The Punter: Al to edge out Finian’s
Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh are the men to follow in big Saturday races and novice Al Ferof can maintain that pattern by taking the 25th anniversary Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot this weekend.
Second favourite at 11-4 behind Nicky Henderson's Finian's Rainbow (7-4), last year's Supreme Novice Hurdle winner is unbeaten so far over fences and if successful here will enhance his chances for his prime Cheltenham target the Arkle Chase for which he is currently 7-1.
Nicholls has won this race for the last three years and is quite bullish about Al Ferof's chances of beating the favourite who made a remarkable recovery at Kempton over Christmas to beat Wishful Thinking, another of the eight Victor Chandler runners.
The Nicholls grey is a strong stayer, has taken well to fences and the trainer has a line of form with his Ghizao being beaten two lengths by Finian's in last year's Maghull Novices Chase.
“I'm under no pretensions that he faces anything other than a serious rival in Finian's Rainbow, but I don't think it's as though we're taking on a Sizing Europe or Master Minded,” Nicholls said.
“Finian's Rainbow is only one race out of the novice stage himself, and on a line through Ghizao I think I know where I stand.”
The Grade One contest sees Somersby and Gauvain stepping back to two miles which is not ideal for them while the only Irish challenger is Forpadydeplasterer who hasn't won since his Arkle success in 2009.
Finian's has a very good turn of foot but he's inclined to make mistakes at his fences and, for that reason, expect Al Ferof to make a bold bid from the front.
It looks between the pair and a reverse forecast is not a bad option along with backing the grey to win.