It's not just the horses that require agility at the Cheltenham Festival.

Wednesday’s rain means that punters will have to have a major rethink in how they approach races for the remainder of the week as they reassess their selections in the wake of the unexpected change in the going.

The best laid plans of many have been scuppered, prompting a rewrite of this preview for what remains the feature on Day 3, despite the introduction of the Ryanair Chase in 2005.

It’s the weakest of the four days in terms of prestige, with the Stayers’ Hurdle often the preserve of animals that lack the scope or appetite for chasing, and targets such as the Gold Cup.

The Ryanair Chase was shunted into the programme for those runners short of the stamina for chasing blue riband, but devoid of the pace needed for the Champion Chase.

The Stayers’ Hurdle is the more interest betting heat of the two, even if there’s a suspicion that likely Ryanair winner Allaho would prefer slightly less taxing conditions.

Champions are often marked out by their ability to overcome unfavourable ground conditions and pace biases, but there’s no standout horse heading into this contest. The pace scenario and the testing going are likely to have a huge bearing on a result that could be very different on livelier ground.

Irish raiders Klassical Dream and last year’s winner Flooring Porter head the market.

Both are quirky yet talented performers in what could unkindly be described as a rogues’ gallery, at least by the standards of championship races.

Given the issues with their temperaments in the past, it would be no surprise to see them boil over in the preliminaries.

Connections of Flooring Porter were disappointed not to be in attendance at the behind-closed-doors Festival last year, but conceded that the absence of spectators was one less worry for their sometimes anxiety-ridden pride and joy.

Flooring Porter did run out a convincing winner, and he did it the hard way. He made all to score last year while setting decent fractions. There was no suspicion that he was gifted a soft lead.

The same can’t be said for Klassical Dream, who accounted for Flooring Porter in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.

An enterprising Paul Townend pinched several lengths on the field and set a strong pace to score by two lengths. Flooring Porter filled the runner-up spot and Danny Mullins may have have been premature in his move to make ground up on the eventual winner in a race where they finished quite slowly after their early and mid-race exertions.

Klassical Dream’s supporters will point to the fact that Willie Mullins’ representative was making his seasonal debut, while Gavin Cromwell’s runner already had the benefit of a previous outing, even if he did capsize at the second last in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.

However, Klassical Dream does run well fresh, and his trainer was at pains to point that out when he was turned over as a 1-3 favourite in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park just a month later.

Flooring Porter and Klassical Dream both tend to race aggressively and that could result in an upset on this ground.

On good ground and in a Stayers’ Hurdle where the early pace promised to be sedate, Thyme Hill would have been the selection. But on this surface and with the prospect of a strong early tempo, I couldn’t back him at 10-1 let alone 4-1.

That sounds hyperbolic, but Thyme Hill has to be regarded as a highly suspect stayer in conditions that should put a premium on stamina.

The Philip Hobbs inmate is a classy performer and has won five of his nine hurdles starts and been placed in two others.

His highest-profile success came in Aintree’s equivalent of this race last season, where he arrived a fresh horse after a lengthy break.

Thyme Hill comes here after an 89-day break and his connections are clearly right to think that he runs best fresh.

However, if you examine that Aintree win, you see that it was achieved in a race with a moderate early gallop.

Back in 2020, he finished a close fourth behind a superstar, in the shape of Monkfish, in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival over the same course and distance.

That result was achieved as a novice and he was impeded at a critical stage. You could argue that a stronger, more mature horse should now have no problem with the trip. However, the Albert Bartlett was also slowly run and the ground was less tiring than it will be here, even if it was described as soft.

The positive is that he did run well behind Champ when second in the Long Walk at Ascot last time out.

He pulled much too hard that day and did really well to fill the runner-up berth despite failing to settle. That, contradictorily, suggests a horse with stamina. But if he runs with the choke out here he will not get home.

He’s prominent in the market and his odds imply he’s one of the likelier winners, but he’s not for me after Wednesday’s deluge.

Champ is pursuing a route that has proved successful in the past, notably by Big Buck’s, in that he’s reverted to the smaller obstacles after his chasing career was aborted.

He should run well, even if his second-place finish in the Cleeve Hurdle last time out was a shade underwhelming.

2019 winner Paisley Park ran a remarkable race to defeat Champ in that race, giving away many lengths at the start but finishing with a wet sail to score comfortably. He’s talented and a danger if in the same form, but he’s also looked increasingly moody with age and can throw in bad runs with the good ones.

Royal Kahala is an intriguing runner. On good ground, you’d be worried for her safety – she finished lame at last year's Festival – but on this terrain she has a live chance.

A shock winner of the Galmoy, she’s a giant mare with a pronounced rounded knee action and hits the ground really hard. She really does need cut in the ground – it’s basic biomechanics.

She’s also completely unexposed at the distance having only tackled this trip once before, and the mares’ allowance of 7lbs is a generous one.


Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter arrive here with strong credentials, but the worry over them becoming embroiled in a duel for the lead means it may be best to look elsewhere, although Flooring Porter looks the more tractable of the pair. Royal Kahala (6-1) was available at 9-1 on Wednesday afternoon, but has contracted in price due to her affinity with the conditions. That remains fair value and she could well shorten further before the off. There is a slight possibility of a pace collapse here and a huge shock. In such an event, you’re looking for a slow horse, who will be held up, with abundant stamina. Koshari (80-1), Lisnagar Oscar (33-1) and Home By The Lee (40-1) could fit that bill despite class and/or form issues. It’s the latter of those three that makes most appeal for a saver, with Home By The Lee having finished second to Royal Kahala in the Galmoy, albeit on more favourable weight terms.