Straw Bear has golden opportunity

Straw Bear, right, ridden by AP McCoy, at Fontwell in 2009
Straw Bear, right, ridden by AP McCoy, at Fontwell in 2009
The start of racing on Washout Wednesday / Picture by Malcolm Wells

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Straw Bear has a gilt-edged opportunity to kick-start his career over fences at Fontwell this afternoon.

The formerly smart hurdler will line-up against four rivals in the opening race – the Follow chancellor At Cheltenham Beginners’ Chase (1pm).

And with 15-times champion jockey Tony McCoy in the plate, everything is set for him to record a long-overdue maiden success.

Straw Bear, now 10 years old, reached a career-high mark of 164 over hurdles.

He won the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, along with two Grade 2 titles, before he was switched to fences in 2008.

Sadly, the JP McManus-owned gelding struggled when faced with the larger obstacles.

An unsuccessful return to hurdles followed before he spent the whole of 2010 away from the track.

He made an encouraging comeback earlier this month, when third at Fontwell to Quantitativeeasing.

And now, renewing his formerly impressive partnership with McCoy, trainer Nick Gifford will be hoping he can build on that effort.

Standing in his way are L’Homme De Nuit, Paddy The Yank, Prince Du Beury and Definity.

The latter poses the biggest threat to Straw Bear.

Trained by Paul Nicholls, the eight-year-old raced to a mark of 149 in three races over hurdles.

Recruited from Irish points, he chalked up two wins and a second before his Ditcheat handler switched him to fences in December.

He was a disappointing fourth to Wymott on that day at Exeter but his champion trainer boss will no doubt be expecting more from him today.

The second contest on the seven-race card is the 1:30 chancellorofthe Adjusted Form Ratings Novices’ Hurdle, where West Sussex trainer Gary Moore has entered Mossini and Champs De Bleu. However, they may have their work cut out to defeat Alan King’s hurdling debutant Raya Star.

Four handicap races follow – two chases and two hurdles.

Among the ones to watch will be popular veteran Kappelhoff, who is bidding for his first win as a 14-year-old.

The final race is the Visit chancellorofthe Daily Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (4.20pm).

Batonnier, a bumper winner on debut, will aim to shrug off a penalty and record his second win.

However, Nicholls’ unraced French recruit Tieptiep will pose a major threat, especially with jockey Ryan Mahon claiming 5lb.