Ed Chamberlin: Opening gambit
ITV Racing presenter Ed Chamberlin reflects on ITV4's debut and looks ahead to a star studded guest list for The Opening Show.
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A star might have been born on Saturday.
As good as Oli Bell was on his debut hosting The Opening Show on ITV4, it was Finian's Oscar who stole the show!
The Tolworth Hurdle winner burst on to the scene at Sandown on Saturday to give Colin Tizzard yet another potential star.
Luke Harvey will disagree with the word potential as he was bullish about the horse from the moment he met up with the team on Friday afternoon, napped him on the Opening Show and firmly stated that he's already a star and a big player for the Neptune after the race.
Punters agreed as he was backed off the boards on Saturday and Matt Chapman brilliantly captured the excitement in the ring as the plunge gathered pace and one bookmaker even went odds on just before the race. Sky Bet also agreed with Luke as Finian's Oscar is their new 4/1 favourite for the Neptune.
I'm not convinced yet and remain a big fan of Messire Des Obeaux (10/1), who is doing us such a good turn having been one of this column's horses to follow at the start of the season.
One thing for sure is that Colin Tizzard is on an extraordinary run and what a joy he is to interview, though I'm not sure he enjoyed me wishing him Happy Birthday in the pre-race interview on Saturday.
My day started in the impressive Opening Show studio over-looking the Sandown paddock sitting on a camera box watching the programme. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The 'Jargon Buster' - which will be a regular feature - explaining why trainers use cross nosebands and Victoria Pendleton's feature on life at a racing stable, is exactly what ITV Racing is all about.
Likewise in the afternoon show Alice's interview with an emotional Sarah Buckley about her beloved Dynaste, the owner-breeder Rita Brown's delight and pride after Maestro Royal's win plus capturing Charlie Longsdon's passion as he roared 13-year-old Pete The Feat up the Sandown Park hill showed just what horse racing means to people.
"We also reminisce about good old Inglis Drever, who actually won one of our features on Saturday while Graham also reveals the horse he thinks could be their next superstar so don't miss the show on Saturday morning at 10am on ITV4."
Racing also means a lot to plenty of people involved in other sports.
I was lucky enough to spend the day with Lee Westwood last week, whose enthusiasm for the game came across loud and clear in the interview for The Opening Show. What summed it up was when he told me that he'd be more nervous watching a horse he owned approaching the last hurdle/fence in front than he would standing over a four foot putt to win the British Masters at Close House in October. That says a lot. He's already excited about Cheltenham and devastated that The Masters clashes with Aintree again.
My heart went out to Lee and the team that own Augusta Kate when she came down at the last when set for a ding-dong battle with Death Duty at Naas. Thankfully she got up unscathed and remains a mare full of potential and we could still see Westwood, Shearer, Ant, Dec and co. at Cheltenham in March. I'm hoping so as Lee wouldn't tell the story about how Augusta Kate got her name and insisted Ant is the one who has to. I'm intrigued.
Graham Wylie bred Augusta Kate and was responsible for putting the syndicate together. Graham has done an interview with me for this weekend's Opening Show in which he discusses how he got in to racing and the secret to Willie Mullins' success.
We also reminisce about good old Inglis Drever, who actually won one of our features on Saturday, the Leamington Spa Novices' Hurdle 13 years ago and went on to win three World Hurdles. Inglis' standing in the Wylie household is summed by his stunning wire statue which is in prime position in the front garden.
Graham also reveals the horse he thinks could be their next superstar so don't miss the show on Saturday morning at 10am on ITV4.
There's a rumour that my esteemed editor and bearded scribe Dave Ord might also appear on the show. ITV may have a new star and Ant and Dec fearing for their jobs by 11am on Saturday...
Sunday was spent enjoying another of my loves, point-to-pointing. It's always such a good family day out and Larkhill drew a large crowd, though visibility was similar to nearby Wincanton the day before. Like Ian Bartlett 24 hours earlier, course commentator Will Bowler did a tremendous job in very difficult circumstances. The highlight of the day was the Plunkett family's Squirrel Esquire finishing a fine, running on second in the opener, giving the winner three pounds. I sense the shrewd trainer has left a bit to work on and he's a horse to follow.
Point-to-pointing is a such a key part of the sport and something that will feature regularly on ITV Racing over the next few weeks.
Lucy Verasamy tells me it's going to get very cold over the next few days. Frost covers look likely to be deployed at both Warwick and Kempton. I'm really looking forward to presenting from the former so have everything crossed that the weather is kind.
See you on Saturday.