Racing: O'Neill's Champion Hurdle hope sidelined as virus sweeps yard

It has not been borne out by racecourse performance recently, but these are troubled times at the Jackdaws Castle seat of Jonjo O'Neill. There is, according to O'Neill, a virulent bacterium sweeping through his Gloucestershire yard, a disease which is threatening to disrupt plans for the Cheltenham Festival.

The Irishman detailed this calamity yesterday in the rather incongruous setting of the winners' enclosure at Prestbury Park, following the victory of Joss Naylor. It will not be an area visited by Rhinestone Cowboy in the near future however, as the lightning novice ­ a young horse who may yet go for the Champion Hurdle ­ is among those blighted.

"There is something going around the yard which is getting into their systems and knocks them back for about three weeks to a month," O'Neill said. "We are doing our best to identify the ones that have it but some are getting through, running badly. Rhinestone Cowboy has it at the moment. He's quiet. There's not much life in him at present."

There has, nevertheless, been plenty of vim about two other high-profile O'Neill horses recently, namely Intersky Falcon and Mini Sensation, the winners respectively of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and Chepstow's Welsh National. Further valuable baubles await.

"I've put Intersky Falcon in in Ireland for the AIG Hurdle [at Leopardstown on 26 January] but he wouldn't want heavy ground," O'Neill added. "If he didn't go there it would be Wincanton [for the Kingwell Hurdle on 15 February] and then the Champion or just straight to the Champion. He doesn't need to have another run ­ he's good that way.

"Mini Sensation, if he's okay, he'll go for the big race at Warwick [the Warwickshire Gold Cup on Saturday week], but the way things are you couldn't be sure how he will be."

Yet if O'Neill thinks he has it bad he should look at the current times of the champion jockey. For the second day running Tony McCoy had a pig of an afternoon, even managing to throw himself on to terra firma at one stage.

McCoy was beaten into second place in the first two races ­ on both occasions in photo-finishes ­ but the real embarrassment came when he partnered Vanormix in a juvenile novice hurdle. The four-year-old carried the same colours as the ill-fated Valiramix, who died on this course last March. It was not propitious.

McCoy and Vanormix, the 4-5 favourite, were duelling with The Last Cast for much of the race and, after the last, it became serious stuff. But as McCoy wound himself up for a typical finish he somehow managed to slip his right foot out of its stirrup. That prefaced his whole body slipping out of the saddle. Some day he may be able to look back on this incident with mild amusement. That moment, though, will not be in 2003.

McCoy's chagrin in the previous race was caused by Timmy Murphy and Sir Frosty, who needed every bit of real estate in the 4m1f Miles Gosling Handicap Chase to get his head in front of Polar Champ. It was, in effect, a slog and it now seems Sir Frosty might be aimed at the greatest slog of them all at Aintree in April.

"Provided the handicapper doesn't crucify us and if I can persuade the owners, one has got to wonder whether we should actually go for the big one with him," John Ryall, the trainer, said.

Newcastle in doubt

Prospects for the weekend appear marginally more hopeful as Haydock are optimistic Saturday's meeting will go ahead. The clerk of the course, Kirkland Tellwright, said last night: "We've had 10mm of rain to nine o'clock this morning and a bit since then. There is more about but not enough, I think, to worry us."

The outlook for Newcastle on the same day is not so good and there will be an inspection tomorrow morning. Saturday's other jumps card at Sandown is also doubtful as the course is waterlogged in places and an inspection is planned for 3pm today.

Tomorrow's meeting at Hexham was called off yesterday, but there are no problems at Ludlow or Wolverhampton.

peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
New Articles
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all