Racing: McCoy's challenging return

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The Independent Online
TONY McCOY returns to competitive riding in Britain this afternoon and it is to be hoped the champion jockey remembers to pack his jotter alongside the whip for his visit to Sandown Park.

The Irishman was sent to a remedial class this week after the latest of several whip offences led to a 14-day suspension. On Tuesday, McCoy was tutored in the art of stopping being naughty at the British Racing School. The frequency, force and height from which he brings his stick down on a horse were the main headings on the agenda.

It is the frequency of McCoy's successes, however, which most concern punters. It will be educational to note whether the jockey's revised style is heat retardant should he be involved in a close finish this afternoon.

An irony of the comeback is that McCoy's mount in the main race of the day, the Tingle Creek Chase, is Challenger Du Luc, for whom a whip is not as much use as a brain scanner. The eight-year-old is the champion of the peculiar and McCoy has yet to work him out in seven unsuccessful rides. The Challenger drops back to two miles for the first time since he was runner-up in a Chepstow novice chase over three years ago, but the distance on the racetrack is the least of his problems. It is the space between his ears which counts.

The warm favourite, aptly enough for a horse whose name means blue eiderdown in French, will be Henrietta Knight's Edredon Bleu. There is nothing sophisticated about this six-year-old's racecourse methodology. He just bolts from the tape and then attempts to keep the bloodhounds at bay. This modus operandi usually sets up pulsating contests.

"It's sure to be speedy and possibly the most exciting race we've seen this season," Terry Biddlecombe, the husband and assistant trainer to Knight, says. "We're about to find out how good he is. If he runs well, we'll have to be thinking about going to Cheltenham for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

"He's dropping back [in distance] but that won't make any difference as he's a very quick jumper as well as being very fast away from his fences. The dangers look to be Lake Kariba and Direct Route, but they'll have to go some to catch us. He likes to be up there dictating and he enjoys it. I wouldn't like to see him sulk in behind.

"If he meets the Railway fences right, he should be spectacular. If he doesn't, we'll probably be picking the jockey up."

There are others who may be able to pick up Edredon Bleu himself in the closing stages. Foremost among these are the Irish challengers Klairon Davis and Hill Society (2.30), with slight preference going to the latter.

In the following race, the William Hill Handicap Hurdle, McCoy partners Blowing Wind, who, along with Racketball, has been the only animal to cause a tremor in the ante-post list during the course of the week.

Blowing Wind (3.05) is one of the few beasts around with any pretension of denying Istabraq a second Champion Hurdle in March. Last season he earned a pounds 50,000 bonus for achieving the Imperial Cup-County Hurdle double and, though he remains a handicapper at this stage, he is a tremendously improved performer and now runs from a mark 19lb up from the Imperial Cup.

His trainer, Martin Pipe, rather likes taking this trophy home to show the wife. Pipe has won it with Corporal Clinger, Liadett, Balasani, Valfinet and, two years ago, with Make A Stand, who progressed sufficiently to become the Champion Hurdler that season. Blowing Wind runs in the same ownership as the last-named and a similar eventuality is being plotted.

The BBC card at Chepstow is built round a Rehearsal Chase disastrously short on numbers but nevertheless large on intrigue. See More Business, one of three runners, could not give Escartefigue (2.15) 6lb in the Edward Hanmer Chase at Haydock last month and it is worth speculating about a repeat.

It is a facet of racing that sponsors like having their names mentioned in race titles. Martell, for example, get a bit miffed when their product is not stapled to the Grand National. An unacceptable facet (or faucet) of this desire occurs in Chepstow's opener, the Faucets Perrin & Rowe Classic Bathroom Fittings & Permit Trainers Association Handicap Hurdle. WESLEY'S LAD (nap 1.15) should win their race and that's the last time they get a plug (for the faucet) in this newspaper.

More worthy of mention is the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown tomorrow in which two of Ireland's fencing titans meet. Dorans Pride, who has finished third twice in the Gold Cup, is normally nailed on for anything in his homeland, but he now faces the revitalised Imperial Call, the Blue Riband victor of 1996.

With temperatures due to fall well below freezing there will be a precautionary inspection at Sandown at 8am to ensure that racing can take place. Punchestown's card tomorrow is also subject to an inspection today because of frost.

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