1pt win Fox Norton @14/1 NRNB, Ryanair Chase

Unfortunately our ante-post pick for Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, Ar Mad, has been ruled out of the Festival through injury, which means his Sandown conqueror Un De Sceaux has tightened into 5/2 favouritism.

There’s a messy market behind him with second-favourite Empire Of Dirt possibly set to replace his injured teammate Don Poli in Friday’s Gold Cup, with several others such as Vroum Vroum Mag mulling other possible targets.

That means we can bank on plenty of market movement between now and post time, meaning there may be value in the non-runner-no-bet markets before the final declarations are made.

Last year’s renewal was as good as they come with the brilliant Vautour putting in a commanding performance to win from Valseur Lido and Road To Riches; however with the winner sadly deceased it could be just Josses Hill for Nicky Henderson to represent the 2016 form, with the rest of the market having their first go at the race.

I’m keen to take Un De Sceaux on at the prices with the ground likely to quicken up – and, though he has won at this trip before, I think there are still stamina concerns as the race he won in France was slowly run with the emphasis on speed.

It’s difficult to back anything with stamina doubts unless they’re factored into the price, and that’s why I like FOX NORTON at the prices with the non-runner-no-bet concession covering us should he have a go at the Champion Chase on Wednesday.

Incidentally, we’ve already advised him NRNB for that race in the without-Douvan market, but comments from his trainer, the red-hot Colin Tizzard, suggest a crack at the longer Ryanair Chase is the preferred plan.

Tizzard is rarely wrong when he tells us his horses stay longer trips – and he really is a master trainer of stayers with his Cue Card, Thistlecrack and Native River farming all the major British staying chases this season – so I’m inclined to believe him when he says Fox Norton will last the distance, while the way he’s finished off his races this season certainly backs this up.

While he was off-colour when attempting the impossible in giving weight to Altior at Newbury last time out, he was returning from an injury sustained before Christmas and will have been nowhere near 100% tuned up.

That run should have done him the world of good – and if he can return to the form of his two Cheltenham successes before Christmas he’s got to be a big player in this.

Course form is absolutely vital for the Festival and he’s won emphatically in his last three visits to the track; clearly improving, he looks a Grade One winner waiting to happen.

Considering Tizzard has the expensive French import Alary earmarked for the same race for the same owners, it would appear logical to split the aces and send Fox Norton to take on the ridiculously-talented Douvan in the Champion Chase.

However, should Fox Norton have a crack at the Ryanair you’d have to imagine connections feel he has a big chance of winning – bigger than his price suggests – so we should take the 14/1 NRNB before the picture becomes clearer.

Remember, the second-favourite could be Gold Cup bound and third-in-the-betting, Alan King’s 2015 winner Uxizandre, has got plenty to prove after such a long absence through injury, so top-class opposition might be thin on the ground on the day and Fox Norton could be the unexposed improver in the race.

I’m not going to back him each-way, purely because he’s unproven at the trip – generally speaking, if he doesn’t stay he’s unlikely to finish in the places rather than falling on his sword – so 1pt on the nose will suffice.

1pt win Fox Norton @14/1 NRNB, Ryanair Chase

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