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Al Ferof can hold off Captain Chris to land Ascot feature

Ascot have expressed disappointment at the dismal turnout for their two main events on Saturday’s card but Paul Nicholls won’t be complaining. He runs Al Ferof and Zarkandar with stable jockey Daryl Jacob on board and must have great prospects of landing a big-race double.

Al Ferof produced a brilliant display to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup just over a year ago but this will be his first race since. An injury scuppered his chances of competing in the King George and he has been given plenty of time to recover.

His market rival is Captain Chris, so unlucky not to win the King George when just outstayed by Long Run on Boxing day. He beat For Non Stop in this race 12 months ago and is certainly good enough to capitalise if Al Ferof is short of peak fitness.

The Coral Hurdle at 2.40 could also go to the Ditcheat trainer when he saddles Zarkandar. He had a perfect build-up to the Champion Hurdle last year but could do no better than fourth behind Hurricane Fly.

Nicholls is planning to race him over longer distances this season after he held off The New One in the two and a half mile Aintree Hurdle. He faces a tough rival here in the unbeaten Annie Power who travels over from Ireland with plenty of confidence behind her.

Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh team up with the mare who is likely to start odds-on favourite on Saturday. If she can beat Zarkandar on these terms, a possible tilt at the Champion Hurdle may be in the offing.

Channel 4 also televise the Carey Group Handicap Chase at 3.15 which has attracted seven runners. The key to this race could be the form of the previous meeting here between Drumshambo and Lancetto.

Drumshambo came out on top by two and a half lengths but the runner-up is now 5lbs better off. Lancetto lost ground on the far side and had too much to do to catch the winner but still ran on nicely. Preference is just for Lancetto on the revised terms.

Selections: 12.25 Carraig Mor, 1.00 Oscar Davy, 1.30 Upbeat Cobbler, 2.05 Al Ferof (nb), 2.40 Zarkandar (NAP), 3.15 Lancetto, 3.50 Volt Face