One of the most exciting hurdling recruits in Paul Nicholls' yard, Al Ferof, justified the high opinion in which he is held and steadied his own ship with an effortless victory at Taunton yesterday, his third attempt over obstacles under rules. And although victory was not unexpected – he was 1-7 to see off his inferior rivals – after the grey's two luckless first efforts few were more relieved than the champion trainer.
Al Ferof, who carries the yellow John Hales colours made famous by such as One Man, Azertyuiop and Neptune Collonges, was acquired for a substantial sum after winning a point-to-point and a bumper in Ireland, and duly demonstrated his huge potential when beating all bar Cue Card in last year's Cheltenham Festival bumper.
But first time out over hurdles, he took a crunching fall back at Cheltenham and second time ran with the choke out in the fog at Newbury, leaving himself no reserves at the end. But yesterday's venture was incident-free; he led from the fifth flight and coasted home 20 lengths clear, ears pricked happily, under Harry Skelton.
"He needed that," said Nicholls, "to boost his confidence. After that heavy fall he pulled much too hard last time. We'll find a similar race for him next time, and then all being well it will be next stop Cheltenham." The French-bred's target is the Neptune Investment Management Hurdle, the two and a half-mile novices' contest. He is judged around the 20-1 mark; the favourite is his Newbury conqueror Backspin.
Last year's winner of the Festival Grade One, Peddlers Cross, will be at Haydock tomorrow, when he will try to take his unbeaten run to eight in the Champion Hurdle Trial. But Ireland's chief contender for the Cheltenham crown, Hurricane Fly, may not be strutting his stuff on Sunday, through no fault of his own. The Leopardstown card that includes the Irish Champion Hurdle is under threat from frost.
Earlier in the afternoon at Taunton another lively Cheltenham prospect, Credit Swap, failed to enhance his reputation. Last year's Cambridgeshire winner had won tidily on his hurdling debut but this time, at 4-7, was left labouring in second by the trailblazing Shammick Boy.
In a very different setting from the West Country track, South African handler Mike de Kock broke new ground in his global career when he trained his first winner in Dubai for Sheikh Hamdan. The blue and white silks were carried to victory at Meydan yesterday evening by Zanzamar in the UAE 2,000 Guineas Trial.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Russellstown Boy (4.25 Chepstow) An opportunity may have been found for the sound-jumping veteran mudlark to notch his second chasing success.
One to watch
The campaign of progressive handicapper De Boitron (F Murphy) is being geared towards a race like the Grand Annual at Cheltenham.
Where the money's going
The news that Kauto Star was off-colour when third in the King George VI Chase has prompted punters to rally to his Gold Cup cause. He is now 8-1 from 10s with sponsors Totesport.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Cape Melody (12.55 Lingfield)Reuse content