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Shades of grey for punters in Cheltenham ante-post market

The withdrawals of Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card in quick succession has caused a major re-shuffle across the board in the Cheltenham ante-post market. While Sprinter Sacre’s absence from the Champion Chase could have been anticipated, the shock news that Cue Card will not run at the festival has opened up the betting in both the Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chase.

Last year’s Ryanair winner still held an entry in the two and a half mile championship race although Colin Tizzard had virtually committed the gelding to the Gold Cup. The horses most directly affected by the news are Al Ferof, Benefficient and Dynaste.

Al Ferof and Dynaste both have entries in the Gold Cup but have all been ruled out by their respective trainers. Paul Nicholls felt that Al Ferof failed to stay when second in the Denman Chase behind Harry Topper and he seems most likely to contest the Ryanair.

He also has an entry in the Champion Chase, a race that his owner won in 1998 with One Man. Two of Al Ferof’s four wins over fences have come over the minimum trip and Nicholls believes that he still possesses plenty of pace.

Dynaste was the top staying novice last season but David Pipe elected to run him in the Jewson Novices’ Chase where he was beaten by Benefficient. The grey bounced back with an impressive victory at Aintree and had been aimed at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Everything looked to be going well when he started his campaign with a fine second to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. He was expected to figure prominently in the King George at Kempton but was soon struggling and trailed home almost fifty lengths behind Silviniaco Conti.

Pipe is leaning towards the Ryanair Chase and a possible re-match with Benefficient. The Irish-trained eight-year-old won a Grade 1 chase at Leopardstown in December.