BANBRIDGE is the new ante-post favourite for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, following news this week that Allaho has suffered an injury and will miss the Festival for the second year in a row.

Hopes of a third Ryanair Chase win for the brilliant Allaho have been dashed for the second year in succession after connections were again forced to rule him out of the Cheltenham Festival.

The Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old carried the colours of Cheveley Park Stud to stunning Ryanair wins in 2021 and 2022, but missed the entirety of last season through injury.

He made a successful return from 19 months on the sidelines in the Clonmel Oil Chase in November and while he had to make do with minor honours in third when favourite for the King George at Kempton over Christmas, he bounced back to winning ways when notching a third triumph in last Sunday’s Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.

That 13-length victory saw Allaho cement his place at the head of ante-post lists for this year’s Ryanair Chase on March 14th, but he will not be making the trip to Prestbury Park.

Chris Richardson, Cheveley Park’s managing director, reported: “Allaho was found to be lame after his race at Thurles and it’s been diagnosed as a strained hock, so he’s going to require several weeks rest and recuperation and therefore sadly misses Cheltenham.

“It’s very frustrating, as it was good to see him return to form the other day, but he wasn’t 100% afterwards and we’re just going to have to give him the time, I’m afraid.”

New favourite

Allaho’s defection prompted bookmakers to promote the Joseph O’Brien-trained Banbridge to the top of the Ryanair Chase market at odds of around 5/2.

Joseph O’Brien’s charge proved his worth at the highest level as a novice over fences last term, placing in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse and the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown before enjoying his day in the sun in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree in the spring.

Banbridge made his first competitive appearance in nine months in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton two weeks ago, and O’Brien believes his defeat of the race-fit Pic D’Orhy is clear evidence the eight-year-old has improved since last season.

He said: “It was a lovely ride from J.J. (Slevin) and a lovely performance from the horse. It was a career-best on figures and we’re looking forward to the spring with him.

“You’re always hoping they might put up a nice performance on their reappearance and he has been delayed a couple of times so he was a little bit rusty, particularly in the straight jumping the second- and third-last, but he got a good jump at the last and went and won nicely.

“It’s one thing being a Grade 1 novice, but it’s another jump up to hold your own in open company. It looks as though he might be able to do that in the spring.”

A previous winner at the Festival over hurdles, Banbridge has a preference for good ground. O’Brien warned: “The Ryanair is the obvious next spot for him, but we’ll be watching the weather.”