All eyes on Ryanair Chase favourite Riverside Theatre

Nicky Henderson is hoping Riverside Theatre will be worth the wait as he finally gets a crack at Ryanair Chase glory at Cheltenham on Thursday.

The eight-year-old was a leading contender for the race last season only to be ruled out by a hairline fracture of his pelvis, an injury that kept him on the sidelines until last month.

Riverside Theatre made a victorious return to action when landing the Ascot Chase, and Henderson believes the two-mile-five-furlong trip is his optimum.

He said: “This is Riverside Theatre’s trip, as he proved at Ascot, and we’ve been trying to get him here for two years.

“He had been off a long time and there wouldn’t be a huge amount of improvement in him, but you’d think that there wouldn’t need to be.”

Albertas Run has won the race for the last two years and will bid for a hat-trick for trainer Jonjo O’Neill.

He held off the reopposing Kalahari King and Rubi Light in a thrilling finish in 2011, but has raced just once this term.

Although he won at Aintree back in October, big-race rider Tony McCoy admits Albertas Run has not been an easy ride to the Festival.

“He’s 11 now and has been plenty hard to get right but Jonjo seems happy with him,” he said.

“I hope he’ll run very well but it’s an open race.

“Noble Prince would have a bit more speed and the dry ground will help but Albertas Run is probably a little better stayer.”

O’Neill added: “It has been slow progress with him since his last run but fingers crossed it’s all gone according to plan.

“It just seems to be the right trip and AP gets on really well with him.

“He’s come back from the dead, but hopefully he’ll run well again.”

Kalahari King has endured a similarly troubled campaign with just two outings this year.

The 11-year-old sustained a leg injury when pulled up behind Master Minded at Ascot last November but proved his wellbeing with a racecourse gallop at Doncaster at the start of the month.

Trainer Ferdy Murphy is hoping his issues will not stop Kalahari King adding to his previous three Festival placings.

“It’s not been ideal with him this year,” said the Leyburn handler.

“He cracked a splint bone at Ascot so we’ve had to keep him back, but it was similar last year when there was no racing anywhere for weeks.

“When we took him to Doncaster the other week he worked exceptionally and the big plus is he has always run really well there.

“He been placed every year we’ve take him and the lad who rides him at home says he feels as good as ever.”

Conversely, Rubi Light has enjoyed an excellent season for Robbie Hennessy, marked by his first Grade One win in the Punchestown Chase in December.

Although he fell on his seasonal bow at Gowran before being remounted to finish third, the seven-year-old regained the winning thread with that Punchestown success and has hardly looked back since.

Second to Synchronised over three miles in the Lexus Chase, Rubi Light rolls on to Cheltenham on the back of a Grade Two verdict in Gowran’s Red Mills Chase last time.

Hennessy, whose charge finished third in the Ryanair 12 months ago, said: “He has had a great season.

“Early on things didn’t go right when he had the fall at Gowran Park and then he got sick and missed a couple of engagements. But he bounced back brilliantly and has been great ever since.

“Last year he ran a cracking race on good ground but is a better horse on softer ground so the softer the better.

“He has plenty of pace and is very fast – there were even suggestions from some experts to run in the Champion Chase as he’s that fast.

“He acted well there last year and was more or less a novice, so he’s got another year behind him now.”

Somersby has hit the bar more than once on the big occasions but he finally enjoyed his day in the sun when landing the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot.

The eight-year-old finished fifth in last year’s Champion Chase and trainer Henrietta Knight admits that shorter race had again been under consideration.

She said: “We were delighted to see him win last time, but we just need to keep it going.

“It was a bit of a toss-up as to which race we ran him in, but as he’s run twice over two miles at Cheltenham and not won, we thought it was worth trying a step up.

“The ground certainly won’t be a problem for him.

“I think Riverside Theatre is the one to beat and the two Irish horses (Rubi Light and Noble Prince) are well fancied but we don’t really know how they will go on the ground as they seem to like it a bit softer.

“I’m not sure whether it was the first-time cheek-pieces that made the difference last time, but I wasn’t going to take them off tomorrow.

“I think maybe Ascot just suits him, he loves it there and he comes up the hill there much better than he goes down the hill at Cheltenham.

“He has no problem once he’s going up the hill at the finish there, he just needs to organise his jumping going down the hill.”

Poquelin finished fourth last year, a couple of places down on his second in 2010, and Paul Nicholls is hoping he will trouble the judge again.

He said: “Poquelin has got a great chance. He had every chance of winning last year but faded.

“It’s a very open contest, if Riverside Theatre runs like he did at Ascot he’ll be the one to beat, but he’s got a chance of being placed.”

Blazing Tempo arrives unbeaten in her last three outings, two over fences and once over hurdles.

Trainer Willie Mullins said: “She looks up against it in a race like this, but we’re hoping that she could pick up some prize-money.

Great Endeavour won the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the track last November and has since finished fourth in the Hennessy before flopping back at Cheltenham before Christmas.

“He was very impressive in the Paddy Power and he didn’t quite see out the trip in the Hennessy,” said trainer David Pipe.
“The next time at Cheltenham was probably one race too many as it was his third in five weeks.

“He’s always been a horse we’ve thought a lot of and is best fresh.”

Medermit chased home Riverside Theatre at Ascot last time and will be trying to improve upon a fine Festival record.

“Medermit has improved with each race this season, and, though he has never won at Cheltenham, he always runs a big race here, and, while it is hugely competitive, he has a serious each-way chance,” trainer Alan King told his website,

The Tom Cooper-trained Forpadydeplasterer, winner of the 2009 Arkle, makes another trip to the Festival after a career which has seen him secure eight second-placed finishes in Grade One contests.

Bryan Cooper rides the horse for his father and thinks a longer trip could help to regain a little of his old sparkle.

“He has paid his way so well, people are saying he’s lost his old ability but he hasn’t, he’s just lost his speed, and I think he’ll run a cracker when it’s good ground,” he said.

“It’s a race a lot have been eyeing up, they are all rated about the same and stuck between two and three miles. Many might be a bit short of pace for two miles and might not stay the three.

“The quicker they go the better.”