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The Stayer’s Hurdle may be the feature race today, but that is far from the only attraction. One of the highlights of the third day of the Cheltenham Festival is always the Ryanair. This exciting chase run over two miles and four furlongs has been won by some of the greats, such as Cue Card, Albertas Run and Imperial Commander.
In recent times, the likes of Vautour and Un De Sceaux have thundered up the Cheltenham hill to give Willie Mullins success in this race, just as Allaho has done in each of the last two seasons. This time around, Mullins will not train the favourite for the Ryanair. This year, it is be Nicky Henderson’s turn to shoulder the burden of training the red-hot favourite. The favourie this year is Shishkin, who treated the crowd to a commanding performance when winning the Arkle Trophy back at the festival back in 2021.
Can he bounce back?
When Shishkin romped to glory in the Arkle back in 2021, we all thought we were looking at a superstar and he continued to look like one right through until Cheltenham Festival last year. It was abundantly clear that he was never going well in the 2022 Champion Chase, so much so that it was not a surprise when rider Nico de Boinville pulled him up before the ninth fence.
He was then off the track for 262 days before reappearing at Sandown, where he could only finish third behind Edwardstone. Wind surgery followed that effort and combined with the step up in trip, it seemed to have a positive effect when we saw something like the Shishkin of old at Ascot in February.
The nine-year-old was a comfortable winner, readily pulling away from top very good chasers in Fakir D’Ouairies and Pic D’Orhy. On that form, combined with what we saw him do at this venue in the past, Shishkin is very much the one to beat. Some horses can never regain their best Cheltenham form after a disappointment like the one this horse ran into last year, but Shishkin can. A mere repeat of his February form and the Henderson horse should get the job done, and it would be little surprise if he did it by powering up the Cheltenham hill in splendid isolation.
The Shishkin odds today point towards him having a huge chance of success in the Ryanair, that’s for sure. Most betting companies have shortened the Willie Mullins runner into odds-on. He’s 10/11 at bet365, Unibet and SkyBet. 10Bet go 4/5, while Boylesports have gone 5/6. Its fair to say that those pricing up this race at most firms believe Shishkin has a greater than 50% chance of getting the job done.
At the time of writing, early in the morning on Thursday, the day of the race, best odds on Shishkin are currently EVS, though if you’re a backer and not a layer, you may want to snap them up, as they might not be around for long.
Latest odds ahead of the Ryanair Chase see Betfred go 10/11 on Shishkin, while some firms have even gone 5/6, namely Ladbrokes and Coral.