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Mullins has high expectations for Allaho Ryanair double

One of the most striking displays of last year’s Cheltenham Festival was Allaho’s demolition job in the Ryanair Chase and Willie Mullins is hopeful a repeat performance is in the offing.

Ridden by Rachael Blackmore on that occasion, with stable jockey Paul Townend preferring the claims of stable stalwart Min, the two set off at a ferocious gallop, building up what proved to be an insurmountable lead.

Blackmore could barely believe her eyes when she crossed the line 12 lengths to the good and while he has not quite reached those heights since, he sets a high standard to aim at.

“I hope he can do what he did last year. To me, I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t come with a very good run,” said Mullins.

“His run last year looked like he was made for the track. If he can reproduce that run, hopefully that will be good enough.”

Allaho carries the colours of Cheveley Park, and stud director Richard Thompson is similarly confident of a bold showing on Thursday.

He said: “Allaho has done nothing wrong in the last 12 months. He was brilliant at Cheltenham, finished second to Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown and is two from two this season.

“He has a very good record at Cheltenham – in three visits he’s finished third, third and first.

“We’ve got to hope he’s going to go there and win again.”

Mullins also fields Janidil and Melon, a perennial bridesmaid at this meeting.

Gordon Elliott’s Conflated ran out an impressive winner of the Irish Gold Cup over an extended three miles last time out, a huge career best.

Connections resisted the temptation to run him in the Gold Cup and feel coming back in distance will suit him better.

Elliott said: “There’s a bit of kink in him. When he’s good he’s good but when he’s bad he’s horrific.

“He seems in a good place at the moment, a lot more settled on the gallop, he looks a lot better and we’re really looking forward to running him.

“You can knock his form all you like, but he beat last year’s Gold Cup winner (Minella Indo) by six and a half lengths going away in the Irish Gold Cup.”

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for his brother Michael’s Gigginstown House Stud who own Conflated, said: “I’m not too worried about the weather, all ground seems to come alike to him – I’m a lot more worried about Allaho!

“He’s going to be very difficult to beat, especially if he puts in a performance like last year, but hopefully ours has a chance.

“In the Irish Gold Cup it was perfect as we had Frodon to set a pace for us. This time Allaho will do that, but it remains to be seen if we can get by him.

“He did surprise us last time. He’s not straightforward, that’s well documented, but if you believe he’s as good as he looked last time, it’s just possible he’s a very good horse. Now can he repeat it?”

The leading British-trained contender is Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue.

Shan Blue exercising at Dan Skelton's yard
Shan Blue exercising at Dan Skelton’s yard (Zac Goodwin/PA)

He has not been seen since coming down three out when miles clear in the Charlie Hall Chase.

Skelton could have run him in a handicap off 148 but has always felt Shan Blue has Grade One potential.

“You know Allaho is going to go a really strong gallop and you know a reproduction of his run last year is going to be sufficient to win. I think everyone was blown away by his performance last year,” said Skelton.

“What makes me think we can beat Allaho is we’ve got a horse who was putting up the best performance of his life when he fell at Wetherby and I think he’s only getting better.

“The other thing is, Allaho put up such a good performance last year, is that his peak? He might run 5lb below that performance and still be good enough, but you’ve got to go in there optimistic.”

He went on: “I believe our horse is a very good horse. Last year we got Envoi Allen in our heads, got carried away with it and decided the best way to try to beat him was to outjump him. It was stupid and it was my fault and I wish we hadn’t done it, but ultimately it didn’t do the horse any harm.

“He could not be in better form. He could be at least a stone better than his mark, but the racecourse does the talking.”

Colin and Joe Tizzard’s Eldorado Allen was another talked of as a possible Gold Cup contender after winning the Denman Chase at Newbury but having not been entered initially, he would have need to be supplemented.

He had, though, been entered for the Ryanair.

“The handicapper put him up 11lb for winning the Denman, which I thought was ridiculous, but they obviously rate the form,” said Joe Tizzard.

“We ran him in it because we thought the ground might be too quick for Royal Pagaille and we might do him for toe and Clan Des Obeaux wasn’t guaranteed to run his race, but the handicapper took it as bare form.

“He doesn’t mind a bit of decent ground and you need to stay in a Ryanair.

“Allaho is going to take a hell of a lot of beating, but you shouldn’t be afraid of one horse. I’m not saying we can beat him, but I’d rather run in a Ryanair at this stage than go three and a quarter miles in a Gold Cup.”

Paul Nicholls runs Saint Calvados, runner up two years ago, and told Betfair: “Saint Calvados had a nice little spin round Wincanton recently, will enjoy going left-handed and would have a little each-way chance if the ground is not too testing.”

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