Racing: A crucial day dawns for two Irishmen returning to a spiritual home

Maguire still determined to add great to a gritty image
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The Independent Online
ASK 100 betting-shop punters to sum up Adrian Maguire in one word and 99 of them will surely say "determination", (the other one, the resident smart-alec who blights every shop, will probably offer "injury-prone"). Richard Dunwoody is the great stylist and Tony McCoy the winner machine, but when Maguire rides a horse, his indefatigability is almost a visible saddle-companion, and the punters love him for it.

Quite simply, the last three Festivals have not been the same without the small bundle of grit which belongs aboard David Nicholson's runners. Just days before the meeting in 1995, he returned to Ireland to mourn the death of his mother, while in each of the last two seasons, injury has forced him to watch from the stands. Backers whose usual approach to a big field is to stick a fiver on whatever Maguire is riding have been forced to look elsewhere.

Now, at last, Maguire can pick up the threads of what had promised to be one of the great Festival careers. He was just 19 and still an amateur when a chance opening on Martin Pipe's Omerta in the Kim Muir Chase became his first ride and first winner at the Festival. A year later, he won the Gold Cup itself on Cool Ground, while 1994 brought success in the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Viking Flagship) and Triumph Hurdle (Mysilv).

Viking Flagship again figures in Maguire's book of rides, but it is Relkeel, his mount in today's Champion Hurdle, who would provide the most appropriate winning return. Twice scratched from the race at the last moment when near favouritism, Relkeel carries the colours of the late Brigadier Roscoe Harvey, who had been one of jump racing's most committed supporters.

Such is the strength of Maguire's engagement book that he is second-favourite to be top rider at the meeting. Zafarabad, favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, is his most obvious chance, although Zaralaska (Supreme Novices' Hurdle) and Escartefigue (Royal & SunAlliance Chase) have plenty to recommend them.

In the Gold Cup Maguire will partner Barton Bank, the runner-up to Mr Mulligan 12 months ago. He will start at around 40-1, but as Maguire points out, "he put up a great performance to finish second in the Hennessy and no one said he had a chance last year either."

Victory for such an outsider would normally delight the bookies. The best news for punters, though, is that Maguire is back, and few of his fans will let any mount go unbacked.