Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Al Ferof can rule roost to spread cheer at Kempton

Daryl Jacob will be hoping to partner Al Ferof to another victory at Kempton
Daryl Jacob will be hoping to partner Al Ferof to another victory at Kempton
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

As Long Run dons a first-time visor in his bid to reignite one of the most glorious eras of modern jump racing in the King George VI Chase this afternoon, Gordon Elliott's Mount Benbulben is the sole hope of an Irish success in the revered Kempton showpiece.

Incredibly, since the 11-year-old Edredon Bleu brought the house down with a shock triumph for Jim Culloty in 2003, just three horses have won the William Hill-sponsored Grade One.

They are quite the trio, though, with the last of Kauto Star's heroic five-timer sandwiched between Long Run's double and preceded by Kicking King's back-to-back victories.

Such has been Long Run's general decline -- briefly interrupted with that last-gasp mugging of Captain Chris in this marquee three-miler 12 months ago -- that you can have double-figure odds about him getting up his hat-trick now.

He has simply never been the same horse since his brave Gold Cup victory in 2011, but a visor should make Sam Waley-Cohen's job easier.

While Long Run has worn cheek-pieces since he first sported them to be third in the Gold Cup last March, a visor will sharpen up his ideas even more.

He is a talented horse that absolutely loves Kempton, so it could be unwise to discount him completely today.

Still, Mount Benbulben is one of a number of the other eight runners that could be described as more progressive.

The nine-year-old Riverside Theatre is the oldest horse on duty and has little appeal over the trip despite his returning to form in such game style at Huntingdon.

Elliott has already done brilliantly to win a Grade One chase -- the three-mile novice at Punchestown in April -- with Mount Benbulben.

Barry Connell's eight-year-old has a huge engine, but he also has a pretty erratic fencing technique.

LIBERTIES

At Down Royal last month, he jumped badly right at times and took plenty of liberties with Danny Mullins. He doesn't adjust quickly enough when he meets a fence wrong, and, when the pace picked up four-out, he got caught out badly and buried Mullins.

Kempton's upright park fences are going to be a huge challenge for him, so it is difficult to see him keeping it together for long enough to have a big say.

Much as I'd love to see him collect, I can't see it happening, with the emphasis on pace another potential negative.

Cue Card, a tired fifth after early mistakes in 2012, is another with undoubted talent. He was impressive at Haydock, but you couldn't be sure he will back it up, and the low-grade virus that lingers at Colin Tizzard's yard adds to the sense that he is an opposable market leader.

Dynaste has some appeal back over the course and distance that he pulverised last year's Feltham field. However, he may not come on that much for his second to Cue Card at Haydock.

Silviniaco Conti might come on more for his third, as he blew up noticeably before staying on again at the death. If he strips fitter, he and the excellent Noel Fehily will go close, but Al Ferof is fancied to add to Paul Nicholls' unsurpassed record in this prestigious event.

After conquering Cue Card and Sprinter Sacre in the 2011 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the handsome grey came into his own over fences with that superlative Paddy Power Gold Cup success just over a year ago. A son of Martaline, he thrived with a bit of cut in the ground over two-mile-five-furlongs, but then spent a year off with a leg injury.

When he returned at Ascot in November, he only had French Opera to beat, but he really impressed in the enthusiastic manner that he went about the job for Daryl Jacob. If he were trained by anyone else, the 'bounce' factor might be an issue, but not with one of Nicholls'.

EXCITING

In short, Al Ferof remains an extremely exciting prospect now that he steps up to three miles, and it is notable that he beat a subsequent Grade One winner in a point-to-point that was run on heavy ground for Liz Doyle back in 2009.

He is fancied to have matured sufficiently now to secure yet another high-profile triumph for Wexford native Jacob and his in-form boss.

The same fledgling partnership should take the Feltham with Just A Par, though Urbain De Sivola appeals at likely bigger odds for them on his fencing bow in the novices' handicap.

Of course, the first of the major dust-ups between the various Champion Hurdle contenders takes place in the Christmas Hurdle. Nigel Twiston-Davies' The New One is a shade of odds-on to account for Henderson's My Tent Or Yours in the two-mile Grade One.

To these eyes, though, My Tent Or Yours is the most potent threat to the reigning champion Hurricane Fly. He was sublime on his return in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, and is strongly fancied to follow up under AP McCoy on a track that should suit his style ideally.

Best Bet: My Tent Or Yours

King George prediction: 1 Al Ferof, 2 Silviniaco Conti, 3 Dynaste.

Irish Independent

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