Right time to throw Al Ferof in at the deep end

PAUL NICHOLLS throws Al Ferof in at the deep end in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot today, but I think it is the right decision.

We know he is only having his third run over fences, but the fact there is no Sizing Europe or Big Zeb in the field makes it a tempting proposition.

This is not a top-class Victor Chandler and it is vital to get some real experience into Al Ferof before he heads to Cheltenham. If running in an ordinary novice event, perhaps for a first prize of say £25,000, he could meet the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Menorah or Peddlers Cross.

Taking on such as Finian’s Rainbow, Gauvain and Wishfull Thinking is no more demanding and yet we are racing for a massive pot, with £59,000 to the winner.

Al Ferof was really good when winning first time over fences at Cheltenham and then idled in front at Sandown.

Finian’s Rainbow did well to recover from a blunder four out to beat Wishfull Thinking at Kempton. He beat Paul’s Ghiazo at Aintree last season, after my horse erred two out when holding every chance. Prior to that Finian’s Rainbow was well beaten by Captain Chris in the Arkle at Cheltenham.

Somersby and Forpadydeplasterer are hard enough to catch right, while Gauvain has two ways of running. Anyway crossing swords with these horses will be good for Al Ferof and we are certainly not going for the day out.

I kick away on Violin Davis in a Grade 2 hurdle for mares. She’s tough and consistent, but up against it taking on Prunella Dobbs’ Our Girl Salley, who came back to form at Leopardstown at Christmas.

I believe Irish mares are a good bit better than their English counterparts, as evidenced by Quevega, Voler La Vedette and Unaccompanied.

Indeed, it is somewhat surprising that more Irish mares, below the top level, don’t come to England for black type.

Royal Charm has it all to do off top weight in a handicap hurdle. He’s got lots of ability, but has been disappointing over fences and this is all about trying to get him to regain his confidence.

The old Noland would have a great chance in a handicap chase and I’m just hoping some of the old spark is still there.

He ran well for a long way behind Synchronised in the Lexus at Leopardstown, just tiring from the third last.

It will be vital to get him jumping well and into a rhythm over the first half mile or so, because if we start to slip back then that will be that.

The Pretender, a fine big horse, rounds off my afternoon in a novice hurdle, but I’d say I have better opportunities over the weekend.

Willie Mullins sets punters a puzzle by running both Lord Gale and Vesper Belle in the first at Fairyhouse tomorrow, a maiden hurdle.

Both of them got beaten into second in modest enough races last time and it was Willie who made the riding arrangements.

I rode Vesper Bell at Leopardstown, while Paul Townend partnered Lord Gale at Fairyhouse. Willie has gone with that again and, to be truthful, I’ve no idea whether I’m on the right one or not.

I think Ceol Rua is my best chance of a winner in a Listed hurdle for mares. She is honest, with a great attitude, and I like that.

She will love the trip and the ground and I expect her to go close, while fully recognising that this is a competitive contest.

Blazing Tempo is seeking a hat-trick in a Grade 2 chase, but realistically Noble Prince is going to be hard to beat. Part of me still thinks Blazing Tempo is at her best on nicer ground.

Noble Prince is a smart horse, making a race of it with Big Zeb at Leopardstown, and if we finish in front of him will surely be heading for the winner’s enclosure.

I conclude with two spins for Tony Martin, Miriam’s Dream and Victrix Gale, and it will be a pleasant surprise if either of them does the business.

I’d expect Willie’s Champagne Fever to win the bumper. He’s the form horse, on his second to Thomas Edison at Leopardstown, and appears to have matured quite nicely at home in the meantime.

Willie has a strong hand at Naas today, headed by Mikael D’Haguenet in a Grade 3 hurdle. I rode Mikael to win at Punchestown and cannot think of any reason to oppose him.

Allee Garde ran a blinder for me at Leopardstown, third to Last Instalement and First Lieutenant and, I suppose, most will want to be with him in the novice chase.

Raptor was still in contention when falling three out and I’m inclined to go with him now. I just feel the testing conditions will be in his favour and am inclined to the view that the drier the surface the better for Allee Garde. Marasonnien and Midnight Game are live possibilities as well for Willie in their respective contests.

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