Cheltenham racecourse has announced that Ryanair, Europe's largest low fares airline, are to sponsor the £150,000 Ryanair Chase and become The Festival's first official carrier.

The airline has attached its name to a race that promises to establish itself in Festival folklore. Introduced last year as The Daily Telegraph Festival Trophy Chase, the Ryanair Chase takes place on Thursday, March 16 next.

The adjustment to making The Festival extend to four days in 2005 led to the introduction of the two mile, five furlong championship chase and The Daily Telegraph backed one of The Festival's newest additions.

A change of ownership at the broadsheet newspaper means that The Daily Telegraph has not renewed the sponsorship in 2006, leaving the way open for Ryanair to step in with an initial three-year commitment.  

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's Chief Executive Officer, commented today: "Ryanair, which is now the world's favourite airline, is pleased to become a supporter of racing's favourite Festival. For over 10 years now, Ryanair has been carrying thousands of visitors to The Cheltenham Festival on our frequent, low fare flights to Birmingham, Bristol and East Midlands airports.

"As The Cheltenham Festival's official airline, we will now be adding extra flights and lower fares for the four-day extravaganza next March. In addition to a direct web link from Cheltenham to the Ryanair website, Ryanair will also have a flight desk in Cheltenham for each of the four days of The Festival to assist racegoers with flights, tickets and any changes they may wish to make."

Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham Racecourse's Managing Director, said today: "We are delighted to welcome Ryanair as The Festival's official airline - people from all round Europe come to Cheltenham for the four days in March.