sport

Options open for Al Ferof

All Cheltenham Festival options remain open for Al Ferof despite his defeat at Newbury, according to owner John Hales.

The Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old was beaten 25 lengths into second by Harry Topper in the Denman Chase on what was just his second try over three miles.

He had previously finished third in the King George VI Chase over that trip at Kempton and was having to tackle heavy ground at the weekend, with officials dolling off a couple of fences due to the very testing conditions.

In the immediate aftermath talk surrounded whether he would be better suited to the Ryanair Chase rather than the Gold Cup, but Hales is not currently ruling anything out for his star.

The grey is also entered in the two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase, with Hales keen to see how the track is shaping up nearer the date before committing to any particular race.

He said: "We will leave a decision until much nearer the time as there's a couple of factors to take into consideration. Firstly, what the weather is like over the next few weeks and secondly, what the ground is like at Cheltenham.

"I think as far as the media is concerned, you are going to get the same answer from a lot of people as you just don't know what will happen with the weather. It's a bit far off to be making a decision.

"We haven't had heavy ground at Cheltenham since the days of Desert Orchid.

"Our horse has entries in the Gold Cup, the Ryanair and the Queen Mother and we'll leave it nearer to the time to make a decision.

"On the evidence of Saturday, you would have to say he wouldn't stay the Gold Cup trip on that ground, but would you get that ground at the Festival? He flies round Cheltenham and on good ground it could be different again.

"The options remain open and we won't be making any decisions yet."