The 8/1 shot finished three lengths clear of Walkon (7/1).
Reports of the gelding's home work have been highly positive and so it proved as the grey, under Ruby Walsh, went clear with Alan King’s Walkon going around the final bend and finished the stronger.
Al Ferof was a winner at the Cheltenham Festival as a novice hurdler but flopped subsequently in the Arkle and last time out at Aintree. However she was rejuvenated in one of the most competitive and entertaining races in the jumps calendar.
Having trained the runner-up on three occasions, Nicholls finally got the monkey off his back.
Nicholls told Racing UK: "He goes well fresh, he always has done. On Thursday he worked as well as I have ever seen him work and I knew he had a chance, but he's always been quite a good horse. We'll have to think about Kempton (King George VI Chase) now. I always wondered if he would stay but he stayed well there and you'd have to say it might suit him.
"He came in late because he cut himself in the field, but he had a gallop at Wincanton last weekend and went really well.
"The second-season chasers of ours like him are improving, I don't think the horses were right last year."
Nadiya De La Vega (12/1) was a distant 12 lengths back in third and outsider Casey Top (40/1) completed the places.
The favourite Grands Crus was unable to give the Pipe family a 10th winner in the race and failed to last the two mile four and a half furlong trip.