RYANAIR MAKES THE 2006 FESTIVAL ITS TOP DESTINATION
Ryanair, Europe’s largest low fares airline, is sponsoring the £150,000 Ryanair Chase and becoming The Festival’s first official carrier, Cheltenham Racecourse announced today.
Launched in 1985, Ryanair is Europe’s original low fares airline and will carry over 35 million passengers this year on 225 routes across 21 European countries.
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, 2006.
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.
“The Ryanair Chase, The Festival's newest Championship contest, will go from strength to strength. Last year’s race produced an exciting spectacle that captured racegoers' imaginations and epitomised the spirit of the meeting.
“The Festival (March 14-17, 2006) is the major sporting event in March and will provide Ryanair with an excellent platform. We look forward to working with Ryanair to continue building Irish interest in the meeting, and to encourage our UK-based customers to fly with The Festival’s official airline."
The Grade Two race produced one of the most thrilling finishes during The Festival last season when Thisthatandtother, ridden by Ruby Walsh, prevailed over Fondmort after a pulsating duel.
The performance of the Paul Nicholls-trained chaser, runner-up on his previous five starts, was the perfect advert for the new race. Thisthatandtother got up close to the line to beat the brave Fondmort by half a length after an epic tussle from the last fence, with the well-backed favourite Our Vic disappointing for champion trainer Martin Pipe.
Nicholls, who is hoping for a repeat victory in the Ryanair Chase, was obviously delighted with the performance and said at the time: “I knew Thisthatandtother would stay all the way to the line and it was a great scrap with Fondmort, but this was always going to be our race.”
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Fondmort, was also pleased with his horse's run and welcomed the new race. Henderson said: “It is disappointing to lose but to be able to put the best two mile, five furlong chasers around in a race together is what the racing fans want to see.
“That race was memorable not only for the finish, but also because it will be the first of many great two mile, five furlong chases here at Cheltenham.”