CHAMPION TRAINER Paul Nicholls is hopeful that a revitalised Al Ferof can win Boxing Day’s William Hill King George VI Chase – jump racing’s mid-season centrepiece.
Nicholls, who is seeking to win Kempton’s premier three-mile race for a record ninth time, says his grey has recovered well from his comeback win in Ascot’s Amlin 1965 Chase when not fully fit.
It saw Al Ferof concede four pounds to the likes of Wishfull Thinking, who franked the form when winning the prestigious Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Sunday for the virtually unstoppable combination of trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson.
“Obviously I think Al Ferof ran a career-best at Ascot the other day and the form has worked out really well,” said Nicholls at yesterday’s launch of the William Hill Winter Festival.
“For whatever reason he seems to be much better in himself this year than he was last year, he had a few problems, ulcers...
“The biggest question is whether he’ll stay three miles on soft ground. He’s got to prove he stays three miles, but on his very best he might well do. He’s by Dom Alco, he should do. I don’t think the twice he’s run at three miles he’s been at his best.”
Al Ferof, the 2012 Paddy Power Gold Cup hero, runs in the colours of John Hales whose legendary One Man was a two-time King George winner.
While Al Ferof would prefer good ground, stablemate Silviniaco Conti – the reigning champion – will relish stamina-sapping conditions in contrast.
Nicholls says the chaser is in “the form of his life” after winning Haydock’s Betfair Chase, a success that Nicholls attributes to the application of cheek-pieces after Silviniaco Conti’s slightly lacklustre reppaearance in Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase.
What he would want is plenty of rain,” added the trainer. “Kempton on good ground wouldn’t be ideal… if you had a dry three weeks and the ground was good or even faster you’d be seriously concerned about it but if it keeps raining, it’s soft, it’s ideal for him. Last year’s race being soft, it was a test of stamina and it did suit him.”
As for the Hobbs-trained Charlie Hall winner Menorah, he will be ridden in the big race by Tom O’Brien because of the 12-day suspension handed down to the aforementioned Johnson when he took the wrong course at Exeter last Friday.
Ladbrokes World Hurdle hero More Of That will undergo a wind operation following his disappointing return at Newbury.
Jonjo O’Neill’s six-year-old looked a potential star after defeating Annie Power in a pulsating contest at the Cheltenham Festival, but he lost his unbeaten record as he trailed home a distant third to Medinas.
“I don’t know how long it will be before he runs again, but it won’t be this side of Christmas,” said the trainer.
Gary Moore’s Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy, meanwhile, is now back in training and on the road to recovery after suffering a minor injury that forced his stable star to miss last Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
Danny Cook is hopeful he has not suffered any broken bones after suffering a heavy fall at Musselburgh.
Cook headed to the Edinburgh circuit in a rich vein of form having built up a good recent relationship with trainer Sue Smith after Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania’s retirement.
The jockey was still in with every chance of adding to his tally aboard Brian Ellison’s Apterix when he came to grief at the final flight. Cook’s agent, Bruce Jeffrey, said: “I spoke to Danny at about 4pm and he said he was a bit battered and bruised, but the pain has eased.”
Middleham trainer Phil Kirby is to relocate in the New Year. He is to share Keith Reveley’s yard at Saltburn.
It will mark the end of a two-year association between Kirby and Kate Walton, who is currently the subject of a BHA corruption inquiry.
Stilt walkers and fire-eaters will welcome racegoers attending this year’s Go Racing in Yorkshire Winter Festival.
It incorporates Wetherby’s two-day Christmas meeting on December 26 and 27, followed by Catterick on December 28 and Doncaster on December 29. There are also numerous competitions and ticket offers. Log on at www.goracing.co.uk for further details.
Toomey eyes racing ‘Oscar’
BRIAN Toomey, the Yorkshire-based jump jockey who cheated death almost 18 months ago following a horror fall, is in line for a national award.
He is one of four contenders in the Jump Jockey Special Recognition category at the Stobart Lesters – horse racing’s equivalent of the Oscars.
His rivals include AP McCoy and Richard Johnson, the two winning-most riders in history, as well as the recently retired Joe Tizzard.
Toomey, who suffered life-theatening head injuries, is still seeking medical approval before he can reapply for his riding licence.
Meanwhile, Jack Berry, the driving force behind the Injured Jockeys Fund’s new rehab centre in Malton, has been shortlisted for the Flat Jockey Special Recognition prize.
The awards will be presented on December 22. Other Yorkshire nominees include Flat jockeys Jason Hart and Joe Fanning.