Allaho was one of the most impressive winners at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival in the Ryanair Chase and he is the one to beat again as he returns to the 2m4f contest on day three of the meeting.
Under the hands of leading jockey at the meeting, Rachael Blackmore, the pair took the lead from very early into the race and they never looked back from that point.
The Irish chaser set a ferocious pace which forced his rivals into mistakes behind him and, despite that strong start, he kept on well in the closing stages, eventually scoring by 12 lengths.
Cheltenham Festival 2022: Get Friday's Free £5 Bet. One Free Bet available each day. (Available to new and eligible UK and ROI customers only. Applies to single bets only. Returns exclude Free Bet stake. 18+. Terms and Conditions apply).
Since that win at the Festival, Willie Mullins' chaser has looked in great shape on the track. He won the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase on his seasonal reappearance.
On his final prep run before Cheltenham, Allaho made all at Thurles, beating Fakir D'oudairies by 12 lengths in a Grade 2 contest over the extended 2m4f trip. Those performances suggest he heads into the Festival in great form.
The defending champion is many people's NAP of the meeting this year. He is 4/6 to retain his crown in the day three race and the Irish horse has just eight rivals to beat this year.
After winning the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was strongly considered for Conflated.
The field he beat that day included 2021 Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, Asterion Forlonge and Frodon, so he would have deserved his shot at the Blue Riband race.
As we have found with Tiger Roll over the last couple of years, second guessing Gigginstown boss Michael O'Leary is never easy. He has his own ideas about his horses, but given Ryanair sponsor this race, it is clearly an important target for him.
The eight-year-old is 11/2 to give Gordon Elliott a first win in this major contest.
The drop down to 2m4f will not concern Conflated’s connections. He won over this distance at Navan back in December. He was also victorious over this trip twice last season, including a Grade 3 contest at Naas.
Conflated now has an official rating of 168, which suggests he must improve again to beat Allaho, who is rated at 174 and those two runners set a high standard for the rest of the field to follow in this year's Ryanair Chase.
The Skelton team are confident of a much better Festival than they had 12 months ago. One of their leading hopes of the week is Shan Blue and he is the shortest price British-trained runner in the Ryanair Chase at 8/1.
The Lodge Hill horse was one of the leading novice chasers last season. He won the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton.
That was followed up with second place finishes in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase and Mildmay Novices' Chase. In the latter, he chased home Chantry House at Aintree.
Unfortunately for Shan Blue's connections, he suffered a heavy fall on his return to action this season at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase. He has not featured since then, as he has been recovering from an injury picked up in the tumble.
There is no doubt this horse has ability, but given the way the campaign has panned out for him, it would be some training performance from Skelton if he was to prevail. He may need the run and then come on from it for a shot at one of the big races at Aintree next month.
One of the most consistent runners at the Cheltenham Festival over the last six years has been Melon. He has finished second in two Champion Hurdles, he was runner-up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, while more recently he came home a nose behind Samcro in the Marsh Novices' Chase.
Allaho's stablemate was pulled-up in the Ryanair Chase 12 months ago, so he will need to produce much more this year. His victory at Gowran Park in the Grade Two Red Mills Chase could indicate a return to form.
The 10-year-old has an entry in the Grand National next month and it would be an impressive double if he were to win this race and then go on to prevail in the world's most famous steeplechase.
Melon is 16/1 to finally win a big race at the Cheltenham Festival, something nobody could begrudge him.
It is hard to look past Allaho for winning this race again. Expect to see him hit the front early in the race and that could prove successful tactics, as it is difficult to see who can handle that pace in this field.
If the odds do not appeal to you on Allaho, Melon represents the best value each-way - he should be full of confidence from his success over this distance at Gowran Park.
Mullins' runner is also likely to be staying on when others have cried enough in their pursuit of the defending champion.