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Dobbs ready to plunder Ascot prize with Salley

It's easy to see why Paul Nicholls has opted to pitch Al Ferof in against its elders in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot today.

Last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero hasn't been beaten in five starts over 12 months and has confirmed himself a novice chaser of immense potential by winning a Grade Two and a Grade One on his first two attempts over the bigger obstacles.

He is a hugely exciting prospect, whose Cheltenham form has worked out well, while this afternoon's showpiece is hardly a vintage renewal of the prestigious two-miler.

That said, there will be an enhanced emphasis on speed and accuracy over each obstacle that Al Ferof encounters now and the margin for error is minute. Given that the five horses which finished closest to Ruby Walsh's mount at Sandown in December have since won only once between them, his price of 11/4 looks accurate.

Finian's Rainbow, however, is too short at around 9/4. Second in the Arkle in March despite looking all over the winner turning in, Nicky Henderson's runner beat little of significance at Aintree and question marks hang over the form of his latest win at Kempton.

The 152-rated Oiseau De Nuit, which re-opposes now, might have scored then, but for a last-fence blunder, with Finian's Rainbow swooping late to collect. Wishfull Thinking, second there, having been out of form and on duty again here, is also a poor yardstick. All told, Gauvain may represent the value option at up to 9/1.

A 16-length winner from Woolcombe Folly at Cheltenham first time up this season, Gauvain was bang there in the Tingle Creek when crashing out before the race began in earnest. He quickly made amends, slamming the 166-rated Somersby in the Peterborough Chase.

Today, Somersby -- the only horse that has a superior rating to Gauvain's 162, but one that always seems to have an excuse -- is 11/2 and there's no good reason for that discrepancy in price. While Gauvain might not be one of the marquee names, he has been a revelation this term and won't be at all unsettled by today's slow ground.

As well as that, in his trainer Nick Williams and jockey Noel Fehily, he has two men who know how to deliver when an opportunity arises. Gauvain is no champion chaser in the making, but he may not need to be if Al Ferof fluffs its lines.

While Forpadydeplasterer is hard to fancy in the feature, Our Girl Salley, the only other Irish-trained runner at Ascot, has serious claims in the Grade Two mares' race. Prunella Dobbs' seven-year-old returned to form at Leopardstown last time and with her regular partner Barry Geraghty once again at the helm, she could have the class to concede 5lb all round on her first try at three miles.

Haydock's Peter Marsh Chase is the day's big handicap. According To Pete, successful in the Rowland Meyrick on St Stephen's Day, is among a few of the 11-strong field with obvious chances, but one of his victims that day is preferred now.

While King Fontaine was ultimately well beaten in seventh at Wetherby, he showed up nicely for a long way. As he began to tire, a blunder three out completely finished him, but there was a lot to like about the way that he travelled and jumped up until then. Today, he competes off 15lb better terms with According To Pete.

Down 8lb to 127 from a career-high of 142, this is the very mark that he last won off in November 2010, when he scored for a second time in a row over course and distance. If he can build on that latest outing, then odds of 9/1 strike as generous.

Halley gets the nod in the Betfair Graduation Chase. A Grade One winner in France in November, Tom George's five-year-old was an early casualty at Wetherby last time out, but he will relish the testing ground here and is well in at the weights.

Best Bet: Our Girl Salley

Irish Independent