HAVING found Altior an immovable object in three previous trips to Cheltenham, Min can make it fourth time lucky by winning the Ryanair Chase today.
Min’s failure to get the job done at the Festival has led some to question whether the track plays to his strengths but it’s worth remembering he finished in front of a future dual Champion Hurdle in Buveur D’Air and subsequent Grade One winners Supasundae and Petit Mouchoir when second to Altior in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
He was second best to his nemesis again in the 2018 Champion Chase but that was arguably Altior’s finest display as he pulled seven lengths clear at the line having been level with Min at the final obstacle.
Last year he finished a disappointing fifth in the same race but he’s a good deal better than that, a fact he proved when running away with the Melling Chase at Aintree on his next start.
That was over two and a half miles and he showed that’s his optimum trip when winning the John Durkan at Punchestown last December.
Willie Mullins then dropped the nine-year-old back to two miles at the Dublin Racing Festival where he again raced with distinction but ultimately lacked the pace to cope with stablemate Chacun Pour Soi.
Going back up in distance should really suit and Min’s overall CV suggests he’s a superior horse to A Plus Tard, his main market rival.
A Plus Tard was an emphatic winner of a handicap at last year’s Festival and, with the Henry De Bromhead team in fine form, warrants huge respect but this should finally be Min’s day.
The roof will surely lift off the stands if the remarkable Faugheen wins the opening race, the Marsh Novices’ Chase, but he had a particularly gruelling race when winning the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month and it’s asking a lot to expect yet another miracle from the 12-year-old.
Stablemate Melon has twice finished second in the Champion Hurdle but a record of four wins from 21 starts under Rules shows he finds winning tricky while Samcro, trashed by Faugheen at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day, is hard to trust at this stage.
The likeliest winner is Itchy Feet, trained by Olly Murphy, an upwardly mobile handler who learned his trade as Gordon Elliott’s assistant.
Third in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the selection got off to a winning start over the bigger obstacles with a facile success at Leicester over Christmas before taking the step up to Grade One company in his stride when winning the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown last month.
Defi Du Seuil won same Sandown race before going to win this race and Itchy Feet can complete the same double.
From a punting perspective, the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle is something of a non-event as reigning champion Paisley Park simply can’t be opposed. He’s very short but he deserves to be so.
It would be great if Apple’s Jade could give a good account of herself on what will probably be her swansong but Cheltenham is no place for sentiment and last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle hero City Island looks a much safer proposition to get closest to the favourite.
Gordon Elliott has won the last two renewals of the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final and complete the hat-trick today.
1.30: Itchy Feet (nb)
2.10: The Storyteller
2.50: Min (Nap)
3.30: Paisley Park
4.10: La Bague Au Roi
4.50: Minella Melody
5.30: Plan Of Attack
Last year’s winner Sire Du Berlais looks sure to put up a bold defence of his crown but preference is for stablemate The Storyteller, who qualified for this race when sneaking into sixth in a qualifier at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The selection landed a big gamble over fences at this meeting two years ago so he ticks the course box and he has clearly been laid out for this race. A big run looks guaranteed.
A dual Grade One winner as a novice last season, La Bague Au Roi has found the going a good deal tougher this season but Warren Greatrex’s mare may be able to make the most of a drop in class by winning the Grade Three Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.
Minella Melody, unbeaten in three starts this season, gets the vote in the Grade two Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle for the in-form team of Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
De Bromhead can also strike in the finale, the Kim Muir, courtesy of Plan Attack, who looks sure to give Barry O’Neill a good spin.