Al Ferof shows promise of youth

Nicholls' next generation suggest they could fill the gap left by Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges

cheltenham

You win nothing with kids, so the saying goes, and sure enough Paul Nicholls needed input from two of his yard's oldest stagers to take his seventh trainer's championship last season in the face of a strong, sustained challenge from Nicky Henderson. But though the peerless Kauto Star and the Grand National hero Neptune Collonges have now retired, the kids have grown up. And they seem to be alright.

Here yesterday, Al Ferof became the latest of the talented Manor Farm youth squad to book his place on the first team. In taking the Paddy Power Gold Cup by three lengths, powering clear of Walkon on the demanding uphill run to the finish with his ears cheerfully pricked, the seven-year-old has galloped to second favouritism for next month's King George VI Chase, as short as 5-1.

He also gave Nicholls and rider Ruby Walsh their first victory in the valuable two-and-a-half miler that is the centrepiece of the three-day fixture here, and which regularly highlights performers on an upward curve. And – though it is the earliest of days to be thinking of titles – the £91,120 prize took Nicholls some £300,000 clear of his nearest pursuer at this stage, Donald McCain.

Al Ferof followed his second- season chasing stablemates Silviniaco Conti, Kauto Stone and Cristal Bonus into a prestige winner's circle this term and there seems, too, strength in depth among the emerging Manor Farm hurdlers. "Despite the good season we had," Nicholls said, "I never felt that any of mine were really absolutely right last year, they weren't really sparkling. But this time they look stunning, they're working well and they're doing it on the track."

Yesterday's grey hero – in the same ownership, that of John Hales, and by the same sire, Dom Alco, as Neptune Collonges – was one of the last of Nicholls' charges to step up to full training after his summer break, but has swiftly made up the lost time. "He cut himself out in the field and came in late," the trainer said, "but he is one of those who goes best when he is fresh. And the piece of work he did on Thursday was the best he has ever done."

Though the gelding, an 8-1 shot, showed some early over-exuberance on his first outing since April, he soon settled in Walsh's hands and three fences from the finish nothing was travelling more easily. He and Walkon were in the air together two out, but of the two white chargers, Al Ferof was the more dashing, even under his hefty burden of 11st 8lb. "He was pretty much cantering all the way," Walsh said, "but then, he is a class horse."

Overnight rain had made ground conditions thoroughly testing and put a premium on stamina. "I knew he was starting to come right," added Nicholls of the French-bred, "but perhaps I didn't expect him to win that well. I thought it was a stunning performance. And now he's showed how well he stays, a lot of options are opened up. If he does go for the King George, he won't run before then.

"As far as the Festival goes, we might wait a year before asking him to go three-and-a-quarter [in the Gold Cup]. I should think the Ryanair Chase would be perfect at this stage. But you never know. He'll tell us where and when and what."

Twelve lengths behind the 7-1 chance Walkon, who was receiving 16lb from his victorious rival, Nadiya De La Vega (12-1) stayed on into third, with long-time trailblazer Casey Top belying his odds of 40-1 in fourth.

The disappointment of the race was the performance of the hotly supported 7-4 favourite, Grands Crus. The grey, towards the rear early, moved into contention behind the leaders approaching the last half-mile, but found little under pressure and was pulled up before the second last. "I thought we were going OK," rider Tom Scudamore said, "but he just got tired very, very quickly."

Grands Crus, pushed out in the King George betting and even removed from some lists, came in with his near-fore shoe missing. "One fell in front of him with a circuit to go, as well," said his trainer, David Pipe, "but they're not excuses, just what happened. We'll get him checked out, but the important thing is that he's back in one piece."

As Nicholls has shortened slightly in the trainers' title betting, so Henderson has eased. And the underfoot conditions here have, frustratingly, prompted the challenger to postpone today's expected seasonal debut of his own brightest young star, Sprinter Sacre.

The six-year-old, who had the highest rating of any of last season's novice chasers, will now start his road to the senior two-mile crown, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, in next month's Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why