Un De Sceaux team relishing Cue Card clash in Ryanair Chase defence

Wed 14th Mar 2018, 11:33

photoUn De Sceaux
©Healy Racing Photos
Un De Sceaux's connections are looking forward to a clash with Cue Card in Thursday's Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

Winner of the race last year, Willie Mullins' 10-year-old will be appearing at his fourth consecutive Festival, with his only defeat coming at the hands of Sprinter Sacre in the 2016 Champion Chase.

" For the first time it looks like he's even going to get his ground at Cheltenham, which he's never had before," said part-owner Colm O'Connell.

"He arrived at the course a couple of days ago and I've seen the pictures, he looks a million dollars, he knows where he is.

"This is his fourth Festival and that's an achievement in itself. He won the Arkle, then had no answer to Sprinter Sacre but won the Ryanair last year.

"There's a bit of rain forecast Wednesday night and that will be welcome after a couple of dry days forecast."

In his younger days, Un De Sceaux was a bit of a tearaway but is more tractable now - although he did take off when winning this last year.

"He's much more settled these days, he proved in this last year that he doesn't have to make all the running," said O'Connell.

"Ruby (Walsh) will decide on tactics, but then again Un De Sceaux might have another plan! That's why everyone loves him.

"With Cue Card and ourselves, you've got two of the most popular chasers in training facing off.

"The Ryanair has its detractors but I think this race has a bit of everything, there shouldn't be anyone not looking forward to this."

Colin Tizzard knows the end is in sight for Cue Card, but he is appearing at his seventh Festival and has a huge army of followers who were thrilled by his latest performance at Ascot when second to Waiting Patiently.

He won this in 2013 but has fallen at the same fence in the last two Gold Cups.

Tizzard said: "I don't know why Cue Card has had problems with the third-last in the Gold Cup - the third-last is still there in the Ryanair. Do horses remember? Jockeys riding them might. I am sure I will remember.

"Cue Card has been a good jumper all his life - the first time he tanked into it when it looked like if he had popped over he would have been away.

"The second time he clipped the top and over he came. Coincidence. I have been through the falls in my mind and I don't think there is anything to say why that happened or why it should happen again at the fence. I always watch our horses and wouldn't look away.

"Cue Card is in his ninth season and it is amazing that he has maintained his form like he has. You have got to say he ran to some of his best form at Ascot - he beat the others like Frodon and Top Notch out of sight."

Waiting Patiently had been second favourite, but Ruth Jefferson decided against sending him and instead relies on Cloudy Dream, who was second in the Arkle last year.

"We felt he was unlucky in the Old Roan and then we took on Fox Norton over two miles before he ran over three miles twice," said Jefferson.

"Behind Native River at Newbury, we felt if he couldn't see out the trip there, he wasn't going to get it (at Cheltenham) so the Ryanair looks his ideal trip.

"It was a very good run behind Altior in the Arkle, even though some thought Charbel might have been in front of him, you don't know.

"He's very consistent and at a high level, I don't think he's done a lot wrong and most people would love to train him"

Henry de Bromhead runs two in last year's runner-up Sub Lieutenant and Galway Plate winner Balko Des Flos.

He said: "Heavy ground is definitely a worry as he (Balko Des Flos) is very dependent on good ground. He is a work in progress. He is still a young horse and hopefully he has got years ahead of him.

"We needed to see that performance last time (second to Road To Respect). He won the Plate then he was disappointing twice on heavy ground over two and a half. You had to go into the race at Christmas hoping that good ground and three miles would work and luckily it turned out that way.

"I think he could be a Gold Cup horse in time, but he is rated 166 and he is only young.

"I'd love to have had another go at Un De Sceaux with Sub Lieutenant on nicer ground. I thought he completely lost his position last year and he ran on like anything at the end last year. He is not as effective on soft ground, but he will handle it."

Frodon was third to Waiting Patiently and Cue Card last time having won a big handicap at Cheltenham previously for Paul Nicholls, who said: "He is a proper tough, genuine horse. He comes out of his races so well and is always mad fresh."

Cheltenham Remains Soft

The official going for Day 2 - Ladies Day at Cheltenham is Soft, Heavy in places following a dry night.

THE IRISH TIMES