Racing: Johnson's comeback is a spur to McCoy

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The Independent Online

Tony McCoy is not a man short of motivation, but yesterday came a kick in the pants that normally is delivered by only the four-legged athletes of the National Hunt game.

Word will have reached the champion jockey that perhaps his only legitimate challenger as the master of the winter domain is about to come riding back into town. Richard Johnson is on the verge of returning to the saddle after a three-month absence with a broken leg.

McCoy responded as we might expect. After tramping into the small desert of 11 consecutive defeats and just three wins from his previous 33 rides, the Ulsterman emerged to partner the first two winners at Taunton yesterday.

The double was completed by Samon, yet another winner for Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler, who made a winning debut following his transfer from the Flat in Germany. He will be entered for both novice hurdles at Cheltenham.

The Festival is now an occasion to anticipate for Johnson, who may be back in the weighing room as early as next week after coming through morning work sessions at the yards of Richard Phillips and Henry Daly. The jockey broke his right leg at Exeter at the end of October and underwent surgery to pin two broken bones. He has recently been on holiday to Australia, dodging sharks, spiders and paparazzi with his girlfriend, Zara Phillips. Now he is ready for work.

After riding out for Richard Phillips on Wednesday and for Daly at Downton Hall yesterday morning, Johnson faces a further X-ray examination next Tuesday and a consultation with Dr Michael Turner, the Jockey Club chief medical adviser.

"It all went smoothly yesterday and this morning and I am just hoping that Dr Turner is satisfied that the injury has completely healed," he said.

"I have tried not to rush back and risk doing further damage but I am really itching to get started again. The leg feels very good and there has been no pain for ages, which hopefully is a sign that the bone is healing well and that the operation has been a success."

Johnson's recovery has not been hampered by the thought of partnering the likes of Flagship Uberalles and Looks Like Trouble at the Festival.

The latter, still the Blue Riband holder, is also about to return from injury and it was confirmed yesterday that the Gold Cup winner of 2000 will have his comeback race at Wincanton tomorrow televised. However, Channel 4 repeated that their main commitment remains with Kempton and Catterick and it may be that their screening of the John Bull Chase will be a recorded version.

Another Festival championship, the Irish Independent Arkle Chase, will provide plenty of scope for McCoy following Martin Pipe's actions yesterday in entering eight horses for the two-mile dash. Seebald, the 5-1 co-favourite for the race with William Hill and the winner of the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham in November, leads the team. Mr Cool, Hit And Run and Copeland have also been put in the 12 March contest, along with Bounce Back, Iznogoud, Jean D'Auteuil and Royal Auclair.

The last four named are also engaged in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Chase over an extended three miles, together with Manx Magic, Jour J and Carryonharry. Pipe won the Arkle with Or Royal in 1997 and with Champleve a year later, while he took the SunAlliance with Rolling Ball in 1991 and Miinnehoma in 1992.