Richard Forristal: 'Ground' set to foil Nicholls' two youngsters
Longsdon's new recruit is overdue a bit of luck in Cup
Paul Nicholls has won seven of the last 10 renewals of Newbury's Greatwood Gold Cup so it is no surprise to see his runners dominate the betting for today's edition.
The champion trainer's duo, Art Mauresque and Sametegal, vie for the market lead in the extended two-mile-three-furlong handicap.
Both are relatively unexposed chasers, though Sametegal has had only half as many runs over fences as Art Mauresque.
On its fourth and latest start in a novices' event at Musselburgh, the Saints Des Saints seven-year-old looked sure to collect, only to be reeled in from a long way back by Five In A Row, which has since won narrowly off a mark of 130.
Sametegal was giving him five pounds when beaten half-a-length at Musselburgh.
He is in off 143 here and might need to come down a few pounds more. Art Mauresque has been dropped following fair efforts in defeat in the two big pre-Christmas handicaps at Cheltenham.
Also a novice, he is in off 144 here and could be competitive off that mark, though he is best when the ground is good, which it may not quite be.
Still, of the Nicholls contenders, Noel Fehily's mount is the one to keep on side, and, at odds of around 11/2, he is a solid each-way option. There is no doubt that this 14-runner event is competitive, but there is a slightly more exposed sort further down the page that appeals as being overpriced.
Off The Ground is a 10-year-old that has joined Charlie Longsdon's in-form team this season from Emma Lavelle. Despite his age, he has run just 23 times, 16 of which have been over fences. He won twice at Doncaster in late 2013, but hasn't enjoyed much luck in the interim. Off The Ground's best effort since then came when he was second at Wetherby last season off 143.
This term, he fell at Warwick when running well, and returned to his happy hunting ground on Town Moor to be second to Voix D'Eau off 135 in November.
At the same venue the following month, he again fell two-out whilst on the heels of the eventual winner, Lavelle's Javert.
Today, Off The Ground is in off the same mark of 137 for 10st 11lb, and the booking of high-flying Aidan Coleman is also a bonus.
Clearly, Off The Ground needs a change of fortune and he would also appreciate some drying.
However, Longsdon is getting a decent tune out of him, and he is capable of exploiting his current rating. At odds of up to 12/1, he is the best value option in the race.
Longsdon and Coleman will also have a big say in the veterans' chase with Pete The Feat, which split Le Reve and Unioniste at Kempton last month.
If Pete The Feat can improve on that off a three-pound higher mark, he should go very close, but he maybe doesn't have much scope to do so, given that he is now rated just two pounds lower than his 2013 peak.
It might be worth taking a chance on Restless Harry, a fellow 12-year-old that has fallen much further in the ratings.
Placed three times in Grade One company over flights, including twice at Newbury, Henry Oliver's charge earned a peak rating of 157 over the smaller obstacles. He maxed out at 148 over fences, and he has also won twice at this job at Newbury, so he clearly goes really well here.
Restless Harry last won off 141 at Ascot two years ago, and his third at Bangor off 140 on his seasonal bow was encouraging.
He has since struggled in better company, but the handicapper has eased him to 133. Against its peers, Paddy Brennan's mount can capitalise on that at around 6/1.
Road to Riches has gravitated to the head of the market for the Ryanair Chase and it's easy to see why.
Michael O'Leary has still to win the race that he has sponsored via the budget airline since 2006.
With his Gigginstown Stud firm having so many smart staying chasers, it has been confirmed that something will be diverted to what might facetiously be termed the consolation race.
Don Poli and Don Cossack will contest the Gold Cup, and Willie Mullins is adamant that Valseur Lido needs a trip. That could spell bad news for Noel Meade, who, like everyone else, would relish a tilt at the sport's Holy Grail.
However, bearing in mind the penchant for aggressive tactics on Road To Riches, the shorter Grade One could be his best chance of Cotswolds glory. On slow ground a year ago, he tired into third when his legs eventually gave out in the Gold Cup, and two of his most impressive turns came over intermediate trips.
Road To Riches was devastating in the 2014 Galway Plate, as he was on his Clonmel Oil Chase comeback in November. In the circumstances, he emerged with more credit than the bare form of his 12-length Hennessy Gold Cup turn suggests, but a drop in trip - and class - might be the sensible choice at Cheltenham.