Al Ferof (Ruby Walsh) after winning the Supreme Novices hurdle Cheltenham festival 15.03.2011

Watch the Supreme Novices' Hurdle  highlights

Ferof gets festival off to flyer for Nicholls-Walsh

Report: Cheltenham, Tuesday

Stan James Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m ½f, 4yo+

CHAMPION trainer Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh teamed up for the second time to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle when Al Ferof beat Spirit Son in a thrilling finish to the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival.

Like their 2006 winner Noland, Al Ferof is owned by John Hales, who said: "I thought we were running for fourth, then third and then it all happened - all thanks to Ruby. His judging of pace is just amazing."

AlFerof (Ruby Walsh) after winning the Supreme Novices hurdle Cheltenham festival 15.03.2011

Ruby Walsh celebrates after getting the festival off to a flyer

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker  

Sentoff at 10-1, Al Ferof - tipped at 25-1 ante-post by the Racing Post's Pricewise service - was given a cool ride by Walsh, whose season has been disrupted by the broken leg he suffered at Down Royal in November.

The pair improved theirposition rounding the turn for home, but looked like they would be playing for place money at best, with 7-4 favourite and last year's Champion Bumper winner Cue Card and the Nicky Henderson-trained Sprinter Sacre, an 11-1 shot, travelling sweetly on theinner.

However, that pair emptied approaching the last and Spirit Son, the 5-1 second favourite and a stablemate of Sprinter Sacre, touched down in front, only for Walsh to conjure a winning rally from his mount, who was made a 10-1 chance for next year's Champion Hurdle with William Hill.

Nicholls also paid tribute to Walsh, the winning-most rider in Cheltenham Festival history.

Dan Skelton (left) and Paul Nicholls after the Supreme Novices hurdle Cheltenham festival 15.03.2011

Team Ditcheat: Dan Skelton (left) and Paul Nicholls celebrate success

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker  

"It's so good to have Ruby back," Nicholls beamed.

"It's the first time I've had Al Ferof right, he's just taken some time to come to himself. Last year [in the Bumper] he gave Cue Card weight and if Cue Card hadn't been there he'd have been an easy winner and everybody would be raving about him."

Sprinter Sacre claimed third place with Cue Card unable to add to his stunning Champion Bumper success 12 months ago.

Jockey Joe Tizzard, whose father Colin trains Cue Card, said: "I'm not going to make any excuses because there aren't any - we were beaten fair and square."

Tizzard snr added: "He ran well but not as good as the first three. We can't make any excuses. He got there as easy as any horse but we have been beaten. He'll be better over fences, but that's for another day.

"There has been so much hype about this horse but I'm not disappointed at all. I'm just glad he has come back safe and sound - we've lost a few of ours this season and that's disappointing."

Of Sprinter Sacre and Spirit Son, Henderson's assistant Tom Symonds said: "The battle has been lost but the war is yet to be won.

"We're annoyed we didn't win but still delighted with our horses. They finished in the order our jockey bookings suggested they would.

"Sprinter Sacre will be an amazing chaser and maybe one for next year's Arkle but he is still a bit weak, while Spirit Son, on only his fourth ever run, has run a cracker."

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