Star names and no shortage of intrigue wherever you look on day one of the Paddy Power Open Meeting, with four races live on Channel 4 from Prestbury Park.
A chase debut for star hurdler Oscar Whisky, plus Badger Ales Chase winner Standing Ovation going for a fifth straight success in the opening amateur riders’ handicap chase are just a couple of the talking points, and the curtain raiser at 1.05pm is where we’ll kick off…
It was only October 10th when Standing Ovation scrambled home by a neck at Exeter off a mark of 94, but a trio of subsequent wins over the sturdy Wincanton fences (off marks of 99, 110 & 120) paint the picture of a meteoric rise for the six-year-old who gamely represents the Bravo Partnership, friends of the late David Johnson.
He’s getting better (fast) too, as demonstrated by Saturday’s latest Somerset romp.
Six pounds well in under a seven pound penalty (due to race off 133 in future), his opportunity here looks too good to be true, but it’s a different track, new fences, a new rider, and just six days since he was last in action.
His trainer has won the last two runnings of this contest and to an extent has to run here, but there is a risk this’ll come too soon, and it’s also interesting to see one of Ireland’s finest trainer’s Tony Martin sending over Galway festival winner Victrix Gale.
She by contrast has enjoyed a 57 day break since her last spin at Listowel, and prior to that scored with ease over hurdles at the summer Ballybrit jamboree, and now goes back over the bigger obstacles with a top pilot booked.
Formerly with Nicky Henderson, better ground and return to a stiffer track could well see a big run, and even if Standing Ovation earns his title she looks hard to keep out of the frame at 6/1 with any of Betfred, Coral, Paddy Power or William Hill.
Just 30 minutes later a wide open two mile handicap chase follows, and one that might have been ignored at a massive price is Mick Easterby’s useful second season chaser Shadows Lengthen.
With the exception of his well beaten second at Haydock back in March this fella is slightly unlucky not to be the holder of an almost untarnished record over fences, though wins at Sedgefield and Bangor suggest he’s very good going left handed and handles any ground.
This is tougher, but he signed off last season with a 12 length romp at Bangor over 2m5f, and now finds himself on a mark of 132.
In form Jake Greenall takes three off, and it’s worth remembering this horse has had a spin at Wetherby two weeks ago to blow away the cobwebs.
It’s easy to make a case for the likes of fancied runners Eastlake and Renard, but Shadows Lengthen is no slouch and was being muted for a possible tilt at the Grand Annual after his Sedgefield win back in January.
Now he’s made it to Cheltenham eight months later than hoped, and at 5/1 a place with either of the firms offering the best price in the village 20/1 (BetVictor or William Hill) he looks worth an interest to resume progress.
The late David Johnson, a great friend and supporter of National Hunt racing, may already have had a winner if Standing Ovation can oblige at 1.05pm, but the David Johnson Memorial Intermediate Handicap Hurdle run at 2.40pm could very well go to the stable who supplied him with his greatest success as an owner – Comply Or Die’s 2008 Grand National victory – with David Pipe’s Top Gamble likely to be primed to the minute for this.
“Obviously this is a race we would like to win” is the quote attributed to his trainer in today’s press, and you can be certain the dual Ffos Las winner will be ready to go first time.
He’s got far more on his plate than previously, but strong market support has arrived for him this morning, and punters are taking note.
New ground, a new track and far better opposition all lie in wait, but even so Pipe has been fulsome in his praise for this horse’s development, and he can make a winning reappearance.
Nip in to grab the remaining 4’s with bet365 before it evaporates.
It may well seem there’s a something of a Pipe-theme running through today’s column, but the final thought is this: his stable jockey Tom Scudamore goes all the way up to Newcastle for two rides on the opening day of a significant Cheltenham fixture.
As ever, it may be putting two and two together and getting five (neither Standing Ovation nor Top Gamble are his ride and Pipe has no other Cheltenham runners), but nonetheless surely that suggests he needs a winner to help pay the diesel money?
The one that fits the bill is his Welsh National winning brother Michael’s Next Sensation in the 0-120 two miler at 1.45pm.
He’s up a meaty 13 pounds for bolting up at Plumpton on his handicap debut, but is open to plenty of improvement and travels a long way for a winning opportunity.
The 9/4 with Coral looks worth taking.
Friday’s best bets:
1.45 Newcastle – Quicksilver Slots Get Up To £200 Handicap Chase – 2 Next Sensation (win) @ 9/4 (Coral)
2.40 Cheltenham – David Johnson Memorial Intermediate Handicap Hurdle – 6 Top Gamble (win) @ 4/1 (bet365)