Al Ferof (left) heads for home three lengths ahead of fellow grey WalkonPICTURE: Edward Whitaker/(racingpost.com/photos)
Al Ferof dominates in Paddy Power Gold Cup
Report: Cheltenham, Saturday
Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase (Grade 3) 2m4½f Old Course, 4yo+
PAUL NICHOLLS won his first Paddy Power Gold Cup as Al Ferof out-stayed Walkon up the Cheltenham hill, while well-beaten race favourite Grands Crus was pulled up before the second last.
The 2011 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner had a dream passage through the race. He jumped well and travelled better, coming through with fuel to burn to take the lead on the turn to home.
Only the valiant Walkon went with him, staying in contention right until the final fence, but Al Ferof took the obstacle in his stride and gamely ground out a lead of three lengths between himself and his challenger to seal the race.
Paddy Power responded by making the seven-year-old 7-1 (from 16) for the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on December 26, while the sponsors also went 7-1.
Nicholls said: "He's in the King George and we'll have a chat with Ruby and see. There is the Peterborough but I suspect John [Hales, owner] will want to go for the King George now and on that performance why not."
He added: "Now he has the strength to stay helps. Before he's been a bit weak and might not have got a trip but he's got there now."
There was disappointment for connections of Grands Crus and Hunt Ball, however.
Grands Crus was heavily backed at Cheltenham and went off at just 7-4. He was given a hold-up ride by Tom Scudamore and moved up to a strike position easily enough, but he went out like a light as Al Ferof and Walkon forged clear. After the race it was revealed by trainer David Pipe that the favourite had lost a shoe.
His jockey, Tom Scudamore, added: "He got there three out and I thought we were going to be in it but he's stopped very quickly and just hasn't finished his race."
Hunt Ball, who is owned by the effervescent Anthony Knott, couldn't give his connections another dream day and was one of the first of the fancied horses to lower their colours.
Trainer Keiran Burke said: "I don't like to makes excuses but he hated the ground. Nick [Scholfield, rider] said he was never happy on it."
However, Burke said the King George was still Hunt Ball's immediate target.
He said: "We know now not to try it again and the plan remains as it was before the race. We've not lost faith."