6:47am Thursday 13th March 2014
© Press Association 2014
Al Ferof can excel dropped back in trip for the Ryanair Chase, one of the highlights of the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The two-mile-five-furlong heat is not universally popular as it something of a halfway house for those perceived to be lacking the speed for the Queen Mother or the stamina for the Gold Cup.
However, for Al Ferof it represents an excellent chance of a second Festival success after his Supreme triumph back in 2011.
Paul Nicholls' grey boasts an excellent record at Prestbury Park having also finished second in the Champion Bumper four years ago as well as winning the ultra-competitive Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2012.
It is hard to quantify quite what he has achieved this term after returning from injury, as his debut run at Ascot was nothing more than a schooling session as just one clearly inferior rival took him on.
Stepped up to three miles for the King George at Christmas, he plugged on for third behind stablemate Silviniaco Conti before Nicholls gave him once last chance at booking a Gold Cup ticket in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
It was no surprise to see him well beaten there as the very testing conditions could not have been further from Al Ferof's favoured ground - a comment which could also apply to the soft ground at Kempton on Boxing Day.
A much sounder surface is virtually guaranteed with the weather set fair and Al Ferof should sparkle back at this kind of trip at track he relishes.
Nicholls should be completing a Grade One double as Wonderful Charm has solid claims in the JLT Novices' Chase.
He has two Grade Two wins in the bag already and while he was beaten by the reopposing Oscar Whisky on his last start at Cheltenham back in December, he was conceding 8lb and was only half a length adrift.
Kept in reserve for this race since then, Wonderful Charm should be nicely refreshed and is more than able on good ground.
The Ladbrokes World Hurdle can see Annie Power extend her unbeaten record and dethrone staying king Big Buck's.
The six-year-old is 10 for 10, most recently scoring a 15-length verdict in a mares' hurdle at Doncaster in January, and has already beaten solid yardstick Zarkandar twice this term.
She has a handy allowance in this race and while she has yet to prove her stamina over three miles, the way she travels suggests she should see out the trip and connections are not unduly concerned by the step up in distance.
Big Buck's et al will present a tougher task but Annie Power remains firmly on an upward curve and can rise to the challenge once again.
Giorgio Quercus is worth a punt at potentially generous odds in the Byrne Group Plate.
He has not been sighted since winning a Kempton handicap back in November but that form has an attractive look to it considering Bally Legend finished second that day.
He has since gone on to Grade Three glory and while Giorgio Quercus is returning from a prolonged spell on the sidelines, he is perfectly capable of winning off such a break and will be suited by good ground.
If In Doubt can reverse recent form with stablemate Fingal Bay in the Pertemps Network Final after just half a length separated the pair at Exeter last month.
Cheltenham is nothing new for Tranquil Sea as he enjoyed one of his finest moments when winning the Paddy Power back in 2009 and now in his twilight years, he can claim a Festival verdict in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.
He recently returned to form at Doncaster, notching his first win in nearly two years, and will have the assistance of the very capable Jamie Codd in the saddle, which is a massive plus.
© Copyright 2001-2014 Newsquest Media Group