Consolation for Fergie

MANCHESTER United manager Alex Ferguson's What A Friend landed the feature race on the first day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree yesterday.

MANCHESTER United manager Alex Ferguson's What A Friend landed the feature race on the first day of the Grand National meeting at Aintree yesterday.

Less than 24 hours after Bayern Munich had knocked United out of the Champions League, Ferguson was in the winner's enclosure to greet the Grade One Totesport Bowl Chase victor.

This was the perfect pick-me-up following the defeat at Old Trafford for the Scot who owns the Paul Nicholls-trained chaser in partnership with Manchester businessman Ged Mason.

What A Friend had most in reserve to hold off Carruthers after the final fence after long time leader Nacarat belted the first fence in the straight.

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander failed to justify odds-on favouritism in this R1,67million prize after unseating his jockey, Paddy Brennan at the 14th fence. What A Friend, a 5-2 shot who was a fresh horse having skipped last month's Cheltenham Festival, took the honours by three quarters of a length.

Ferguson said: "I'm very pleased, it's fantastic and I was so excited. It's great. That's the beauty of the racing game. Every fence you're jumping yourself, that's the beauty of it. 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."

Nigel Twiston-Davies said of Imperial Commander: "The horse is fine - he didn't jump very well and if you don't jump you don't win. He made an early mistake and his jumping fell apart so we'll send him off for a nice long break now."

Ferguson had been scathing about Bayern Munich in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's loss at Old Trafford, blaming the visitors for orchestrating the sending off of Rafael.

But he cut an altogether more contented figure here, saying: "Life is like that. Every day is a different day.

"You have your disappointments and no-one died last night. That's the important thing and you move on."

Big Bucks, also trained by Nicholls, succeeded where Imperial Commander failed in following up his Cheltenham Festival success with victory in the opening Grade One Liverpool Hurdle. - Sapa

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