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Sir Alex Ferguson’s plan for Grand National

By Frank Brownlow

Sir Alex Ferguson last night added the Grand National to his list of targets for the season.

The Manchester United boss is already chasing Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup glory this season.

And it now looks likely his horse What A Friend — just edged out by Kauto Star for third place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday — will have a crack at the Aintree spectacular on April 9, particularly if the ground is good.

And Ruby Walsh, who was top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival with five winners, would have the option of riding the Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old.

“As we suspected, better ground and blinkers saw him post a much improved effort in the Gold Cup,” said Nicholls yesterday.

“He could run in the Totesport Bowl (which he won last year) but on good ground he is highly likely to run in the Grand National,” added the champion trainer.

What A Friend is as short as |16-1 for the big race, won for the first time last year by Ulsterman Tony McCoy on Don’t Push It.

Nicholls’ Al Ferof will embark upon a novice chasing career following his outstanding success in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Despite the striking nature of Tuesday's Cheltenham Festival victory, the trainer will resist the urge to run him again this term.

Al Ferof, owned by John Hales, will instead return next season with a view to being campaigned over fences.

Nicholls said: “Even though the Supreme was clearly a very good race — it was actually faster than the Champion — I don't think he is a horse that wants to stay hurdling too long.

“We will school him, put him away, and bring him back for a novice chase in the autumn, maybe at Exeter.”

The Ditcheat handler enjoyed a fine Cheltenham, but a notable disappointment was Master Minded, who beat just three home in the Queen Mother.

“We were nervous of the ground beforehand, and he wants further when encountering that ground in the future. We'll go for the two-mile-four-furlong at Aintree (Melling Chase),” he said.

Meanwhile, Jamie Spencer will ride the Aidan O'Brien-trained Cape Blanco in Saturday's Dubai World Cup at Meydan. The former stable jockey to Ballydoyle and Coolmore will be partnering the Galileo colt for the first time.

Spencer has been linked with a return to the Irish powerhouse following the departure of Johnny Murtagh last November. However O'Brien played down the speculation at the Curragh yesterday by stating he would continue to use “the best available” jockeys at each individual meeting.

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