Past Winners » Al Ferof


This is shaping up to be one of the classiest renewals of the Paddy Power Gold Cup run in years and, as a consequence, it will probably be won by a top class horse …

(Al Ferof) is all class. He was a top class novice hurdler, he won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, and he shaped like a top class novice chaser early last season when he won the Independent Newspapers’ Chase at this meeting, a race that is often a good pointer to the Arkle the following March.

He was sent off as second favourite behind Sprinter Sacre for the Arkle last season, and he was travelling well in the lead when he made a bad mistake at the fourth last. You can’t make a mistake like that in an Arkle and hope to remain competitive.

The form book shows that he finished fourhth in the Arkle, but if he hadn’t made that mistake he would have finished much closer. And he isn’t a bad jumper, he is generally a good jumper of his fences, and he had jumped very well up to the fourth last in the Arkle, but that is a tricky fence, it is the fence at which Moscow Flyer used to always struggle, and Al Ferof just met it on too long a stride. He did disappoint at Aintree on his final run of the season, but his trainer says that he was over the top by then.

The Paddy Power was not his automatic first port of call this season, but he apparently schooled so well last week and is in such good form that Nicholls has decided to allow him take his chance. Apparently Ruby Walsh was also keen that he would run in this race, and that is a positive, as is the fact that Walsh will ride him.

He fits almost all of the trends for the Paddy Power. He is a seven-year-old (seven-year-olds have won six of the last 10 renewals), he is rated 159 (high-rated horses tend to dominate the race), he is a second-season chaser, he has form at the track and he is relatively lightly-raced with scope for further progression. He hasn’t won a chase over two and a half miles, but he has won over two and a half miles over hurdles, he has always shaped like a horse who would excel over further than two miles over fences, and he is being considered as a King George prospect. There shouldn’t be any worries about him getting the trip. He is worth backing now at 7/1 or 8/1.

The other horse that I am backing is Walkon. He doesn’t have the obvious recent class that Grands Crus or Al Ferof have, but he does have latent class, and he is potentially really well handciapped on a mark of 143.

We know that he has latent class. He was only just beaten by Zaynar in the 2009 Triumph Hurdle, and he won the Matalan Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree with his head in his chest, after which he was quoted at as low as 10/1 for the 2010 Champion Hurdle.

Injury left him off the track for almost two years after that, but he has shaped over fences as though he has retained a lot of the ability that he showed as a juvenile hurdler. He didn’t run at all badly in the RSA Chase last March over a trip that probably stretched his stamina. He finished fifth, just a neck behind Grands Crus.

Strictly on that line of form, he is massively over-priced at four times Grands Crus’s price, getting a stone from him. That probably wasn’t Grands Crus’s true running, but Walkon should be better now than he was then as well. He should be better back over two and a half miles but, even more importantly, he should be better on his seasonal debut than he was last March.

Walkon is at his best when he is fresh these days. His record on his seasonal debuts in Britain reads 121. Actually, he put up his best performance to date over fences on his debut last season, when he beat Zaynar and Notus De La Tour in a novices’ chase at Exeter. As with Al Ferof, this hasn’t been the plan for Walkon since last spring, but it has been the plan for the last few weeks, and Alan King said yesterday that he was very happy with his horse.

He goes well at Cheltenham, and the trip and ground should be close to his optimum. His rating of 143 is 10lb lower than his current rating over hurdles and, given that he has run just five times over fences, he still has the potential to be at least as good over fences as he was over hurdles. He is potentially the best handicapped horse in the race, and he is also worth having on side at 8/1.

The rain that fell overnight has done nothing to harm the chances of either Al Ferof or Walkon, it has probably enhanced Al Ferof’s chance a little and Walkon’s chance a little bit more. I am happy that both horses are set to run big races.

It is unusual for me to back three horses in the same race, but I can’t resist getting Casey Top on side as well (each-way) at a massive price. He hails from a small yard and he is well under the radar, but it is easy to see him running a big race. He easily beat Tranquil Sea in a handicap chase at Killarney last May, and he ran a cracker in the Galway Plate when he finished second behind Bob Lingo.

Two things about that run. Firslty, the two-mile-six-furlong trip on really soft ground probably stretched his stamina beyond its limit. He should be better suited to today’s one-and-a-half-furlong shorter trip and slightly better ground, although the rain is no harm, it should have turned the ground soft as opposed to sticky.

Secondly, a front-runner, he was consistently harried up front in the Galway Plate. He only managed to shake Cross Appeal off as they rounded the home turn but, by then, Bob Lingo had had a lovely tow into the race, and he was able to surge past on the uphill run to the line.

He probably won’t have it all his own way up front today either, but there are plenty of hold-up horses in the race today, and his main potential rival for the lead, The Disengager, would prefer much better ground.

He gets to race today off a mark of 137, which is just 4lb higher than his Galway Plate mark. He is nine years old, but he has raced just seven times over fences, he is a better chaser than he was a hurdler already, and he still has scope for progression. Mark Enright takes of a very handy 5lb, he can easily claim it all (he rode Maarek to finish third in the Ayr Gold Cup) and, on a day on which some of the races could turn into real gruellers, a weight of 9st 9lb could be a huge asset. 50/1 is a fair bit too big.

AL FEROF WON (ADV 8/1, SP 8/1)

WALKON 2ND (ADV 8/1, SP 7/1)

CASEY TOP 4TH (ADV 50/1, SP 40/1)