Kauto Star may be nicely tucked up in his box enjoying retirement, but Paul Nicholls could still have an embarrassment of riches come Boxing Day at Kempton.
Five-time King George VI Chase hero Kauto Star will never be replaced, of course, but Al Ferof put down his marker for the Christmas spectacular with a tremendous performance in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
And with Charlie Hall winner Silviniaco Conti and Down Royal victor Kauto Stone other strong contenders, Nicholls will rightly have high hopes of King George victory number eight for Ditcheat.
In landing the Paddy Power under the welter burden of 11st 8lb from Walkon, Al Ferof was giving Nicholls a first win in one of the few races to have eluded him.
He was also exorcising a few ghosts, too, as Nicholls, owner John Hales and jockey Ruby Walsh had suffered heartache in the very same race with the ill-fated Granit Jack in 2007.
“He must be a good horse,” said Nicholls.
“He came in late because he cut himself in the field, but he had a gallop at Wincanton last weekend and went really well.
“I don’t think my horses were right last season, and he’s one of the six-year-olds that are improving.”
Hales said: “That was a stunning performance, as good as from any horse I have owned.
“I think we have decided we will go to the King George now, and he is a horse that we are going to have to look after.”
Grands Crus, one of the great hopes of David Pipe, was hammered into 7-4 favourite but was eventually pulled up before the second-last along with Hunt Ball.
At least Pipe had seen smart prospect Our Father (11-4) thrash 2-1 favourite Sire Collonges by 20 lengths under Timmy Murphy in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Chase.
“It’s going to be a big season for him,” said Pipe.
In Ireland, Minsk served notice that he could yet prove a smart recruit off the Flat and he won with some authority in the www.punchestown.com Maiden Hurdle.
Jockey Bryan Cooper said of the Dessie Hughes-trained winner: “It’s nice to get that out of the way and he’s certainly one to look forward to. He gave me a totally different feel compared to his last hurdle run at Fairyhouse.”
On Sunday, Hurricane Fly made a successful reappearance in the Dobbins & Madigans Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown after Go Native took a crashing fall at the final flight.
Paul Carberry brought Go Native to challenge the 2-5 favourite when Noel Meade’s nine-year-old came down.
That left the 2011 Champion Hurdle hero to score by 12 lengths from the only other runner, Captain Cee Bee.
Hurricane Fly was completing a hat-trick on the day for trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh after their wins with Twinlight and Back in Focus earlier on the card. Mullins also had a double at Cork.
Mullins said: “”We’ll look at Leopardstown at Christmas now and the plan will be that, the Irish Champion and Cheltenham as the races are well spread out.“
Honours in the big race at Cheltenham’s Open meeting, the Racing Post Hurdle, went to the Tom George-trained and Paddy Brennan-ridden Olofi (8-1), who had finished second in this race 12 months ago.
George said: “He’s a very, very talented horse and could still be improving.”
The Philip Hobbs-trained Wishfull Thinking took advantage of the defection of Sprinter Sacre to win the Shloer Chase.