McCoy faces final hurdle before comeback

Tony McCoy will be back on a horse this morning, 45 days after injuring his back in a fall at Warwick and 14 days before the start of the Cheltenham Festival. But the timing of his return to the saddle on a racecourse – eagerly awaited by all, not least himself – has yet to be confirmed. The 12-times champion was passed fit by his own doctor yesterday but has yet to pass muster with the man who has the final say, the British Horseracing Authority's chief medical officer, Dr Michael Turner.

McCoy, who has undergone surgery to repair a damaged vertebra, will ride out first lot for Carl Llewellyn today, and report for duty at the yard of Jonjo O'Neill, home of most of the horses of his retaining owner JP McManus, tomorrow.

"My own doctor's very happy," the Ulsterman said. "It's gone pretty good. I've been very lucky with my recovery in that I've had no pain from day one and I've done a lot of work in the last two weeks." That has included sessions in a freezing chamber, where temperatures of around -130 Celsius aid blood circulation and, consequently, healing.

"I have got to see Dr Turner," added McCoy, "but I'd be hoping that the man who operated on me knows what he's on about."

Turner has been sent a medical report on McCoy's progress and has the options of signing the rider back to work immediately or asking for further independent assessment. Yesterday, he was making no promises either way.

"Until I see the reports and talk to him," he said, "I can't say when he will be racing again. His specialist is taking a view with regard to what Tony is telling him. My view is what the requirements of racing are that his specialist doesn't know. We make a decision based on that and then we take it from there."

McCoy can perhaps take heart from the example of the Flat jockey Joe Fanning, who made a winning comeback on Yes Mr President at Wolverhampton yesterday after six months on the sidelines due to back injury.

A crucial piece of the Grand National jigsaw may be turned face up on Saturday at Doncaster, where the first two in the betting for the Aintree showpiece, Cloudy Lane and Mr Pointment, are to meet in the Grimthorpe Chase.

Without leaving his box, Cloudy Lane shot to the head of the market at the weekend when firstly Comply Or Die, whom he beat at Haydock in December, carried top weight to victory in the Eider Chase, and secondly Snowy Morning, the erstwhile favourite, disappointed when only third at Fairyhouse.

The Donald McCain-trained eight-year-old will be following the path trodden by a previous resident of his Cheshire yard. Amberleigh House finished fifth in the three-and-a-quarter mile contest on Town Moor before winning the National four years ago.

"It didn't really matter where he finished, because it was the prep," McCain said yesterday, "and it will be the same for Cloudy Lane. We'd like him to run well, of course, but whatever happens, we'll be kicking on to Aintree from there."

Cloudy Lane, who carries Trevor Hemming's colours, followed his Haydock victory with a convincing eight-length success at Ayr this month. He will get 5lb from Mr Pointment on Saturday, but 1st in the Grand National; cunningly, his run in Scotland came four days after the weights for the Aintree marathon were published.

"I don't know about a masterplan," said McCain, "but that was certainly the idea. We'd kept off everyone's radar for a while, but his form is certainly solid."

Mr Pointment put his National cards on the table in November when he accounted for Bewley's Berry in the Becher Chase. "I was very impressed with him that day," added McCain, "But the handicapper has set him some task."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Dundridge Native(Leicester 2.50)

NB: Tension Mounts (Lingfield 2.30)

Kauto Star or Denman? The professionals give their verdicts

The Cheltenham Festival starts two weeks today and no race is awaited more eagerly than the Gold Cup and the potentially epic encounter between the two giants of steeplechasing, Kauto Star and Denman. Every day we will be asking racing professionals for their opinion on who will win the battle of stablemates who have dominated talk of the turf all season.

Today, Henry de Bromhead, trainer of the Champion Hurdle favourite, Sizing Europe, gives his view.

'They're two savage horses, albeit they're pretty different types. Denman is a big, galloping horse, whereas Kauto Star looks a classier sort. That's not being offensive to Denman, who obviously has loads of class in his own right.

In fact I'd say Ruby Walsh has made his decision to ride Kauto Star through loyalty, because of everything they've already done together. It's very hard to say. If I had to choose, I suppose the one thing is that Kauto Star has been there and done it. But it'll be some race.'

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