The current campaign over the sticks has not, as yet, been Adrian Maguire's finest. A mixture of injury and the arrival of young talents in Tony McCoy and David Bridgwater denied him any chance of a first riders' title long before Christmas. The Irishman is nothing if not resilient, however, and yesterday he received the considerable encouragement of being booked to ride Montelado, ante-post favourite for Sunday's Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Maguire will also partner Montelado if - and in view of the gelding's previous injury record, it is a big if - he lines up for the Champion Hurdle at the Festival in March, a race for which he is the 9-2 second favourite. Pat Flynn, Montelado's trainer, turned to Maguire when both Richard Dunwoody and Charlie Swan were claimed to ride Balawhar and Hotel Minella respectively.
Montelado has not run over hurdles since finishing ninth in the Champion Hurdle 10 months ago, but even almost three years on, the memory of his crushing success in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle of 1993 is strong enough to make him a leading candidate for this year's Champion. Wins on the Flat last year, including the Irish Cesarewitch, showed that he was returning to form and fitness, but his return to the winter game has been frustrated to date, first by illness and then by frost-bound tracks both in Ireland and Britain.
For Maguire, the booking could mark a significant change of fortune. With doubts surrounding so many of Montelado's possible rivals at the Festival, Maguire may even find he is on the Champion favourite by Sunday evening.
Another jockey with something to celebrate yesterday was Tony McCoy, who reached 100 winners in a season for the first time with a treble at Nottingham. Passing such a psychologically important mark barely 18 months after his arrival in Britain is the latest sign that the 21-year-old Irishman may dominate National Hunt racing for many seasons.
McCoy was the champion conditional rider last season, beating Maguire's record for the number of winners ridden by an apprentice, and is now long odds-on to add the senior riders' title to his collection.
He is now 20 winners ahead of his only realistic rival, David Bridgwater, and on offer at 8-15 with Hills to finish the season in front. Following his treble, the odds are now 4-9 McCoy, 13-8 Bridgwater. "I'm surprised how well things have gone," McCoy said. "I will be giving the title my best shot and I just hope I can keep sound."
Fortune has been with McCoy, but when every fence or hurdle might spell the end of his season, few punters will risk getting involved at such a short price. Indeed, with Bridgwater enjoying the backing of the Martin Pipe stable, which guarantees a steady supply of winners until the final day of the campaign, he is worth a small investment at the current price.Reuse content