The in-form David Pipe stable carried on their hot streak yesterday with a double at chilly Ascot, headed by Lough Derg's 14-1 triumph in the Grade One feature, the Long Walk Hurdle.
Tom Scudamore kicked clear from the start, was given 20 lengths of rope and more thereafter and, despite the 5-2 joint-favourite Hardy Eustace's gallant efforts in the closing stages, had nine lengths to spare at the line. The other betting choice, Black Jack Ketchum, came in third.
Though not top-class, Lough Derg is a thorough stayer and, with question marks about the stamina of the two market principals, Scudamore was determined to take the initiative. "The last thing I wanted was a sprint finish," he said. "The plan was to make it a proper test. I wanted the race run on my terms and I knew he was as fit as a flea and would keep galloping."
Hardy Eustace, winner of the Champion Hurdle in 2004 and 2005 and placed in the last two editions, was on trial for the Festival's marathon championship, the World Hurdle. And, after Conor O'Dwyer belatedly started to chase down the leader, the 10-year-old plugged on gamely through the last half-mile. "I think he got the trip," said his trainer, Dessie Hughes. "Look at the ground he made up after the third-last."
Vodka Bleu, wearing blinkers for the first time, initiated Pipe's double in the BGS Silver Cup. Sent to the front by Timmy Murphy two fences out, he forged clear to beat his Scudamore-ridden stablemate Madison du Berlais by a length and three-quarters at 12-1.
There was respite for punters when the well-treated, well-backed 9-4 favourite Jack The Giant landed the gamble in the day's richest contest, The Ladbroke, and brought off a cunning plan in the process. The Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old was last to make the cut for the 150,000 handicap and did so only after his higher-rated stablemate French Opera stood aside.
Jack The Giant, who will now revert to chasing, and Mick Fitzgerald reeled in 20-1 shot Alsadaa after the final hurdle to score by a cosy length. "The one person I must thank is French Opera's owner, Lynn Wilson, whose actions let Jack in," said Henderson. "Not many people would be so sporting."