Skelton Preparing Protektorat for Ryanair Chase

Midlands-based trainer Dan Skelton had two winners at the Cheltenham Festival in 2023, and he will be hoping to better that success at this year’s meeting after pocketing a double yesterday with Coral Cup winner Langer Dan and Libberty Hunter in the Grand Annual . He has some strong chances in the Grade I races, particularly the Ryanair Chase, where he is set to saddle Protektorat.

The top-class chaser did have an entry in the Cheltenham Gold Cup earlier in the season, but his connections have opted to aim for the Day Three Championship race over the shorter distance of 2m5f.

Grade I winner aiming for first success of the season

For the first time in his career, Protektorat goes into the Cheltenham Festival without a success earlier in the campaign. He is 12/1 in the Ryanair Chase betting for those looking to place Cheltenham Festival bets on the Lodge Hill runner ending his losing run at the meeting.

With last year’s winner Galopin Des Champs a warm favourite at evens in the Gold Cup betting, the Protektorat team feels the Ryanair Chase is a more realistic target for their horse. The race does not include two-time winner Allaho, as he has been ruled out through injury for the second straight year.

Protektorat finished second in the Fleur De Lys Chase back in January in what was an improvement in form. He chased home L’Homme Presse in the 2m6f contest at Lingfield. On his most recent outing, he was third in the Denman Chase at Newbury behind Shishkin and Hitman respectively.

The former Lancashire Chase winner was third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2022, his best finish in the Blue Riband event in the sport. He now has an official rating of 165, which is the second-highest mark of any runner in this year’s Ryanair Chase field.

Irish challengers set to be biggest competition

If he is to be successful in the Ryanair Chase, Protektorat will need to beat last year’s winner Envoi Allen. Henry De Bromhead is one of several strong Irish trainers set to make the trip across for the race, and already has two on the board following success with Slade Steel in the Supreme Novices and Captain Guinness in the Champion Chase, putting the lie to the charge of domination of the meeting by Willie Mullins.

Envoi Allen pushed Gold Cup contender Gerri Colombe hard in the Champion Chase at Down Royal back in November, finishing a neck behind his rival. The 10-year-old is bidding for his fourth Cheltenham Festival success this year, as he also won the Champion Bumper in 2019 and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2020 (now Gallagher).

Former Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle winner Banbridge will make a return to the Cheltenham Festival in the Ryanair Chase after missing the meeting in 2023. Joseph O’Brien’s runner has won his last two starts on the track, with wins coming in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase and Silviniaco Conti Chase.

The eight-year-old has a 100% record at Cheltenham as he also prevailed in the Arkle Trial at the November Meeting in 2022. Connections of the Irish horse will be hoping the rain stays away ahead of the Festival, as the majority of his best form has come on fast ground. 

This year’s Ryanair Chase is the 20th renewal in its short history and the winner scoops his share of £375,000 in prize money.

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