Cheltenham: Cue Card absence aids Johns Spirit’s Ryanair bid

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For the second season in succession Cue Card will not appear at the Cheltenham Festival. Colin Tizzard broke the news a week before the start of the greatest show on turf, resulting in a shortened price on Ryanair Chase favourite Don Cossack.

Cue Card’s withdrawal, due to a wind operation, comes a year after strained back muscles curtailed the 2013 Ryanair Chase victor’s Prestbury Park involvement and leaves his trainer without his stable star once again.

The nine-year-old’s woes, along with the injury to David Pipe’s Dynaste, understandably strengthens the case for the Don Cossack to prevail at a current price of 3/1 on the Festival’s third day.

However, the injury to both challengers also narrows the selection pool for a very profitable trend for the Ryanair; criteria which the Gigginstown horse does not meet.

In six of the last seven seasons, the Ryanair winner has been a beaten runner in that campaign’s King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Dynaste and Cue Card were both bettered by Silviniaco Conti in the latest renewal of the Christmas showpiece. Their absence at Cheltenham leaves Champagne Fever, Johns Spirit, Menorah, Wishfull Thinking, Wonderful Charm and Double Ross as the only options to continue that trend.

8/1 chance Champagne Fever beat the 6/1-rated Johns Spirit at Kempton. He had been earmarked for the Queen Mother Champion Chase by trainer Willie Mullins, but recent dropouts could cause a reconsideration.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Johns Spirit deserves some attention on the back of Cue Card’s injury, as an exemplary record at Prestbury Park weighs in his favour. The eight-year-old has won three times, claimed one silver medal and completed all eight races he’s entered at the course.

Further down the market, Menorah is a 20/1 Ryanair chance, Wishfull Thinking and Wonderful Charm are both at 25s with Double Ross, who refused at Kempton, a distant 50/1 option.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

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