First Avenue: Nathan Adams drives his mount home in the Imperial CupPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
First Avenue causes 20-1 upset in Imperial Cup
Report: Sandown, Saturday
Paddy Power Imperial Cup (Handicap Hurdle) (Listed Race) 2m½f, 4yo+
NEITHER the horse, jockey nor trainer had won a single race between them this season, but to the delight of bookmakers that changed dramatically at Sandown on Saturday as 20-1 outsider First Avenue gave Epsom-based duo Laura Mongan and Nathan Adams the most important victory of their careers in a gruelling and dramatic Paddy Power Imperial Cup.
For bookmakers delight came not only from the comprehensive defeat of the J P McManus-owned heavily-backed 11-4 favourite Mr Mole but also because the horses First Avenue forced out of first spot were the fancied David Pipe pair Tanerko Emery and Kazlian, who filled second and third in front of gallant front-runner Barizan.
Also gallant in desperate ground was First Avenue, whose final-flight Sandown fall in November denied him a likely success but also left Adams with a broken collarbone that caused him to languish on the sidelines for eight weeks.
That misfortune was firmly consigned to the past as the all-weather regular overhauled the Pond House stablemates up the fearsome Sandown hill to give his conditional jockey only the fourth win of his career.
"It's unbelievable," said the 24-year-old Adams, once an apprentice farrier. "You've got to trust him and then he pulls you into the race.
"Beforehand I had a lot of confidence in the horse and you have to ride him like that. Coming up that hill and coming through horses he just took off."
Turning into the straight, it was Kazlian who took off, powering clear under Tom Scudamore until momentum was badly halted by a serious blunder at the penultimate flight.
There to pick up the pieces was First Avenue, last and last but one in Kempton Flat races on his most recent two outings but now an Imperial Cup winner who becomes eligible for a £75,000 Paddy Power bonus if he can follow up at the Cheltenham Festival.
His only chance of doing that will be in the conditional jockeys' handicap named in honour of Martin Pipe, whose son David might well have been celebrating on Saturday had Kazlian not been let down by a rare jumping error and top weight Tanerko Emery not been left with a huge amount to do by Kieron Edgar.
For them there was only frustration. For Mongan, whose jockey husband Ian was reported to be in tears by the owner-trainer, there was simply delight.
"I'm in a bit of shock," she said. "I was screaming pretty loudly coming to the last and was just hoping he would jump it safe and sound. To then have his head in front was surreal.
"We were just hopeful we would get a clear round and if we finished in the frame we would have been over the moon. To win it is pretty special. We'll cherish this one and I think I'll be watching the replay a few times.
"It's a bit of a shock and I'm so happy. It's our biggest win yet and I own him myself, as although we didn't pay much for him, nobody wanted him. It's going to cost me a bit in drinks tonight.
"Nathan gave him a smashing ride. He knows the horse inside out and listens to everything we say to him. He couldn't have done any better today."
Switching her attention from the today to an imminent tomorrow, Mongan confirmed that First Avenue will take up his Cheltenham entry if his 5lb penalty gets him into Friday's race.
She added: "The main thing is that he comes out of today okay but I think we'll struggle to get into the Martin Pipe. If we get in we'll go for it, but I think we'll be very luck to get in."
David Pipe: Cheltenham optionsPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
Also under consideration for Cheltenham are the second and third, whose trainer said: "Yes it was a hard race, but the other way to look at it is that they will be going up in the handicap and they can race off lower marks, so both are still possibles for Cheltenham but it all depends how they come out of this.
"It was a massive run from Tanerko Emery under top weight and he has taken quick runs before."
Kazlian's rider Scudamore said: "The mistake stopped his momentum and it's hard when you've still got the hill to come. It was more that he left his back legs in it than anything else.
"It's hard to say what would have happened but he was still going very well."
Not bound for Cheltenham is Barizan, whose trainer Evan Williams expressed a different point of view to Pipe, and said: "He's ran a cracker and it's nice to see he's on the road back. He will be going nowhere near Cheltenham - he finished very tired."
Also surely out of Cheltenham is Mr Mole, pulled up by Tony McCoy having come under pressure at the top of the home straight.