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Cheltenham Festival: Vautour gets the vote but it's a really close call

By Richard Forristal

So majestic at each of the past two Cheltenham Festivals, Vautour faces some stern competition in his quest for a hat-trick in the Ryanair Chase.

Sure, he is odds-on to secure the £300,000 Grade One that shares top billing with the World Hurdle.

However, when the goalposts were controversially moved at the eleventh hour on Tuesday morning, the question marks that recently hung over his home work again resurfaced.

In eschewing the Gold Cup, owner Rich Ricci suggested that Vautour might only be operating at 90 per cent.

If there is substance to that assessment, then the gallant King George VI Chase runner-up may have to work harder for Ruby Walsh than he has ever done here before.

Thus far, Willie Mullins' deeply exciting son of Robin Des Champs has made a mockery of the Cotswold Festival's status as the sport's most rigorous battleground.

He will certainly be in his element back over what might well be his optimum trip, but so too may Noel Meade's Road To Riches - winner of the Down Royal Festival feature, the JNwine.com Champion Chase, in 2014 - whose third in last year's Gold Cup was no mean feat.

The flashy Henry de Bromhead-trained grey Smashing, Enda Bolger's Gilgamboa and previous Festival heroes Dynaste, Taquin Du Seuil and Al Ferof all have something to offer.

Village Vic is another that has built up an affinity for Prestbury Park and Valseur Lido will share with Road To Riches the job of providing owner Michael O'Leary with an elusive win in the race that he has sponsored for 10 years.

Indeed, the Ryanair has yet to be won by any Irish-based horse but Vautour can put that right.

Of course, O'Leary has also stepped in to promote the World Hurdle.

He will be represented by Mouse Morris's Alpha Des Obeaux in the older Grade One, which has been plundered just once by a raider in the past 20 years.

As a result, O'Leary now has two opportunities to win back some of his own money.

But Thistlecrack should triumph here.

ULSTER jockey Brian Hughes has a busy day in store, including the ride on Oscar Rock in the Ryanair.

The Armagh rider will also be on board Danielle's Journey - trained in Larne by Stuart Crawford - in the Dawn Run Novices Hurdle.

Danielle's Journey is named in honour of a blog by Danielle McGriskin, a 19 year old from Ballinderry who is battling a brain tumour.

The six-year-old is owned by the locally-based Realta Racing syndicate.

Danielle's Journey goes to Cheltenham off the back of a win at Ayr last month and trainer Crawford said: "It's always been the plan to run Danielles Journey (at the Cheltenham Festival). The drier the better for her."

Belfast Telegraph

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