Racing: McCoy has right bearing for cross-country contest

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The Independent Online

The big jumps horses are coming out, there is a chill in the air and Cheltenham throws open its gates today for the first significant National Hunt festival of the season.

The big jumps horses are coming out, there is a chill in the air and Cheltenham throws open its gates today for the first significant National Hunt festival of the season. The Flat campaign faded away less than a week ago but already it seems a distant memory.

The "Open" meeting is now the only show in town and the three-day sports begin with Countryside Day, an occasion which those who chase foxy to his death consider belongs to them. Think again.

This is the weakest of the three days, which is not to say that the feature race of the first card, the Sporting Index Chase over the cross-country course, will be lacking as a spectacle. That cannot happen with 16 partnerships engaged in what is virtually an exercise in mounted orienteering.

There is an international feel here with three entries from the Czech Republic in Centax, Kedon and Red Dancer and one from Norway, Trinitro, who must be wondering why it is so unspeakably warm.

This is a contest, above all others, where familiarity should breed contentment and, as such, concentration should centre on the first two home from 12 months ago.

They are Lucky Clover and GALAPIAT DU MESNIL (nap 2.20), who now has Tony McCoy on the compass and finds himself 6lb better off for a half-length beating last time around.

The preceding novice hurdle has among its combatants Robber Baron, who is soon to be a chaser but remains dangerous over the smaller obstacles judged on his easy reappearance win at Exeter. Marginal preference, though, is for Dermot Weld's Mutakarrim (next best 1.45), who was second in the Galway Hurdle and is presumably not here just to afford another event a cosmopolitan flavour.

Save a thought and some pennies too for Iris Bleu (1.10), who is used to better company than today's, and the in-form Davoski (2.55).

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