer Henry De Bromhead had also kept open the Ryanair option for the 12-year-old. The Co Waterford trainer also intends to run Special Tiara in the race.

“I think we will definitely go to the Champion Chase with Sizing Europe and Special Tiara will also run in it,” De Bromhead reported yesterday. “He (Sizing Europe) loves it there and always puts his best foot forward. His record over that course and distance is second to none.”

Following his 2011 championship success, Sizing Europe was a controversial runner-up to Finians Rainbow in 2012 and last year had the thankless task of chasing home Sprinter Sacre. On his last start, Sizing Europe was out of the money behind Benefficient at Leopardstown.

Tony Martin is holding fire on a decision about whether or not Golantialla will attempt to improve on his festival third last year in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Finishing runner-up
Barry Connell's €375,000 purchase returned for his first start in almost a year at Naas on Sunday when finishing runner-up to the impressive Willie Mullins winner Killultagh Vic.

Golantilla’s festival odds were lengthened to 16/1 by some bookmakers after that defeat but Martin was blaming himself yesterday.

“Typical of me, he needed the run. Our horses usually do on their first run back. He travelled very well and then just got tired,” he said. “I’m disappointed for the owner but he’s come out of the race very well. We’ll give it a while to see how he is. There’s over two weeks to Cheltenham so we’ll see closer to the time.”

Sunday’s winner Killultagh Vic is set to take his place in Willie Mullins’s bumper team as the champion trainer pursues a remarkable ninth win in the Day Two festival finale.

Champion amateur jockey Patrick Mullins has indicated he is likely to ride the favourite Black Hercules in the race although he said of Killultagh Vic: "He picked up as well as anything I've ridden all year."

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column