Al Ferof claims Gold Cup Chase
Racing:Al Ferof is set for a crack at the King George VI Chase on St Stephen's Day after giving Paul Nicholls a first Paddy Power Gold Cup with a brilliant round of jumping at Cheltenham.
Nicholls, owner John Hales and jockey Ruby Walsh have suffered heartache in this race before with the ill-fated Granit Jack, but the 8-1 chance went a long way to exorcising those demons.
Still under a tight hold at the top of the hill, where first Hunt Ball and shortly afterwards Grands Crus had run their races, Walsh was joined by another grey, Walkon, and held just a slight advantage two out.
He stamped his class on proceedings from there, defying a huge weight burden, and hard as the Alan King runner tried he could not reel him in up the gruelling hill, finishing three lengths adrift.
Nadiya de la Vega was third with long-time leader Casey Top running a gallant race in fourth.
Nicholls said: “He came in late because he cut himself in the field, but he had a gallop at Wincanton last weekend and went really well. We’ll have to think about Kempton (King George) I suppose, he stayed well there and I think we’ll have to look at it.
“The second-season chasers of ours like him are improving, I don’t think the horses were right last year. The main thing is to have horses for all the big races. Everyone thinks we want to win the trainers’ championship but it’s honestly not true, days like this and bringing young horses through are what makes it all worth it.”
Hales, owner of the great One Man, said: “That was a stunning performance, as good as from any horse I have owned.
“The rain concerned me today, but I thought it was an outstanding run. I wasn’t as confident when I started looking at the race yesterday — I thought it was going to be difficult to give weight away to horses like Grands Crus.
“I think we have decided we will go to the King George now, and he is a horse that we are going to have look after.”
Walsh said: “You need a bit of class in this race, which is why we were keen to take chance. In fairness to him we were forcing him at two (miles). Stepping up in trip is probably what we should be doing.”
David Pipe could offer no explanation to the stewards for the run of 7-4 favourite Grands Crus, while Keiran Burke, trainer of Hunt Ball, said he was unsuited by the ground.
Bottom-weight Monbeg Dude sprang a 25/1 surprise in the Henrietta Knight Handicap Chase.
Having been held up by Jamie Moore for much of the 3m 3f contest, the Michael Scudamore-trained seven-year-old moved through to challenge for the lead turning for home.
The well-backed 9/2 favourite Bradley was unwilling to give in under Paddy Brennan, but could find no more close home and went down by a neck.
"I know it's not like the Festival, but having a winner here means a lot," said Scudamore. "I wanted to run him at Wetherby but the owners wanted to come here for a day out, and full credit to them. He stays and loves soft ground. Long-term he could be a Welsh National horse, but whether he's ready for that just yet, I'm not sure."
Third was Nigel Twiston-Davies' Viking Blond (8/1) who made most of the running in testing conditions, whilst Martin Keighley's Any Currency (14/1) was fourth. Last-year's winner Galaxy Rock weakened quickly with nearly a mile to run, whilst David Pipe's Problema Tic travelled powerfully on his reappearance but a bad mistake late on took the wind out of his sails.