Al Ferof will head to the King George VI Chase after returning to his brilliant best when running away with the Amlin 1965 Chase for the second year in succession at Ascot on Saturday.
Ruby Walsh’s mount (5-2 favourite) powered up the hill in the Grade Two contest to beat Somersby by seven lengths.
The Paul Nicholls-trained grey was immediately cut to around 8-1 for the big Kempton feature on Boxing Day.
Owner John Hales said: “It was a good race to win this year, great to see him come back. He was back in the condition he was when he won the Paddy Power Gold Cup (2012).
“Last year when he won this race, he was downhill afterwards and we couldn’t understand why.
“He was third in the King George, but that wasn’t Al Ferof.
“He was also second in the Denman Chase, 30 lengths behind the winner, and that wasn’t Al Ferof, so Paul and his team got together and discovered that he’d got grade four ulcers.
“Paul discovered that about 10 per cent of his horses had those ulcers and you ask the Americans, grade four ulcers will stop buses. Horses can’t cope with that.
“So Paul treated him, we treated him at my daughter’s farm and even when he came off grass after 10 or 12 weeks he still had signs of gastric problems, so we treated him and carried on treating him.
“Now you can see the difference. He was giving 11lb – that was impressive.
“That wasn’t just a win – that was an impressive win.
“We will go for the King George and we will take it from there.”
Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen maintained his unbeaten record and hardly came out of a canter to land the Grade Two Coral Hurdle by three and three-quarter lengths from Blue Fashion.
Trainer Willie Mullins said: “I’m delighted. Ruby really asked him at the last and he came up for him.
“He was able to dictate the pace, which he won’t always be able to do.
“He looks way stronger than he did at any stage last year. Hopefully I can keep him like that and, if he can improve, who knows.
“I don’t know where he’ll go next but he has plenty of options and could go up or down in trip.”
After jumping off the 1-4 favourite, Walsh, who was completing a treble on the day, said: “That was mission accomplished.
“That was the first run of the year and we knew he was going to improve, so we were not about to make it a test of stamina.”
Deputy Dan meanwhile could step up in class for the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton over Christman Day.
Trainer Oliver Sherwood was delighted the Albert Bartlett runner-up got off the mark over fences at the second attempt at Plumpton on Monday, having only been beaten by Virak on his fencing debut at Fontwell in October. A visit to Kempton is now in the pipeline, but Deputy Dan could run before that at Exeter on December 5.
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