Standing Ovation offers a fitting curtain-raiser for Cheltenham's Open Meeting


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The Independent Online

The first day of Cheltenham's Open Meeting features a race commemorating the owner who made the fixture's centrepiece his own for so long and the chaser who this autumn has come to represent his equine legacy.

David Johnson, who died in July, owned the winner of the race now known as the Paddy Power Gold Cup seven times from 1996, with Challenger Du Luc, Cyfor Malta (twice), Lady Cricket, Celestial Gold and Our Vic, all trained by Martin Pipe; and Great Endeavour two years ago, trained by Pipe's son David.

The opening amateurs' handicap on today's card looks at the mercy of Standing Ovation (1.05 Cheltenham), who under the banner of the Bravo Partnership has carried Johnson's colours to success four times in 30 days, most recently in the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton last Saturday. Standing Ovation has risen 39lb in the handicap as a result, but can run today under a penalty off 6lb lower than his new mark and this contest has less depth than the field he made short work of six days ago.

One caveat is that all Standing Ovation's wins have come at right-handed courses, but he has been transformed in recent runs and there is no evidence today's test will not suit. He should have too much field craft for the top weight Ruben Cotter, who concedes 12lb on the strength of a defeat of the useful Vintage Star and a fall in two runs over fences.

The main talking point on an underwhelming card for the premier jumping track's second-biggest meeting of the season – a 0-145 feature handicap supported by an amateurs' race and a circus over cross-country fences scarcely pass muster – is the chasing debut of Oscar Whisky. Despite his Grade One wins, Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old retains the air of an unfulfilled talent over hurdles, coming up short at four successive Festivals and ending last season out of sorts.

Nor will the transition to fences necessarily prove straightforward, as another of Henderson's Champion Hurdle nearly horses, Grandouet, showed on his chasing debut last Saturday at Sandown, where he took his propensity over hurdles for departing when resembling the winner to new levels by succumbing at the Esher course's last fence – an obstacle at which, jumping lore has it, they never fall.

The memorial race (2.40), in which David Pipe saddles a single runner, Top Gamble, looks one to contemplate, but Parsnip Pete (1.35 Cheltenham) began the season brightly with a novice hurdle win and can now make good on last season's chasing promise.