Cheltenham Ones To Watch: Allaho bids to follow up

We continue our look ahead to the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival by profiling Allaho the short-priced market leader to win back-to-back Ryanair Chases – registered as the Festival Chase – following his magnificent performance in the corresponding race twelve months ago.

Allaho needs two-and-half miles on a left-handed track to be seen at his very best and his Festival defeats to Minella Indo in the Albert Bartlett of 2019 and to Champ in the RSA of 2020 can be put down to the fact that three miles is just too far for this magnificent animal.

Yes, he did beat Minella Indo over timber at Clonmel over three miles – and going right-handed – but in championship races I am convinced 2m 4f to 2m 6f is the optimum trip for the eight-year-old.

Rachel Blackmore was in the plate for his 12L romp at Cheltenham in 2021 and his subsequent defeat over an inadequate trip – two miles – by stablemate Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown in April. Patrick Mullins was in the saddle when his father’s 8-year-old won the John Durkan at Punchestown at the beginning of December when he jumped left on occasions and would have, in all probability, finished runner up had his stablemate Asterion Collonges – who must go right-handed – stayed on his feet.

We are likely to see Allaho next in the extended 2m 1f Dublin Steeplechase at Leopardstown next month. That should put him spot on for Cheltenham and he is likely to be second favourite for that Grade 1 prize behind stablemate Chacun Pour Soi with stablemate Energumene, at the time of writing, on course for the Clarence House Chase and a clash with the mighty Shishkin at Ascot later in the week.

Allaho destroyed a top-class field by 12L at Cheltenham in 2020 and, to my eyes, it was the best single performance of the whole Festival. Rachel Blackmore made all on the 3/1 favourite and his fast fluent jumping soon had the whole field on the stretch. The form was given a boost when stablemate Tornado Flyer – who stayed on past beaten horses into third at Cheltenham – picked up the pieces again when landing the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

The ground was officially given as good to soft – no worse than good in reality – for the Ryanair twelve months ago and that was perfect for Allaho who may be vulnerable to a stronger stayer on soft ground in March. He lined up on the inside and everything went perfectly for the horse twelve months ago and he is highly unlikely to meet every fence on a perfect stride as he did in 2021 – well apart from the last when getting tired – but it is also difficult to see any of the vanquished from last March reversing the form.

Saint Calvados missed the race in 2021 on account of underfoot conditions, having finished runner up to Min in the race in 2020. He had his first start for Paul Nicholls when third in the King George when the champion trainer was critical of the ride given to the horse by Gavin Sheehan, who did appear to be going best four out but went for home too soon on the 9-year-old.

Granted soft ground he is a threat to all while on good ground surely Shan Blue will enter calculations. The latter has not been seen since falling three put when clear in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby back in the autumn. I don’t want to appear overly critical but he, too, made his bid for glory an awful long way from home in west Yorkshire and he was also given a poor ride by champion jockey Harry Skelton in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival last year. He is extremely talented, but I firmly believe on decent ground the Ryanair is Allaho’s race to lose.

Allaho holds entries in the Gold Cup and the Champion Chase, but the Ryanair will again be his Cheltenham target. If in the same mood as last year he will be extremely tough to pass.

Allaho is 7/4 with bet365 – Non Runner No Bet and Best Odds Guaranteed – or 2/1 with William Hill ante-post. Take your pick!

Can I also suggest to connections that the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree in April should be the horse’s post Cheltenham target? Why run at Punchestown over two miles – too short – or three miles – too far – on a right-handed track – wrong way round – when you will have your optimum conditions on Merseyside? He will just need walking down to the start and pointing in the right direction.