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Nicholls excited by Al Ferof's Arkle claim

Paul Nicholls is really looking forward to running Al Ferof in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy after his third against seasoned campaigners in Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot.

The Ditcheat trainer believes taking minor honours behind Somersby and Finian's Rainbow was an ideal prep for the two-mile novice championship at Cheltenham.

"I see that Timeform rate Al Ferof's third in the Victor Chandler at Ascot yesterday as the best performance by a novice chaser this season -- and I couldn't agree more," said Nicholls.

"I gather they now rate Al Ferof on 161 and that is 3lb ahead of Grands Crus' Feltham win (which was 158). Although he jumped a bit novicey on occasions, I was delighted with his fencing in the main.

"He wasn't foot perfect, but that is exactly why I ran him in the race -- for the experience in a strongly run, high-class race that he is very likely to get in the Arkle. Saturday's race will clearly stand him in good stead.

"He won't run before then and my aim now is to get him ready and at his best for Cheltenham and that is exactly what I will do. As we have seen with him in the past, he is at his best in the spring too.

"So my eyes are set on Cheltenham in March. But Ruby (Walsh) is looking further ahead, it seems -- he turned round to John Hales and said what a ride he'd be in the King George next season."

Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson is likely to keep Finian's Rainbow to two miles following his fine effort in finishing runner-up.

The nine-year-old has entries in the three top chase races at Cheltenham with the Queen Mother Champion Chase appearing the favoured option at this stage.

"I'd like to think there's a bit of improvement to come. We talked about going further but I think we'll stick to two miles," Henderson said.

Irish Independent