Cheltenham Race News: Foxrock, Saphir Du Rheu & Zarkandar

“Foxrock will need to be on the Money in the Ryanair”

Trainer Ted Walsh will be hoping that Foxrock can justify the £15,000 that it cost to supplement the seven-year-old for the race last week by winning the Ryanair Chase on Thursday (March 12).

The Flemensfirth gelding won a valuable 2m 5f handicap chase at Leopardstown in January, and finished a close second to Carlingford Lough in the Irish Hennessy last month.

Favourite is the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack, winner of his last four races, including the Grade One John Durkan Memorial Punchestown in December.

Their 12 rivals include Ma Filleule, who could become the first mare to win the Ryanair Chase – if she can turn around recent form with Balder Succes.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, the seven-year-old Ma Filleule finished second to Holywell in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase at The Festival last year and followed up with an impressive eight-length victory in the Topham Chase at Aintree a month later.

Her best effort this season so far has been the runner-up spot behind the Alan King-trained Balder Succes in the Betfair Ascot Chase in February.

Balder Succes has won his last two races, and was a comfortable winner of the Grade One Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree in 2014. But the seven-year-old’s record at Cheltenham is uninspiring; in three runs here, he has fallen twice and unseated his jockey once.

Last year’s runner-up, Hidden Cyclone, bids to go one better for trainer John Joseph Hanlon. He won his last outing, Punchestown’s Tied Cottage Chase, over two miles in soft ground.

A P McCoy, who twice won the Ryanair Chase on Albertas Run in 2010 and 2011, will have his final ride in the race aboard Uxizandre, owned by J P McManus and trained by Alan King. Uxizandre won the Shloer Chase over two miles at Cheltenham in November, and was second in the JLT Novices’ Chase at last year’s Festival.

Willie Mullins has yet to add the Ryanair Chase to his Festival tally, and he is represented by Ballycasey in this year’s renewal. Nicky Henderson (Ma Filleule), Jonjo O’Neill (Johns Spirit and Taquin Du Seuil) and Paul Nicholls (Wonderful Charm) have each trained two winners of the race. Henderson scored with Fondmort in 2006 and Riverside Theatre in 2012, O’Neill trained Alberta Run to his 2010 and 2011 successes, and Nicholls won the first running of the race in 2005 with Thisthatandtother, following up with Taranis in 2007.

Foxrock

Foxrock (right)

“Nicholls Pair are on Top of the World”

Course-and-distance winner Saphir Du Rheu and Zarkandar are jostling for the favourite’s spot ahead of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle on Thursday, March 12. Both represent champion trainer Paul Nicholls and are available at odds of around 9/2.

Zarkandar has only run in Britain once this season. Nicholls has sent him to Auteuil in Paris three times since last May, and he scored in the valuable Grade One Prix d’Automne in November on very soft ground.

Zarkandar was beaten a neck by Reve De Sivola, whom he faces once again in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, at Ascot in December.

Trained by Nick Williams, Reve De Sivola was in turn beaten a neck by Saphir Du Rheu in the Galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, with the David Pipe-trained Un Temps Pour Tout behind them in third.

Seven of the 17 horses in Ladbrokes World Hurdle are trained in Ireland. Since Michael Hourigan took the race with Doran’s Pride in 1995, only Solwhit (Charles Byrnes) in 2012 has managed to take win it for Ireland.

First-season trainer Sandra Hughes has perhaps the best chance of taking the trophy across the Irish Sea. Lieutenant Colonel, who runs in the Gigginstown House Stud colours, has won Grade Ones at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown this season.

And the lightly-raced Noel Meade entry Monksland has a chance; he went down by a short-head to Tony Martin’s runner Dedigout in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January.

A P McCoy rides the sole Welsh-trained runner, Rebecca Curtis’s At Fishers Cross, for J P McManus. The Oscar eight-year-old finished third behind More Of That and Annie Power in the 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle, and was second at Aintree to Whisper, who runs here for Nicky Henderson. At Fishers Cross took the 2013 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival.

Paul Nicholls holds the training record for wins in the race – four, with Big Buck’s from 2009-2012.