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14 Feb 2011 | 19:15
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Al's well as Nicholls grabs GoldHeadlines
Al Ferof (left) on his way to Paddy Power glory

Paul Nicholls claimed a first Paddy Power Gold Cup as Al Ferof defied a huge weight burden with a brilliant round of jumping at Cheltenham.

Nicholls, owner John Hales and jockey Ruby Walsh have suffered heartache in this race before with the ill-fated Granit Jack, but the 8-1 chance went a long way to exorcising those demons.

Still under a tight hold at the top of the hill, where first Hunt Ball and shortly afterwards Grands Crus had run their races, Walsh was joined by another grey, Walkon, and held just a slight advantage two out. He stamped his class on proceedings from there, and hard as the Alan King runner tried he could not reel him in up the gruelling hill, finishing three lengths adrift.

Nadiya de la Vega was third with long-time leader Casey Top running a gallant race in fourth.

Nicholls said: "He must be a good horse. He came in late because he cut himself in the field, but he had a gallop at Wincanton last weekend and went really well. The second-season chasers of ours like him are improving, I don't think the horses were right last year.

"We'll have to think about Kempton (King George) I suppose, he stayed well there and I think we'll have to look at it."

Walsh said: "You need a bit of class in this race, which is why we were keen to take a chance. In fairness to him we were forcing him at two (miles). Stepping up in trip is probably what we should be doing."

Hales said: "That was a stunning performance, as good as from any horse I have owned. The rain concerned me today, but I thought it was an outstanding run.

"I wasn't as confident when I started looking at the race yesterday - I thought it was going to be difficult to give weight away to horses like Grands Crus. 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."

David Pipe said of Grands Crus: "Tom (Scudamore) just said he wasn't really ever that happy with him, he lost a near-fore plate but no excuses, we'll get him home and see. He had his heart checked afterwards and that was fine, he's in one piece and far worse things happen. I don't think so (ground to blame), he's handled very soft ground before."

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