Champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls has claimed the last major prize to have eluded him with Al Ferof the winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Al Ferof is one of owner John Hales’ army of grey horses. In April, Hales’ Neptune Collonges broke Nicholls’ duck in the Grand National and Hales was keen to chalk off the first serious prize of the new National Hunt season.
The race had also been a rare omission from Ruby Walsh’s CV and, as ever, he proved the calmest man in a stormy big handicap, keeping the 8-1 chance safe from danger and driving him away from the stubborn Walkon to prevail by two lengths.
“He must be a good horse,” 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.
“I don’t think my horses were right last season, and he’s one of the six-year-olds that are improving.
“We’ll have to think about Kempton (King George VI Chase) now. I always wondered if he would stay but he stayed well there and you’d have to say it might suit him.”
Grands Crus, one of the greatest hopes of David Pipe, was hammered into 7-4 favourite but was eventually pulled up before the second-last jump.
Sponsors William Hill price Al Ferof at 7-1 to follow his peerless and now-retired stablemate Kauto Star in the King George on Boxing Day while the Gold Cup sponsor has him at the same quote.