With jump racing's richest week looming and the most powerful stables in Britain and Ireland poised to do battle for more than £6 million in purses, there was a timely reminder yesterday that success is relative.
The traditional pre-Cheltenham amuse-bouche, the Imperial Cup at Sandown, went to 20-1 shot First Avenue, who swept to the front after the last hurdle to pick off the David Pipe stablemates Tanerko Emery (11-1) and Kazlian (10-1). The gelding was a first winner of the season for both his trainer, Laura Mongan, and jockey, Nathan Adams.
Mongan has charge of only 18 horses at her Epsom base and owns First Avenue herself, and the £39,865 first prize was more than she has ever won in any whole season. For the 22-year-old Adams, once an apprentice farrier, it was only the fourth victory of his career, and his first for more than a year. And the pair could not have been happier if they had just won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
There is a £75,000 bonus offered by the Imperial Cup sponsors, Paddy Power, should the winner follow up at this week's Festival, but First Avenue is unlikely to make the cut for the conditional jockeys' contest, his only entry. "He now owes nothing to anyone, so if this is his only day, that's fine," Adams said.
Twelve horses stood their ground yesterday for Friday's Betfred Gold Cup, with no surprise omissions and the field due to be finalised on Wednesday. Nicky Henderson, trainer of the favourite, Bobs Worth, warmed up by sending out yesterday's most impressive winner, Close Touch, who looked a future Cheltenham prospect for his owner-breeder, the Queen, with his 12-length romp in a Grade Three hurdle.
Rock On Ruby will defend his Champion Hurdle title on Tuesday with the aid of blinkers, his connections have decided. "He has tended to idle once he's in front and they're just to help him concentrate," Harry Fry, his trainer, said. "We tried them at home and he was razor-sharp." The last winner to wear headgear, Hardy Eustace in 2005, was also the last to win two in a row.