Ferguson hoping Friend can strike

WHILE Alex Ferguson prepares for his Champions League quarter-final with Inter Milan, he could be forgiven for taking 10 minutes out of his day to watch What A Friend in the RSA Chase today.

Ferguson owns the Paul Nicholls-trained novice in partnership with Ged Mason and the Manchester United manager’s love of racing is no secret.

What A Friend scored at the track in December and while he has among the favourites for some time, Nicholls is well aware it will be no walk in the park.

“It looks a really good race with the likes of Carruthers, Gone To Lunch and Cooldine in the line-up, but this has been the plan all season and we think he’s got a leading chance,” said Nicholls.

“I’ve spoken to Sir Alex and he’s looking forward to it.

“Obviously, he’ll be at the footy tomorrow night and it’s a shame he can’t be here but he’s off winning everything else!”

While the football fraternity would like to see Ferguson prevail, many in racing would love to see Carruthers give Lord Oaksey a winner.

Oaksey, a former amateur rider, journalist and key figure in the Injured Jockeys Fund, even bred the six-year-old who is in training with his son-in-law, Mark Bradstock.

“He is only a six-year-old so we needed to see how he came out of the Ascot race before we gave him the green light for this. If we thought he hadn’t come out of it well, he wouldn’t be going,” said Bradstock.

“He is in good form and some might say we would have been brave not to go this year with him being in such good form, but you have to remember he is only a six-year-old and one needs to look after him.

“But he seems in absolutely fabulous form and we are there tomorrow.

“I personally think the ground might be a bit softer than people think, it’s certainly not going to be good ground.

“He has form on all ground anyway. When he finished second in his bumper (behind Imperial Cup winner Dave’s Dream), it was on the fast side of good so I don’t think the ground is an issue with him, as long as it isn’t tacky like last year.”

The problems Supreme Hurdle also-ran Cousin Vinny endured on the trip to Cheltenham are well documented, but Willie Mullins also had some concerns over Cooldine.

However, he recovered much quicker than his stablemate and is now pleasing his trainer ahead of a race in which the yard has a great record.

Victories for Florida Pearl in 1998 and Rule Supreme six years ago demonstrate that Mullins knows just what is required for the extreme test.

“I was a little concerned with him after travelling but Monday and Tuesday mornings he was great. I’m delighted with him,” said Mullins.

“When he won the Dr P.J Moriarty last time he showed a great attitude.

“He was headed after the last and he battled back to beat a horse of the calibre of Forpadydeplasterer.

“All he did the last day was stay so that bodes well for tomorrow.”

Another strong Irish challenger is Noel Meade’s Casey Jones, a Grade One winner in his own right, and big-race jockey Paul Carberry is looking forward to the ride.

“He is a horse who we always thought would be a right chaser,” said Carberry.

“He took a while to win his novice but was running on soft ground, which he hates. The nicer the ground the better for him. He stays and I am very keen on him.

“Noel’s horses have had a better preparation and are coming here fresh so I am happy.”

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