Chris McGrath on Racing: Perce Rock's bid to plunder another big prize for Irish has an expert accomplice in McCoy

Hernando De Soto is said to have been the first European to set eyes on the Mississippi, and the horse bearing his name will have a pretty good idea how he felt at Sandown today. Like all the tracks racing over jumps this afternoon, the place is nearly saturated and an intrepid spirit must be summoned by any horse hoping to reach Eldorado.

In a market dominated by the Irish, bookmakers have identified De Soto as the leading British candidate for the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He seeks a downpayment from the same sponsors in the Tolworth Hurdle, but may not be suited by a slog over this stiff track.

Both his wins over hurdles have come over sharp, flat circuits. Though he has produced a top-class performance up the hill at Cheltenham, when second in the 2005 Festival bumper, that was on spring ground and he must be considered essentially a speedy type.

The Irish raider, Perce Rock, also excelled in the Festival bumper, snatching fourth last season after permitting the others first run, but he has won twice in heavy going. By a top-class Flat stallion, he showed utter contempt for a big field over hurdles last month and there is simply no knowing how good he might be. As a rule it is perilous to guess, but his stable keeps its eye on the ball and the decision to travel before March qualifies him for the benefit of the doubt. Tony McCoy (below) is an excellent booking.

My Turn Now has experience on his side, but the biggest danger may instead prove to be Denman's brother Silverburn. The race he won when dropped back to this trip last time is working out well.

Northern circuit hard hit by inquiries

The Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA) apparently has no further cases pending in its campaign to decontaminate the weighing room. This is not, as might be imagined after the addition of Tony Culhane and Dean Mernagh to the list of those facing a disciplinary hearing, simply because they have finally run out of jockeys. They have, touch wood, run out of suspects.

Whatever the merits of individual cases, this catharsis has been especially grievous for the northern circuit. The authorities obviously have a dim view of the probity, around three years ago, among this insular branch of the British racing family. Little wonder if the slogan adopted by the region's most powerful stable is so emphatic: "Always Trying".

If you were asked to name the top four riders in the north during 2003, a fair answer might have been Kevin Darley, Robert Winston, Tony Culhane and Fergal Lynch. Of these, only Darley - an old school epitome of plain, positive tactics and decorum - has not faced investigation.

Lynch joins Kieren Fallon and Darren Williams at the Old Bailey in September to answer charges relating to races between December 2002 and September 2004. Next week Winston faces an HRA inquiry into 21 races between June 2003 and January 2004. And last week Culhane and Mernagh were accused by the HRA of various breaches, in 37 races between them, between July and November 2003.

All protest their innocence. Regardless, the HRA evidently feels that the ongoing, collective trauma has already had its purgative effect. All the races that aroused its concern seem to be concentrated early in the betting exchange revolution, which created an unprecedented opportunity to profit from the knowledge that a horse would not win. Of course, it also provided unprecedented opportunity to trace dishonesty. If exchanges provide cheats with a new trigger, they also provide regulators with a smoking gun.

Wind set fair for Turthen

Turthen looks a suprise packet in the last race at Sandown today. He had some high-class form in the French mud and, having undergone wind surgery since a tame first season with the champion trainer, could prove to be on a fair mark. Earlier on the card, a lady amateur in the saddle may unfairly inflate the odds against Bohemian Spirit: they have forged a fertile partnership.

Channel 4 cameras are also at Haydock where Lazy But Lively, who seems fed up with fences, could be too big a price for his return to hurdles. But the best bet of the day is at Chepstow, where a promising book of rides for Richard Johnson includes Cousin Nicky (nap 1.55). A rock solid effort over fences last time suggests that he could remain well treated on his return to hurdles, having won a similar race in similar ground at Newbury in the autumn.

Purple leaves taste of moonshine

The money required to buy jumping prospects nowadays is bewildering. Yet those who lament the spending power of Godolphin on the Flat never say a word about the sheer vanity of buying jumpers. With no residual value from breeding, and a prizemoney surplus fantastically remote, expensive jumpers can do no more than allow rich men to swank into the winner's enclosure and show off to their pals.

Purple Moon set a new level when changing hands for 440,000 guineas at the horses-in-training sale at Tattersalls. It is easy to feel sympathy for his trainer, Nicky Richards, who is on something of a hiding to nothing. By winning his first race over hurdles at Musselburgh yesterday, Purple Moon reduced this record burden by £2,602.40.

In ordinary circumstances, nobody could quibble with the way he knuckled down and went three lengths clear of the outsider who accompanied him over the last, earning quotes of 25-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

"Even if he had finished second or third, I said to the owner that it wouldn't be the end of the world," Richards remarked later. "We came here last year with a 1-5 chance that got turned over, and he turned out to be all right."

Ground for concern at Cheltenham

Cheltenham gave over 20,000 racegoers a most enjoyable start to the New Year, at least until the rains returned. But the course came within an ace of waterlogging, something virtually unique in its modern experience.

Conditions at the track have been quite heavily criticised during the winter. Paranoia about quick ground at the Festival is understandable after the freak losses there last year. But the management elected to water good ground in the autumn, and many felt that this was overdoing things.The workload is shared across a generous acreage, and sections are always being kept fresh. But there will be plenty of anxious professionals poking around during the last meeting before the Festival, on 27 January.

Double standards on riders

A footnote on those corruption allegations. Why should three of the jockeys - including much the most famous - find themselves in court, and the rest merely before the regulators? The HRA have suspended their licences, while the others have been able to continue their careers as best they could.

It is one of the most curious questions to be answered during the coming year. What substantive differences divide the accusations made against the two sets of riders?

Suggested Topics
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015