Racing: Johnson left trailing as McCoy rides four winners

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The Independent Online

Tony McCoy stretched his lead in the jumps jockey title race by riding four winners at Plumpton yesterday. The champion is now nine ahead of his only serious rival, Richard Johnson.

It was a triumphant return by McCoy to the East Sussex track where he suffered a triple fracture of his cheekbone just two weeks ago. His 19-1 four-timer - three of them for the champion trainer Martin Pipe - were Sindapour (8-11), Don Fernando (4-7), Fast Mix (3-1) and Glencoyle (5-6).

McCoy got off to the best possible start when Sindapour came home five lengths clear in the first division of the Birch Hotel Maiden Hurdle. The champion's girlfriend, Chanelle Burke, 27, whose mother, Mary, owns Sindapour, was at the track. After McCoy came back unscathed, she said: "That's a relief."

The winner was successful at Royal Ascot over two and a half miles last year and was cut to 20-1 from 33-1 by Ladbrokes for the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, which starts two weeks today. Sindapour is 25-1 from 40-1 with the same firm for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the same meeting.

Five lengths was also the winning distance for Don Fernando in the Fosters Novices' Chase. His jumping was less than fluent, notably at the fourth fence, but Coral nevertheless cut him to 25-1 from 40-1 for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy.

It was a frustrating day for Johnson, who remains on the 159-winner mark, compared to McCoy's 168.

Paul Nicholls saddled French Executive, a 9-2 shot, to collect the amateur riders' handicap chase, but the treble by Pipe's stable pleased punters who, earlier in the day, had forced Ladbrokes to shorten Pipe's price for the trainers' championship from 5-1 to 2-1.

Pipe reduced the gap between himself and Nicholls, the current leader, to less than £6,000. William Hill offered 2-5 Nicholls from 1-3, and 7-4 from 9-4 Pipe. Coral also went 2-5 Nicholls and 7-4 Pipe. It should be one of the a closest ever races for the trainers' championship which, like the jockeys' title, will be decided on the fourth Saturday in April.

McCoy's final winner yesterday, Glencoyle, is trained by Nicky Henderson, who has three entries in Saturday's Vodafone Gold Cup at Newbury.

A total of 30 horses have been put forward for the £100,000 contest, with Fondmort, the eight-length winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup, Mighty Strong and Isio, the Victor Chandler Chase hero, all possibles for Henderson.

As well as the Paddy Power and Victor Chandler, the Seven Barrows trainer has plundered numerous other Saturday prizes this season, notably the Tote Gold Trophy, First National Gold Cup, Tripleprint Gold Cup and last Saturday's Racing Post Chase at Kempton with Marlborough.

Next weekend's two-and-a-half-mile Newbury contest features two entries from the Nicholls yard. The Ditcheat trainer has the choice of running Kadarann or the Grand National hopeful Exit Swinger. Pipe has five entries. Cyfor Malta, Korelo, Latalomne, Seebald and Wahiba Sands are the Nicholashayne handler's possible runners.

Hand Inn Hand, fresh from success in the Ascot Chase after a disappointing start to the season, could be a contender for Henry Daly.

Jonjo O'Neill, whose runners have had a poor strike-rate so far in the run up to Cheltenham, has just the one possible runner in Clan Royal. The JP McManus-owned nine-year-old won both the Becher Chase and the Topham Chase over the National fences in 2003 and may race on Saturday en route to Aintree on 3 April.

Barito represents Germany, with Macs Gildoran and Risk Accessor the two Irish entries. Venetia Williams has pencilled in Kelrev. Cameron Bridge and Farmer Jack are Philip Hobbs's two entries.