Kauto Star may now be enjoying retirement but Paul Nicholls could still have an embarrassment of riches come Boxing Day at Kempton.
The five-times King George VI Chase hero will never be replaced, of course, but Al Ferof put down his marker for the Christmas spectacular with a tremendous performance in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
And, with Charlie Hall winner Silviniaco Conti and Down Royal victor Kauto Stone other strong contenders, Nicholls will have high hopes of King George victory number eight.
In landing the Paddy Power under the welter burden of 11st 8lb from Walkon, Al Ferof was giving Nicholls a first win in one of the few races to have eluded him. He was also exorcising a few ghosts, too, as Nicholls, owner John Hales and jockey Ruby Walsh had suffered heartache in the very same race with the ill-fated Granit Jack in 2007.
“He must be a good horse,” said Nicholls. “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.”
Hales said: “That was a stunning performance, as good as from any horse I have owned. I think we have decided we will go to the King George now.”
Grands Crus, one of the great hopes of David Pipe, was hammered into 7-4 favourite but was eventually pulled up before the second-last along with Hunt Ball. At least Pipe had seen smart prospect Our Father (11-4) thrash 2-1 favourite Sire Collonges by 20 lengths under Timmy Murphy in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Chase.
In Ireland, Minsk could prove a smart recruit off the Flat, winning with some authority in the www.punchestown.com Maiden Hurdle.
Yesterday, Hurricane Fly made a successful reappearance in the Dobbins & Madigans Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown after Go Native took a crashing fall at the final flight. Paul Carberry brought Go Native to challenge the 2-5 favourite when Noel Meade’s nine-year-old came down. That left the 2011 Champion Hurdle hero to score by 12 lengths from the only other runner, Captain Cee Bee.
Hurricane Fly was completing a hat-trick on the day for trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh after their wins with Twinlight and Back in Focus earlier on the card. Mullins also had a double at Cork.
Honours in the big race at Cheltenham’s Open meeting, the Racing Post Hurdle, went to the Tom George-trained and Paddy Brennan-ridden Olofi (8-1), who had finished second in the race 12 months ago.