Nicholls ace looks Al-right in Ryanair Chase
Our man Mark Crellin provides an in-depth guide to the Ryanair Chase and comes down on the side of Al Ferof.
By Mark Crellin
Last Updated: 12/03/14 6:07pm
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Jockey: Daryl Jacob
Really classy nine-year-old who looked ideal for this race when defying top weight to win the Paddy Power in November 2012, but missed the rest of last season due to injury.
Strolled home in a two-runner race at Ascot on his return but then auditioned for a Gold Cup tilt and did not get the part, managing just a well-beaten third in the King George and then getting stuck in the mud when beaten a long way at Newbury.
That's probably for the best as this race is his best chance of Festival glory and, with conditions ideal, a regal display is on the cards. Rating 10/10
Trainer: Davy Russell
Jockey: Tony Martin
Classy Irish chaser who has often been under rated in the past, winning big races at 10/1, 20/1 and 9/1 over the last couple of seasons.
That 20/1 win came over course and distance at this meeting last year and should be on the premises once again but certainly not under-estimated in the market this time and faces some very smart rivals. Rating 8/10
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Ruby Walsh
Plenty of ability but fell at the last when set to win the RSA Chase last year and then came down again at Punchestown.
His two runs this season have been over hurdles and so has not completed over fences since February last year. Hard to fancy for a race as good as this on the back of that preparation. Rating 2/10
Trainer: Paul Webber
Jockey: AP McCoy
Smart handicapper when at his best, and knows his way around this course, but surely a likely non-runner after falling here on Tuesday. Rating n/a
Trainer: David Pipe
Jockey: Tom Scudamore
Real quality performer on his day and won two big races as a novice chaser last season, having impressed as a staying hurdler beforehand.
However, only second to Benefficient when hot favourite for the Jewson over course and distance last year and has to bounce back from a tailed-off effort in the King George last time. Possibly best when slamming his inferiors and not much value here. Rating 7/10
Trainer: John Joseph Hanlon
Jockey: Andrew J McNamara
In fine form this season and came third in the Paddy Power here before chasing home Benefficient and Sire De Grugy in his last two starts. Place claims but needs a few to under-perform if he is to triumph. Rating: 7/10
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Barry Geraghty
Rags-to-riches story a couple of years ago when he climaxed an amazing winning run with victory here in the big novices' handicap chase.
Big plans were the order of the day after that but, unfortunately, it has been something of a riches-to-rags affair since, with his sole win in the last two seasons coming at Taunton.
Has been plying his trade in America without success this season and does not look a likely player here, despite a reasonable showing at Ascot on his return to these shores. Rating 4/10
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies
Won a Grade 1 at Down Royal in November 2012 against the very capable First Lieutenant but has been going downhill faster than a Winter Olympics skier since then and tricky to make a case for him here. Rating 1/10
Trainer: Alan King
Jockey: Robert Thornton
Usually runs well at Cheltenham and third in a thrilling renewal of this race in 2012 but sadly he has been hampered by injury since then and did not do enough on his return at Ascot last month to suggest he can take a hand in this. Rating 3/10
Trainer: Philip Hobbs
Jockey: Richard Johnson
Pulled-up in this race last year but normally goes well at this track and can be forgiven a poor effort in the King George last time but even form such as his second here last April probably leaves him with a bit to find. Rating 5/10
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Mr S Wakley-Cohen
Loves decent ground and ran out a narrow winner of the novices' handicap chase here last year before following up at Ayr. A solid fifth in the Paddy Power on his only run this season but this is by far his biggest test yet and a placing would be a fine effort. 3/10
Trainer: Mouse Morris
Jockey: Bryan Cooper
Reeled off three wins between May and July last year and should improve on this winter's efforts back on decent ground but loads to find on form with the principals. Rating 1/10
VERDICT: Quite hard to make a case for any of the outsiders here as the big hitters all seem to have plenty in their favour.
Former Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Al Ferof has plenty of Festival form to commend him and his Paddy Power victory last season suggested this trip is his optimum, so he should prove a tough nut to crack.
1: AL FEROF
3: Hidden Cyclone