Avenue is streets ahead for Mongan and Adams
Imperial Cup win earns crack at big Festival bonus, says Tom Peacock
First Avenue owed Nathan Adams a good turn and he provided it in stunning fashion as the 10lb claimer clinched his first winner of the season in the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown.
The last time the 24-year-old rode Laura Mongan's gelding in competitive action, last November at this very course, he was signed off duty for a couple of months with a broken collarbone. While the Listed handicap, a fierce betting heat, was by some way the most valuable of Adams' total of only four wins, the same applied to Epsom-based Mongan.
With a £75,000 bonus from the sponsors should the same horse double up at Cheltenham next week, it is a prize the Pipe family traditionally target and David Pipe must have thought Kazlian had achieved the first step in emulating Gaspara back in 2007.
Unfortunately, Tom Scudamore's mount stumbled through the second-last flight with the event at his mercy and he was soon struggling and passed by First Avenue, which had been in an improbable position turning for home.
Kazlian's stablemate Tanerko Emery picked him off for second, but the 20/1 winner from a little-known combination was clear by three-and-a-half lengths.
"I'm in shock – I'm so happy. This is going to cost me a lot of drinks!" said Mongan, who is married to top Flat rider Ian. "He's a nice horse, who deserved a big one. He's owned by me too, as I haven't been able to sell him. We thought we would come here with a chance of a place and a good day out. This doesn't happen to small trainers like me."
First Avenue's chance of the bonus would come in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle, and Mongan said: "I confirmed him, and if he got in, he'd run."
Adams is a late starter, having been an apprentice farrier before his first ride at the age of 22. "I broke my collarbone in five places in the fall, so I was off for a long time, but he doesn't owe me a collarbone now!" he said.
"I had a lot of confidence in the horse, creeping along and he took off. He was just idling in the end."
The Queen has a bright prospect to cherish in Close Touch (8/1), the 12-length winner of the European Breeders' Fund paddypower.com "National Hunt" Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final.
Trainer Nicky Henderson said: "Handicaps are out, but I wouldn't mind running him again and perhaps he could go to Aintree."
Jo Hughes had always held high hopes for Soll (7/2), which won for the first time since moving from Ireland under a positive Mark Grant in the Download The Paddy Power App Handicap Chase.
Hughes' partner and assistant, Paul Blockley, said: "We were very pleased with his first run in the Hennessy, he needed it, and we really fancied him in the Welsh National but the ground was like a gluepot and he couldn't handle it."
The Kim Bailey-trained Molly's A Diva (17/2) continued her rampant progress in the European Breeders' Fund/Doncaster Bloodstock Sales Mares' bumper, providing a restorative first ride back for Nick Scholfield after a crunching fall at Newbury last weekend.
Meanwhile, tomorrow's popular meeting at Stratford has been abandoned due to a waterlogged track.
The fixture traditionally attracts a good ground on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival, with a number of Irish punters making the journey to England a day early in an attempt to boost their Festival funds.
However, the course has been hit by significant rainfall in the last few days and clerk of the course Stephen Lambert has made an early decision to call off the card.