CHRIS Graham (@chrisgraham79) assess another fascinating renewal of the Ryanair Chase.
Cheltenham 14:50 | Ryanair Chase | ITV1
Ah my kind of race, a eight runner Grade 1 race. While the opportunity to scrape some each way value from the contest is tempting, the odds look bang on here to be honest.
The ante-post favourite Un De Sceaux has been displaced from the top of the market after an alarming run of poor form for his trainer Willie Mullins. The former king of Cheltenham has had a disastrous first half of the week with no winners, including the hitherto imperious Douvan.
If things had gone fine and dandy for Mullins I still wouldn't be backing UDS. He's just not a horse I'm keen on. Yes, he won the Arkle here two years ago but since then has looked a very good 2 mile chaser, but not one we'll be talking about in years to come. A narrow win over Sire De Grugy in this season's Tingle Creek emphasised that.
The fact that Un De Sceaux has never run over this distance on these shores is also a negative and I'm happy to swerve him for other options on Thursday.
While Mullins has had a stinker of a week so far, rival Gordon Elliott has had a stunner of a two days and his Empire Of Dirt looks set to replace UDS at the head of the betting.
A fairly decent animal last season, he won the Festival Plate on the Thursday of the meeting under his then trainer Colm Murphy. When Murphy quit he was sent to Elliott's yard and has improved.
A winner of the Troytown under a big weight in November, he then stepped up to Grade 1 company last month in the Irish Gold Cup and performed with real credit to finish second to Sizing John.
Both those wins over Elliott came over a longer trip and if the ground is fast on Thursday it could be a negative. The trainer was keen to run him in the Gold Cup until the owner intervened.
The only other candidate I really fancy here is Uxizandre. This horse was my Festival NAP a few weeks ago and although I'm less confident now I still think he holds a big chance.
There's lots to like about this horse. He was second in the JLT in 2014 and the following year turned up in this race and gifted Sir Anthony McCoy his final Festival winner.
I'm a huge lover of Festival form and this race has already seen a two time winner in the same colours in the form of Albertas Run and we could see a repeat here.
Uxizandre was injured after his 2015 win and was absent from the track until a fine second to Un De Sceaux in the Clarence House Chase at this course at the end of January. It looked a cracking prep at a shorter trip.
While the magic of Gordon Elliott can't be dismissed with Empire Of Dirt, at a bigger price I'll take the 2015 winner Uxizandre over what seems a more suitable trip.
Ryanair Chase – Uxizandre (7/2 10BET)