Double blow for trainer Nicholls
Racing:Trainer Paul Nicholls has been dealt a huge double injury blow by the news Big Buck‘s and Al Ferof are set to miss the rest of the season.
The former was due to run in Saturday‘s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, while Al Ferof was being prepared for an assault at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.
Nicholls said: “At evening stables tonight, we discovered a problem with both Big Buck’s and Al Ferof. I am not in a position to go into great detail at this point, but I can confirm that Big Buck’s will not be taking up his engagement at Ascot on Saturday and Al Ferof will not be running in the King George.”
Big Buck’s owner Andy Stewart said the remarkable nine-year-old, who has won his last 18 races, has suffered a leg injury and would not defend his crown in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next March.
He told Press Association Sport: “He didn‘t do it (sustain the injury) on the gallops. He was a little bit anxious in one of his legs at evening stables and after Clifford (Baker, Nicholls’s head lad) and the vet inspected him, we decided to draw stumps.
“He‘ll not be running on Saturday and he won‘t be trying to win a fifth World Hurdle in March. I‘m a little bit gutted, but no-one has died and the horse is perfectly well.
“When the horses come back in at the end of July we shall reassess the situation. If he hasn‘t got that zest and sparkle, he will be retired.”
Al Ferof, a fine winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, has damaged a tendon and will miss the rest of the season, said owner John Hales.
“We were all set for the King George, but things like this are part of the game,” Hales said. “We don‘t know how he got the tendon injury, but that‘s him out for the season.
“We‘ll obviously get him reassessed by the vet, but you can bet your life the King George and then the Gold Cup will be the plan in 12 months‘ time. He‘s still a youngster and has age on his side.”
Nicholls later tweeted neither Big Buck‘s nor Al Ferof had sustained career-threatening injuries and that the pair will “both will be back”.
The King George VI Chase market saw a dramatic shake-up after Al Ferof was ruled out.
The grey had been seen as a major threat to Long Run regaining the crown he won in a delayed running of the 2010 renewal, and Nicky Henderson’s horse is now 5 to 2 favourite with race sponsors William Hill, who have Colin Tizzard‘s Cue Card as 9 to 2 second-favourite.
Nicholls still has a live contender in JNWine.com Champion Chase winner Kauto Stone, who had looked in need of a rider with Ruby Walsh having been set to ride Al Ferof and intended pilot Daryl Jacob suspended for the festive period.
Kauto Stone had been a 16 to 1 chance with William Hill but was cut to 10to 1 in the revised market.
David Pipe is still aiming Grands Crus at the race. The grey was a red-hot favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his seasonal reappearance but disappointed in heavy ground and has since had a wind operation.
Following a piece of work, Pipe tweeted: “Grands Crus galloped this morning and I am pleased with his progress. Still hoping to make the King George at Kempton.”
Paddy Power quote Sizing Europe at 6 to 1 ‘with a run‘ despite Henry de Bromhead stating earlier in the day he was more likely to go to Leopardstown.
He may turn 11 in a few weeks, but the 2011 Queen Mother Champion Chase winner has appeared in the form of his life in his two wins to date so far this season.
However, with good ground not guaranteed at Kempton, trainer De Bromhead is “leaning” towards staying at home.
“It’s not 100 per cent just yet that he isn’t going to Kempton, but at this stage we are leaning towards Leopardstown,” said De Bromhead.
“Which race he runs in will obviously depend on the ground. We’ve got the option of the Lexus or the Dial-A-Bet and we’ll choose the best race for the conditions.”