McCoy cuts Champion shortlist to two

It is said that jockeys make the worst tipsters, and surely only the most cynical of cynics would assume that is because they do not want to spoil the price rather than because they are not used to betting. Perhaps it is more a case of woods and trees; being close to the action can distract from the bigger picture.

But some riders are certainly worth listening to, and surely none, on the Flat or over jumps, has a more objectively analytical mind than Tony McCoy. And though this Champion Hurdle is regarded as a particularly open edition, the 12-times champion yesterday proffered a shortlist of two, the reigning king and ante-post market leader Sublimity and talented, but mercurial, Harchibald.

Five days ago the Ulsterman won one of the key Cheltenham trials, the Christmas Hurdle, on the Nick Gifford-trained Straw Bear, beating Harchibald and Paul Carberry by a head. The victory was universally hailed as a first-class piece of tactical jockeyship and McCoy, while tacitly acknowledging that he may have won the bluffing game on that occasion with the cards in his favour, still holds his victim in the deepest respect.

"The race was run to suit mine," he said. "I wanted to wait, to make sure I got the other one upsides and get in a battle if I could, and it worked out well. But Harchibald is still very much one of the horses to beat in the Champion Hurdle. I don't think Paul was overly happy with him that day, the ground might have been tacky enough for him."

The latest piece in the jigsaw was turned face-up at Leopardstown on Saturday, when Al Eile prevailed from the former dual champion Hardy Eustace and Harchibald's lesser Noel Meade stablemate Jazz Messenger in a driving finish to the December Festival Hurdle.

Al Eile has had two cracks at the Champion, finishing seventh and fourth, and even his trainer John Queally, in nominating a third Aintree Hurdle as his priority target, acknowledges that the admirable gelding is probably exposed as below the best over two miles.

McCoy concurred, regarding the Irish race primarily as an eliminator. "Al Eile won, yet he hasn't been able to compete in Champion Hurdles," he said, "and Jazz Messenger was disappointing."

Hardy Eustace lost little caste in a defeat that came just a week after another Grade One runner-up spot, over a marathon trip at Ascot, and may yet take on a fifth title bout, having finished third and fourth since his two victories. But the younger pretenders behind him two days ago Ebaziyan, Farmer Brown and Clopf are surely now out of the equation.

The next trial in Ireland, the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle back at Leopardstown at the end of January, is the target for Sublimity, who ran out of puff in the closing stages when fourth to Osana, Katchit and Penzance (left trailing by 16 lengths when third again at Kempton) on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham 16 days ago.

McCoy finished less than two lengths behind him that day on sixth-placed Straw Bear. "Sublimity looked big enough," he said. "He came down the hill well and just got tired. He's a good traveller and a good jumper. Of all of them, he is still the one to beat."

John Carr's charge will test McCoy's judgement next month against rivals including Sizing Europe, conqueror of Osana in November, and another of the Meade musketeers, Aitmatov. But Harchibald will not have his suspect dedication to his job tested over hurdles again before the big day in March; a mind-sweetening racecourse gallop or a spin on the Flat is on his agenda.

On the subject of capricious performers, Gold Cup third Turpin Green, the even-money favourite for yesterday's Edward Hanmer Chase at Haydock, was backed at 50-1 in running on Betfair as he threatened to tail himself off down the back straight on the soft ground he hates, despite Tony Dobbin's urgings. But once in the home straight and heading for the stable block the blinkered eight-year-old condescended to race and eventually finished alone, with his naughty ears pricked, after Labelthou took a crashing fall (and happily got up after lying winded for some time) and Dictum refused at the last.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Los Suenos (Uttoxeter 2.30)

NB: Magot De Grugy (Uttoxeter 3.00)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...


£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

Infrastructure Manager - Southampton - Up to £45K

£35000 - £45000 per annum + 36 days holiday and more: Deerfoot IT Resources Li...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice