FLORIDA Pearl became the first Irish-trained winner of the King George VI Chase for more than 25 years when powering home at Kempton Park yesterday.

Willie Mullins's charge, ridden by Adrian Maguire, gave a first-class display of jumping on his way to landing the Pertemps-sponsored £150,000 prize.

And the nine-year old showed plenty of determination to hold the thrust of Best Mate and jockey Tony McCoy in the final yards and score by three-quarters of a length.

Turning for home, only four of the eight runners were left in with a chance, and Florida Pearl who had taken the lead with a circuit left to run, was at the head of the quartet. In behind were Best Mate, Bacchanal and First Gold but a bad mistake at the third-last fence ended any chance of the French raider repeating his success of 12 months ago.

As Bacchanal failed to quicken, it looked like Best Mate, the young pretender, was going to come of age.

But McCoy's mount was just unable to reel in the winner as the finishing post loomed, the pair finishing six lengths clear of Bacchanal. Wiltshire-based Maguire had been half-way up the M1 yesterday morning when he found out he had picked up the ride.

Originally, the Irishman was due to ride at Wetherby but was then switched to Market Rasen before that meeting too was abandoned as the wintry weather took its toll.

His car, driven by friend Andrew Lejeune, then did a quick about-turn before heading back South.

Mullins' confirmed that Maguire had always been high on the pecking order for the ride.

''When Ruby Walsh and Paul Carverry decided to go to Leopardstown, I immediately thought that I would like Adrian,'' the winning trainer said.

''Adrian has ridden plenty of winners for me, he's a good mate and a good jockey.

''I knew Adrian was going to Wetherby so I booked JP McNamara but it was on the understanding that I would use Adrian if he became available. To be honest, I was hoping that Wetherby would be called off.

''I told Adrian that if he was happy with the way that the race was going, then he should go to the front. I had decided that if the horse wasn't good enough to get there, he obviously wasn't good enough to win.

''We've been to the Ericsson twice with him at this time of year and it hasn't been a lucky race for us, so last year we decided to come over and he finished second, despite making some mistakes early on.''

This year's race saw a noticeable improvement in Florida Pearl's jumping, something which Mullins' attributed to both the change in tactics and a switch in stable routine.

''He has been ridden from off the pace for a long time and I just thought he might appreciate a change, something new,'' he said.

''I'm also not afraid to school him near a race now. It just seems to perk him up.

''He schooled on Christmas Eve and when he won at Punchestown last time he schooled on the morning of the race.''

Inevitably, Florida Pearl's campaign will now be geared towards another crack at the Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup, a race in which he has finished second and third in previous years.

In the past, he has seemed to lack all the stamina reserves required for the extra two-and-a-half furlongs of that race, but Mullins retained faith in his man.

''I will probably never have a horse as good as this again,'' he said.

''I've never lost any faith in him. They were good performances in the Gold Cup and I'm not apologising for them.

''I still think he will stay the trip when everything goes right for him. He looks stronger, he looks better this year. I'm biased but I thought he was the pick of the ring today."

Best Mate's trainer Henrietta Knight was far from despondent at loosing out.

''I'm delighted with the horse. He's got his whole future ahead of him,'' she said.

''He's home in one piece. I never had any doubts he would stay and Tony says he definitely does.

''I suppose this knocks Cathcart on the head and it's looking more like the Gold Cup.

''I'm delighted for Florida Pearl and for Willie - they have been the runner-up so many times. They deserved to win a big race like this.

''I had a couple of pounds on him too.''

For many, the disappointment of the race was last year's winner First Gold, who never really jumped with his customary aplomb.

Trainer Francois Doumen said: ''There is nothing wrong with him and all I can suggest is that he takes longer to come to his peak at this age. Don't forget that last year, he had been running in France and he arrived here after quite a few races and at the very top of his fitness."