Al Ferof has had a clutch of Cheltenham entries narrowed down to just the Ryanair Chase and that decision can pay dividends on day three of the 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.
Une Artiste is another former Festival winner who returns to the meeting and is worth a punt at potentially generous odds in the Byrne Group Plate.
The six-year-old struck gold in the Fred Winter back in 2012 and while her transition to fences this term has been far from smooth, she is starting to get the hang of things now.
Narrowly denied in a Thurles Grade Three, she made amends with victory at Kempton last time, with the runner up Shangani subsequently boosting the form when winning a decent event at Newbury at the start of the month.
Seventh Sign sprung a surprise when winning a qualifier for the Pertemps Network Final at Doncaster last month and he can repeat the trick in the main event for Alan King.
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.
CHELTENHAM: 1.30 Wonderful Charm, 2.05 Seventh Sign, 2.40 AL FEROF (NAP), 3.20 Annie Power, 4.00 Une Artiste, 4.40 Tranquil Sea.