Tony McCoy last night faced the possibility of missing the Cheltenham Festival after a multiple fracture of a cheekbone at Plumpton yesterday. The champion jockey endured two bone-crunching falls during the afternoon, the second of which left him with a trip to hospital after he was kicked in the face.
Having already fallen from Tanterari in the Whippers Delight Novices' Chase, he suffered the same fate when Polar Red crashed out at the second fence in the Tyser Insurance Novices' Chase.
After being seen by the racecourse medical officer, Lucy Free, he was sent to the nearby Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath for an X-ray examination. John Maxse, a Jockey Club spokesman, said later after consulting with the Club's chief medical adviser, Dr Michael Turner: "Dr Turner says that provided the fracture is towards the lower end of the scale, it should not be a problem for him to return in time for Cheltenham.
"However, the nature of these injuries can vary substantially. He would not be allowed to ride with any kind of protective mask."
The Festival starts on Tuesday, 16 March. Before yesterday's injury, McCoy had been quoted at 4-1 to win the jockeys' title over the three days. Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty were 5-2 joint favourites with the Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, with Jim Culloty at 8-1 and Richard Johnson at 9-1.
Last night, Gee Armytage, McCoy's personal assistant, said: "He has fractured his left cheekbone in three places and he is on his way home. He will be seeing a maxillofacial surgeon in the morning. He hopes to be back riding as soon as Dr Turner will allow, in the very near future." Armytage added that McCoy did not expect to have to miss Cheltenham.
At Wolverhampton yesterday, Grand National hope Royal Atalza won a maiden race on the Flat over 12 furlongs.
The seven-year-old gelding, who is trained by Conrad Allen, was bought for £117,000 by his owner, Terry Ramsden, with Aintree in mind after winning at Auteuil in November. Brian Reilly, Royal Atalza's apprentice rider, was then banned for two days for using his whip with excessive frequency on his mount, who won by a short-head at 7-2. The horse remained a 33-1 shot for the National with Ladbrokes.
* Limerick Boy is to go straight for the Champion Hurdle after being none the worse for his early exit in the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury. The six-year-old, who had been a strong fancy for Saturday's race, unseated his rider Sam Thomas after making a mistake at the first flight.