It is hard to imagine quite what Sam Thomas would have to do at Haydock tomorrow to match Scott Carson's excruciating induction to sporting infamy at Wembley. But it would be understandable if the young jockey's slumbers since Wednesday have been disturbed by the sort of blunders that might render him accountable for a defeat that would, in his own walk of life, be no less momentous.
As second jockey to Paul Nicholls, Thomas found himself in line for the ride on Kauto Star, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, after Ruby Walsh dislocated a shoulder at Cheltenham last Saturday.
This is one of those situations where talent on its own guarantees nothing. After all, Carson himself made a world-class save in the second half, but by then the damage was done. Certainly Thomas could be excused for perceiving an awful kinship between the innocuous shot that slithered through Carson's grasp for the first goal, and the image of his own breeches skidding across soggy turf in the Betfair Chase tomorrow. But the man whose silks he will be wearing remains confident that Thomas will fortify talent with temperament.
"Don't mention them in the same breath," Clive Smith said yesterday, aghast at the analogy. "Yes, it's Sam's big chance, as well. But it's a matter of confidence. Once he has seen a stride over a couple of early fences, he'll be fine. Sam has ridden the horse loads at home, and he gets on well with him."
Thomas renewed his acquaintance with Kauto Star yesterday morning and Nicholls was evidently delighted by what he saw. "He schooled this morning under Sam and jumped very well," Smith reported. "He showed a lot of his old verve. Paul was very pleased, he's very bullish, very positive. There will be no excuses so far as fitness is concerned this time."
Kauto Star was beaten for the first time in two years, in completed steeplechases, when trying to give Monet's Garden 14lb at Aintree last month. To be beaten just a length and a half was, on the face of it, an excellent effort. But he did show uncharacteristic signs of lethargy before knuckling down, and he did follow a long and winding road to the Gold Cup last season. Smith remembers Tom Taaffe, who had won the race two years previously, coming up afterwards and saying: "You've done very well to win that – he has had a very hard season."
Smith concedes that Kauto Star is unlikely to have six races in a season again, but overall he is sanguine, saying that the horse is so "much brighter and more together" than at Aintree that he intends to back him at even money. Kauto Star will face six opponents, headed by last season's outstanding novice, My Way De Solzen.
Smith expressed relief that Tony McCoy has broken his partnership with Exotic Dancer, who was tailed off at Aintree but had finished second in the Gold Cup. "He seems to add lengths to that horse," he observed.
McCoy is instead riding Wichita Lineman at Ascot before flying to Huntingdon to partner Racing Demon in the Totesport Peterborough Chase. Racing Demon is usually ridden by Graham Lee, but he has been claimed for Aces Four in the same race.
Even by his own standards, McCoy produced a performance of exceptional tenacity in the novice chase at Market Rasen yesterday. Having been headed after the third last, Pass It On looked so one-paced that Antonius Caesar was matched at 1-99 on Betfair on the run-in. But McCoy poured fresh coal into the firebox and wore down the leader in the final strides.
Only an hour later he was lucky to limp away from a nasty fall, first rolled upon and then all but kicked in the mouth. Nevertheless, he is today able to profit from the absence of other jockeys from Ascot, where he rides the talented hurdler Acambo in his first start over fences. Timmy Murphy, retained by the horse's owner, has begun a lengthy suspension, while Tom Scudamore, retained by his trainer, is sidelined by a shoulder injury.
McCoy's opponents on Wichita Lineman in the Coral Ascot Hurdle tomorrow are to include Hardy Eustace, Afsoun and Detroit City. Philip Hobbs yesterday described Detroit City as "very fresh and well" following an insipid end to his campaign last year, when found to be suffering from a variety of problems. The trainer intends to use this performance, over two miles and three furlongs, as a signpost to going up or back down in distance.