STRAW BEAR left observers undecided but trainer Nick Gifford most satisfied as he was beaten by Sir Harry Ormesher on his chasing debut at Exeter yesterday.
The Richard Vines Best Mate Beginners’ Chase had attracted a field befitting the honoured triple Gold Cup winner and the expected star of the show was Nick Gifford’s charismatic chestnut, who already has a Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle to his name.
Straw Bear drifted in the betting as Paul Nicholls’ Pasco became favourite but it was the Alan King-trained Sir Harry Ormesher (12-1) who proved underestimated.
Tony McCoy and Straw Bear stalked behind the leaders but seemed to be struggling to stay on terms with Sir Harry Ormesher and Pasco with a couple of obstacles to jump.
However, without the champion jockey needing to get too vigorous with his charge, Straw Bear managed to close the gap to three-quarters of a length at the line.
Gifford said: “I’m genuinely delighted with that. He hit a little flat spot and his jumping was careful rather than exuberant so he will have learned a lot.
“There’s a beginners’ chase back here in a month that we’ll look at. We’ll see if he’s a superstar then.”
Of the winner, King said: “We didn’t think he’d be good enough but it’s a nice surprise. He gets two and a half miles but we think better ground will suit him. He can be a bit volatile – he’s better than last year – and we might not take him to the big meetings just yet.”
McCoy’s ride on Straw Bear was looked into but the stewards were satisfied with McCoy’s explanation that his instructions were to get him jumping.
He added Straw Bear was getting tired but got a second wind when passing Pasco on the run-in.
Paddy Power kept Straw Bear’s odds for the Arkle Challenge Trophy unchanged at 16-1 with the winner introduced at 20s, although the latter can be backed at 33s with Blue Square.
Stan James were not impressed and eased the JP McManus-owned Straw Bear out to 20-1 from 16s with the winner introduced at 50s.
Nicholls managed a winner in the other novice event, the Homesave Beginners’ Chase, as the Ruby Walsh-ridden 8-11 favourite The Tother One edged out Gone To Lunch.
There was not much between the pair on hurdling form last season – they had finished close to each other at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals – and they may develop into two of the best in the staying division.
Nicholls said: “He has not been the most natural jumper at home but he’ll keep progressing and might be one to keep back for the three-mile race at the Hennessy meeting.”
Gone To Lunch’s trainer Jeremy Scott added: “I’m very pleased. Paul’s was very impressive, but we might just be better with a lead.”
The winner was compensating owner Graham Roach for the Bathwick Tyres Taunton Novices’ Hurdle.
Roach and Nicholls’ The Nightingale was assuming control when he knuckled over and landed on the woodchip path on the run-in after the final flight, gifting the race to King and Robert Thornton on Shalone (6-4)
Nicholls was on the mark again with Oracle Des Mottes, back in his care after a spell pointing, proved too strong for fellow 4-1 joint-favourite Go For One in the Bathwick Tyres Plymouth Handicap Chase.
Andrew Thornton left it late as the Robert and Sally Alner-trained Kosmos Bleu (8-1) stole the Poppy Appeal Handicap Hurdle from Mister Wiseman.
Robert Thornton rounded off a three-timer on newcomer Cill Rialaig (7-1) in the Bathwick Tyres “Junior” Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race for Hughie Morrison, who also trained the winner 12 months ago.
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