Owner Rich Ricci has confirmed that his horse, Vautour, will run in the Ryanair Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival rather than the Blue Riband event of the week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The decision was delayed as long as possible but once the announcement was made, the bookmakers were quick to react with their market for the 3m2f contest. Don Cossack is as a result around 11/4 in the Gold Cup betting. The Gordon Elliott-trained runner has won three Group races this season, including the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal back in October.
Don Cossack was third in the Ryanair Chase 12 months ago but bounced back to the winner’s enclosure at the Grand National meeting at Aintree where he scored by 26 lengths in the Melling Chase. The one blip the horse has had since the Festival in 2015 was in the King George where he made a mistake on Boxing Day and came down at the second last fence.
Vautour’s exit in the Gold Cup now takes away what was going to be a tough decision for jockey Ruby Walsh over which of the Willie Mullins’ horses he was going to ride in the race. He is now set to take up the mount of Djakadam who was second to Coneygree in the race in 2015.
Despite being the most dominant trainer at the meeting in recent years, Mullins has yet to win the Gold Cup. His seven-year-old chaser has had two runs so far this season in his preparation for another shot at the leading national hunt race on the calendar. He was successful on his seasonal reappearance at Punchestown in the John Durkan Memorial Chase in December but then fell at Cheltenham on Trials Day in the Cotswold Chase.
If he is able to lift the Gold Cup with Djakadam, it will round off what has already been a fantastic meeting for Walsh, Mullins and Ricci as they have taken the Arkle with Douvan, the Champion Hurdle with Annie Power and the Mares’ Hurdle with Vroum Vroum Mag.
The bookmakers have also decided to clip the odds from 5/1 to 4/1 on Cue Card completing the Triple Crown by scoring in the Gold Cup.
Colin Tizzard’s runner won the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November and then the King George on Boxing Day to go into the Gold Cup with the first two legs of the Triple Crown which will give his connections a £1 million bonus payment if he is successful.
Cue Card has not appeared at the Festival since he won the Ryanair Chase in 2013 in emphatic style. Injuries ruled him out of the 2014 and 2015 meetings so this will be his first shot at the Gold Cup at the Festival. There have been question marks about the horse’s stamina but connections are confident he will stay and cap off what has been a remarkable season for the 10-year-old.