CHELTENHAM DAY THREE: Irish eyes will be smiling with Vautour

Vautour will be fancied on Thursday
Vautour will be fancied on Thursday

Suddenly the Ryanair Chase has been elevated into one of the most eagerly anticipated races of Cheltenham.

The two-mile, four furlong encounter is the third race on the card on day three of the Festival and is for horses that haven’t got the speed to win the Champion Chase or the stamina to stay the extra six furlongs in the Gold Cup.

No Irish-trained horse has ever won the race but that is about to change on St Patrick's Day.

There was a huge shock on Tuesday when Rich Ricci declared that Vautour would run in the Ryanair and not the Gold Cup, for which the Willie Mullins seven-year-old had been disputing favoritism.

An impressive winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2014, the French-bred gelding romped home by 15 lengths in last year’s JLT Novice Chase over course and distance. Vautour beat Ptit Zig at Ascot in his first run outside novice company before having a crack at the King George.

Seemingly with the race won Ruby Walsh’s mount was caught on the line by Cue Card and debate has raged ever since whether he would stay the 3 mile 2f in the Gold Cup with Ricci adamant it was the only race Vautour would go to.

Seven of the last eight winners of the Ryanair have ran in the King George and it looks an excellent chance for Vautour to complete a festival hat-trick.

The main danger will come from the Noel Meade-trained Road to Riches who has also defected from the Gold Cup as Michael O’Leary tries to win the race he sponsors.

Third in the Gold Cup last year the nine-year-old won a Grade 2 on his seasonal debut but was beaten by 12 lengths in the Irish Gold Cup.

The World Hurdle is the championship race and it’s impossible to look past favourite Thistlecrack. Out of Ascot Gold Cup winner Kayf Tara the Colin Tizzard-trained eight-year-old has won all three races including a 12-length victory over course and distance last time out in the Cleeve Hurlde.

There is a new Mare’s Hurdle on the card at 4.50pm,Limini is a short price to give the Ricc/Mullins /Walsh combo another success.