Reason to cheer for Ferguson in thrilling Aintree opener

SIR ALEX Ferguson enjoyed some compensation for Manchester United’s Champions League elimination on Wednesday after his part-owned What A Friend claimed an impressive victory in the Totesport Bowl on the opening day of Aintree.

Just hours after seeing his side crash out on away goals to Bayern Munich, Ferguson was given reason to cheer as his Lexus Chase winner held off Carruthers to claim a three-and-a-quarter-length victory.

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander unseated jockey Paddy Brennan at the 14th fence and after Tony McCoy’s Nacarat hit the final fence, Ruby Walsh led the Paul Nicholls charge to complete an opening-day double for both jockey and trainer.

“I’m very pleased, it’s fantastic and I was so excited,” a delighted Ferguson said afterwards. “I’ve had a lot of great winners, but to win a race of this magnitude and class is fantastic. I’m really pleased.

“He’s a young horse and the aim is to go to the Gold Cup next year.”

Nicholls and Walsh’s first victory of the day came through Cheltenham winner Big Buck’s, who maintained his unbeaten record over the timber with a third straight Aintree success in the Liverpool Hurdle. The 30-100 favourite stormed through to win by three lengths from Souffleur and Possol.

There were major shocks elsewhere, however, with 40-1 shot Orsippus beating red-hot favourite Sanctuaire to win the Novices’ Hurdle, while Silver Adonis caused a 50-1 upset in the Fox Hunters’ Chase ahead of Moncadou and Blu Teen.