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)

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam