Racing: McCoy remains loyal to Jackdaws Castle

Tony McCoy yesterday sought to repair some of the damage caused by a report last weekend that suggested he would not continue as number one rider at Jonjo O'Neill's Jackdaws Castle yard if the stable did not "move up" a gear to the sort of pace the multiple record-breaking champion jockey has become accustomed.

McCoy left the winner-producing machine that is Martin Pipe's Pond House stables after eight highly successful seasons to join O'Neill at the end of last term. He had been quoted in a Sunday newspaper as saying: "As far as I'm concerned, Jackdaws Castle has to move up, and if it doesn't do that, then I don't want to be there. Simple as that. But I know Jonjo wants it, too."

Yesterday, McCoy told the dedicated racing television station At The Races: "Somebody put in that I said I didn't want to be at Jackdaws, which is total nonsense.

"I love working for Jonjo. He's a great trainer. It made it look like I was in a bit of a strop because we weren't having as many winners as other people, but the winners will come. I'll be riding for him for a long time."

The partnership is in action at Exeter this afternoon on a day when there are fascinating contests and top-class jumpers in action at both the Devon track and at Sandown.

The O'Neill/McCoy axis will be hoping for big things from Specular, a hurdler of immense promise, who takes his second step on the novice chasing route against some tough opponents, notably Paul Nicholls's Sweet Diversion.

The confirmed plodder Mini Sensation will need all McCoy's skills in the four-miler where he faces a young improver in Flying Trix.

At Sandown the highlight is the Future Stars Intermediate Chase for second-season chasers in which Calling Brave received the endorsement of Mick Fitzgerald yesterday after the rider had given the gelding a final warm-up.

Fitzgerald popped the eight-year-old over three fences on Nicky Henderson's gallops before today's assignment against Lord Sam, Murphy's Cardinal and Colonel Frank. The gelding has won all three completed chase starts and had been going well when unseating in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

"He feels in great form and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow," Fitzgerald said. "It's a good race."

Another who has schooled well is Lord Sam, and his trainer, Victor Dartnall, hopes the gelding's jumping holds up as he attempts to redeem his reputation after falling in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

"He's in good form and has done plenty of schooling," Dartnall said. "You cannot find easy races at this level. They are big fences at Sandown, but no bigger than he has jumped before. I just hope he has a clear round."

The eight-year-old's progress was confirmed by Fitzgerald, who said: "I was the last one to school him. I thought he was very sticky after he ran at Wetherby, and he jumped very sideways that day. When I schooled him I was pleased at how he went for me, and probably did too good a job."

Noel Chance knows his Murphy's Cardinal has to prove himself at this level if he is to have realistic King George VI Chase or Gold Cup aspirations. Chance has been comparing the horse favourably with his Gold Cup winners Mr Mulligan and Look Like Trouble. "He's fine, but this is a huge test taking on Grade One horses at level weights," the trainer said.

FUTURE STARS CHASE: Ladbrokes: 7-4 Colonel Frank, Murphy's Cardinal, 3-1 Lord Sam, 13-2 Calling Brave, 25-1 D'Argent.

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