Al Ferof: puts in a bold leap on his way to a hard-fought victoryPICTURE: Martin Lynch
Al Ferof eased for Arkle despite Sandown success
Report: Sandown, Saturday
Markel Insurance Henry VIII Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 2m, 4yo+
AL FEROF made it two from two over fences with victory at Sandown on Saturday but the 4-11 favourite was made to battle for the win by the Nick Williams-trained For Non Stop, who pushed the John Hales-owned winner all the way to the line.
Despite impressing with his accurate and fluent jumping, Ladbrokes were seemingly unimpressed with Al Ferof's overall performance and pushed him out to 7-1 (from 6-1) for the Arkle in March. The same firm make Peddlers Cross their 4-1 favourite.
After being held up in the early exchanges, Al Ferof pulled himself to the heels of the leaders approaching the Pond Fence, where a bold leap took him into a clear advantage.
Jockey Ruby Walsh was keen to utilise the stamina of last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero and for the first time asked his mount to stretch clear. Despite gaining a couple of lengths on the field turning in, Al Ferof was unable to shake off the attentions of For Non Stop.
Between the last two fences For NonStop, who finished runner-up to Overturn over hurdles last month, looked a serious danger and there was little between the pair jumping the last, with the remainder of the field toiling in arrears.
With odds-on backers fearing the worse, Al Ferof showed battling qualities to match his undoubted talent and refused to allow the runner-up to get on top.
"He jumped brilliant, which is what we wanted, but to be at his best he needs a fast-run race as he does nothing in front and pulls himself up. I also think the second is a bloody good horse,” said winning trainer Paul Nicholls.
The champion trainer added: "I won't run him in deep ground during the winter - hewants better ground to be seen at his best."
Connections of For Non Stop, who fell when in contention on his chase debut at Cheltenham in October, are keen to take the winner on again at Prestbury Park in March.
Speaking through his representative at Sandown, owner Jared Sullivan said: "I said if he had enough gas in the tank and jumped the Railway Fences he would be there. He loves the ground and wants the soft side of good to soft and a sharp two miles.Plans are definitely all set for the Arkle.”