King excited as Uxizandre returns to scene of finest hour
Ryanair Chase | 2m4f166yards | Grade 1 | 5yo+ | ITV/RUK
Un De Sceaux had five lengths to spare over Uxizandre when the pair met here in a Clarence House Chase switched from Ascot in January, but that was then and this is now.
Two miles on soft ground was ideal for Un De Sceaux, winner of the 2015 Arkle and beaten only by Sprinter Sacre in the 2016 Champion Chase, but today's extra half-mile on quicker ground will surely favour Uxizandre, who had been off the track since giving Sir Anthony McCoy his final festival win in this race 22 months earlier.
This, however, is not a two-horse race and Empire Of Dirt, the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle winner here last year, could give them both plenty to think about on just his third run for Gordon Elliott. He is on a steep upward curve judged on his Grade 1 second to Sizing John over 3m at Leopardstown last month.
Sub Lieutenant, another who has changed stables this season, is very much a player too. He won his first two starts for Henry de Bromhead and was a decent second to Sizing John at Thurles.
Thrill a minute
Barry Geraghty singled out Uxizandre as the JP McManus runner he will most miss riding this week, as his abundance of scope and enthusiasm makes him "a thrill a minute".
England 11 Ireland 1
Although very strongly represented this year, it is worth bearing in mind that Vautour's win 12 months ago was a first for Ireland since this race was introduced in 2005.
Nicky Henderson is a dual Ryanair winner already and runs two. Josses Hill, well beaten here a year ago, is shorter in the betting, but do not underestimate Vaniteux, who has been a persistent whisper.
What they say
Colin Tizzard, trainer of Alary
That was more encouraging last time and that's why we've gone back to this trip. He's changing all the time at home, and whereas at first we were trying to help him all the time, now he's just in with the rest, doing everything and looking good. The proof of the pudding will be in the race. There will be no hiding place.
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Empire Of Dirt
He's in great form and I couldn't be happier with him. He's done nothing but improve over the last few seasons and let's hope that improvement continues. He's a course winner, the drying ground will suit and he ran really well in the Irish Gold Cup so I would like to think he has a great chance.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Josses Hill and Vaniteux
Josses Hill will love the ground and has the cheekpieces back on. He won the Peterborough well and didn't run badly in the King George. He's fresh and well, as is Vaniteux, who is in cracking good form. He'll love this ground too and he would have been second to Douvan in the Arkle last year but for unseating two out.
Ruby Walsh, rider of Un De Sceaux
I’m really looking forward to riding him. Plenty of people have been expressing concern at the ground drying up too much for him, but I thought he handled it well in last season’s Champion Chase, when Sprinter Sacre was just too good over a trip that was too sharp for him. He's had a great season and comes here in really good form. The step up in trip will suit and I’m very happy with him.
Alan King, trainer of Uxizandre
We're excited. I could not have been more pleased with his comeback and he's had a good break since, we left him alone for a couple of weeks and then built him back up gradually. His recent work has been very pleasing and I'm hoping the bounce factor is out of the equation. We schooled him him last Thursday morning and his jumping was grand. He will wear cheekpieces just to sharpen him up – he had no headgear on first time back as he was very fresh.