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Ryanair switch a winning move for strong staying First Lieutenant

Despite being one the Festival’s newer contests, the Ryanair has thrown up some compelling trends, but this year could see them bucked by an Irish raider.

Thursday’s combatants may only be contesting the ninth renewal of the Ryanair, but graded course form and having been considered good enough to have a stab at that season’s King George already seem to be key indicators of potential winner’s chance of glory.

Six of the last eight winners had won a graded chase at Cheltenham prior to their success in a race which is fast becoming one of the most exciting of the Festival.

The demand for previous winning chase form at Prestbury Park halves the Ryanair’s select field, with Cue Card, First Lieutenant, For Non Stop and Menorah yet to taste success over large obstacles at the track.

Of the four that remain, 2012 winner Riverside Theatre and Champion Court both competed in this season’s King George – as did the last four Ryanair winners.

However clouds remain above both with Riverside Theatre (treated for ulcers in the wake of a disappointing outing at Kempton) and Champion Court (beaten when expected to win last time out).

The likelihood remains that the latter will not be good enough – despite finishing in the first two in eight of his 10 chase starts, he’s only won over fences once.

Riverside Theatre on the other hand, is unbeaten at the Ryanair’s 2m4f trip and, having won last year despite travelling poorly throughout the race, looks a fine each way bet to nothing.

If he is to be defied in his bid for a repeat victory it’s unlikely to be Cue Card who does so, with that one’s tendency to throw in a dodgy jump still evident at Ascot last time and all the more likely to be exploited in a higher quality race.

First Lieutenant’s mixture of speed and staying power could see him hard to beat.

Mouse Morris’ chaser has only been coming up just short against the likes of Sir Des Champs and Bobs Worth over 3m plus trips in his last couple of starts, yet had the speed to pip subsequent Champion Hurdle-winner Rock On Ruby in the 2011 Neptune Novices Hurdle over the 2m4f Ryanair trip.