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Cheltenham Festival: Don can give Ireland first Ryanair Chase glory

By Richard Forristal

Don Cossack spearheads a four-pronged Irish assault on today's Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

In the 10 years since the two-mile-five-furlong contest's inception, three seconds is all the raiders have to show for their efforts.

The £300,000 event is the only Festival Grade One that hasn't been won by an Irish-based horse, and Michael O'Leary will be desperate to see Don Cossack carry his Gigginstown House Stud silks to victory in the race that he sponsors.

He hit the crossbar with First Lieutenant in 2013, so Don Cossack carries a weight of expectation under the excellent Bryan Cooper, who won the RSA Chase on Don Poli for Gigginstown yesterday.

A year after Hidden Cyclone's gallant turn in defeat to Dynaste, John 'Shark' Hanlon's 10-year-old vies to go one better under Andrew McNamara, while the rampant Willie Mullins operation is represented by Ballycasey, ridden by Ruby Walsh.

The cross-channel delegation is completed by Ted Walsh's Foxrock. Barry Connell opted to stump up £15,000 to supplement the progressive seven-year-old following his game effort to be second to Carlingford Lough in the Hennessy Gold Cup.

A winner over this trip at Leopardstown previously, Adrian Heskin's mount has the capacity to keep improving, and few would begrudge Connell a tangible return on his considerable and sustained investment in the game.

The Ryanair shares top billing on a Thursday these days with the World Hurdle.

This year's edition of the three-miler lacks a marquee name, so the likes of Lieutenant Colonel, Jetson, Abbyssial and Monksland are all contenders.

A year after turning the Supreme Novices Hurdle into a procession, Vautour tackles the curtain-raising JLT Novices Chase, along with stablemate Valseur Lido and Noel Meade's Apache Stronghold. Sandra Hughes' The Tullow Tank is also in there, with Ptit Zig flying the flag for Paul Nicholls.

That just might be the race of the day.

1.30pm Grade One JLT Novices' Chase 2m 4f: Vautour looked poised for great things when he stormed home in the Supreme Novices 12 months ago. He remains a fine prospect, but he hasn't entirely convinced over fences. A blunder cost him dearly on his penultimate start.

While he subsequently got back to winning ways at Leopardstown in January, he beat nothing, so it will be fascinating to see how his fencing holds up in this intense environment.

Valseur Lido is another Willie Mullins contender. He was beaten by Apache Stronghold in a Leopardstown Grade One last month, but that was his first start since he thrashed the same horse in the Drinmore in November. If he improves for the outing, he will go close.

Selection: A chance is taken on Valseur Lido (nb)

2.05pm Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle) 3m: Edeymi was brought down in the conditional jockeys race two years ago, when he was rated 139.

He has since dropped to a mark of 135 after just four more hurdle starts. Off just 10st 9lb, he should run well.

Call The Cops skipped home at Doncaster 12 days ago. A five-pound penalty leaves him seven pounds well in on his future rating, so he ought to figure off a nice weight.

It is a wide-open contest otherwise, with Jonjo O'Neill's Join The Clan on a hat-trick mission, but Ulster great AP McCoy has opted for the Anthony Honeyball-trained Regal Encore. He won nicely at Exeter but is 10lbs higher now.

Selection: Just the one Irish runner but that might be enough. Edeymi

2.40 Grade One Ryanair Chase 2m 5f: Don Cossack has matured into a solid campaigner this term. He had Champagne Fever in real trouble at Thurles when the grey crashed at the last fence, the pair having drawn miles clear of two fair horses in Texas Jack and Smokey Joe Joe.

Prior to that, he thumped Boston Bob and Lord Windermere in the Grade One John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, so his form is top class.

The negatives are that Don Cossack has never won left-handed and that he fell here last year. However, he hasn't run left-handed this season, and his jumping is pretty sound. He is also ground-versatile.

Last year's JLT runner-up Uxizandre - McCoy rides - sports a first-time visor and saves his best for here, likewise the winner Taquin Du Seuil. Neither has fired of late.

Selection: Don Cossack appeals as solid nap material

3.20pm Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle 3m: Monksland ran a blinder to be third behind Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson - both oppose today - on his return from a long lay-off at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He looked poised to build on that at Gowran Park, only to be mugged by Dedigout, which has won again since. If he comes on a little more, he could be thereabouts.

Tony Martin's Dedigout is clearly a very good horse, but he could really do with the rain coming in volume.

McCoy's mount At Fishers Cross sports first-time blinkers but is not to be trusted.

Saphir Du Rheu has scope to improve. Another to switch back from fences, he beat Reve De Sivola, Un Temps Pour Tout, Cole Harden and The Druids Nephew in the Cleeve Hurdle. That is solid form.

Selection: Saphir Du Rheu for the win with an each-way nod going to Monksland

4.00pm Grade Three Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (Handicap Chase) 2m 5f: Burn And Turn looks competitively handicapped.

McCoy's booking for Kim Bailey's Un Ace is an interesting one.

Selection: Dropping in class, Burn And Turn looks weighted to collect

4.40pm Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (Amateur riders) 3m 2f: Derek O'Connor's booking aboard Gold Bullet is significant.

Tom Taaffe's seven-year-old is massively unexposed.

Selection: Gold Bullet has the ability to compete in this and triumph

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