OUR racing man Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) begins his look at the Cheltenham Festival with an ante-post preview of the Ryanair Chase.
Ryanair Chase | 17th March | Channel 4
One of the newer Festival races but it's already proving to be a popular event with it giving an option for horses who don't quite stay the Gold Cup trip or don't have the pace for the Champion Chase.
This year the market is a bit up in the air with favourite Vatour entered both here and the Gold Cup. In my opinion he would win this race if he goes for it, but due to the uncertainty surrounding his participation I'm looking elsewhere for our selection.
Not only is there uncertainty about the favourite Vatour, most of the main fancies for the race have other more likely targets and I expect the market to look a lot different come race day. I'm going to back two for the race, taking a chance on one who has improved out of all recognition this season and backing a previous Festival winner who has looked better than ever this season.
Al Ferof won the Supreme Novice Hurdle in 2011 and has always shown a liking for this course. He's only ever disappointed once at the Festival when well beaten behind Sprinter Sacre when he produced one of the best performances in Festival history.
He moved yards over the summer from Paul Nichols to join his former assistant Dan Skelton and the change of scenery seemed to have done him no harm at all when he hacked up in the Peterborough Chase on his seasonal debut. He then finished third in the very hot King George but he doesn't quite stay three miles and that's not his true running.
That day he was behind Vatour and if he does turn up Al Ferof is playing for second, but I have a feeling that Vatour will end up in the Gold Cup.
Al Ferof has a superb record fresh and I fully expect his next start to be in the Ryanair Chase where, if Vatour does line up elsewhere he will be around 5/1 in my opinion. Though he is 11 now he has ran right up to his best on his two starts this season and I really like him each way in this at 12/1.
I'm backing a Festival veteran for my first selection but my second selection is a little more of an unorthodox selection. Village Vic started his season in a handicap chase at Wetherby off a mark of 125 and he won by a neck (in course record time), hardly the sort of race you expect to find a Cheltenham Festival horse, but that might just be the case!
He then moved on to Musselburgh where he won another handicap but he done so workmanlike and again wasn't screaming out as a Graded horse.
Next time out he went to the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham where he put up a sensational front running performance where he jumped his rivals silly winning unchallenged in what is historically a hugely competitive race.
Granted he was running off bottom weight, but he was so dominant that he suddenly became a horse to take seriously. He returned to Cheltenham for a Grade 3 handicap and once again run his rivals silly from the front and this was a performance that put him on the brink of being a contender for the Ryanair Chase.
With doubts over the participation of many of the principles it's possible this will end up a below par renewal and I'm taking a small chance on him here at 25/1. He may not even turn up in March, but I have a feeling he will and I have a feeling he will be competitive.
Ryanair Chase – Al Ferof each way (12/1 Ladbrokes)
Ryanair Chase – Village Vic each way (25/1 BetVictor)
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