McCoy in race to be fit for Festival action

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The Independent Online

Doctors treating Tony McCoy for a back injury from a fall at Warwick on Saturday are optimistic that he will recover in time to ride at the Cheltenham Festival, which starts nine weeks tomorrow. So is the 12-times champion; those who inhabit the weighing room tend to be not only rock-hard but fiercely competitive. Put a target in the distance, and it is there to be aimed at, and McCoy's tunnel vision is particularly keen.

The 33-year-old Ulsterman fractured a vertebra when his mount in the Totesport Classic Chase, the 3-1 favourite Arnold Layne, crashed to the ground after failing to take off at an open ditch. The jockey faces at least six weeks on the sidelines and in true sod's law fashion, the ride had been a chance one, picked up because of the suspension of the horse's regular partner Andrew Thornton.

McCoy spent two nights in a Coventry hospital and is expected to be transferred to an Oxford hospital today for further tests. "He is pretty uncomfortable," reported his personal assistant Gee Bradburne yesterday, "but is in good spirits this morning. I think the doctors' prognosis that he should make Cheltenham is lifting him."

The damaged bone is the lowest of the 12 thoracic vertebrae in the middle of the back, between the cervical vertebrae of the neck and the lumbar vertebrae of the lower back. "The fracture is stable," added Bradburne, "and there is no neurological damage or involvement. That is, he's moving everything fine. They say he might be out for six weeks but we really don't know at this stage."

The job of a jump jockey is one of the few where the practitioners are routinely followed round by an ambulance and its risks were further amply illustrated at Leopardstown yesterday. Both David Casey and Paddy Flood left the course in the attendant vehicle, Casey after Perce Rock turned over in the Grade Two novices chase and Flood after Do The Trick tumbled into the path of all bar two of his 28 rivals in the feature Pierse Hurdle.

Casey – who had replaced the absent McCoy on Perce Rock – was briefly knocked out as his mount fell hard and steep, and for that will face a mandatory 21 days out of action.

But three weeks, or even six, are a blink of an eye compared with the prolonged holiday endured by Philip Hide, who celebrated his comeback after 11 months off with a winner, Verasi, at Warwick. Sure, Hide has never been in the same flight of talent as McCoy, but owns much of the same courage and determination not to be beaten by adversity.

When he damaged a shoulder in a fall at Musselburgh last February, he had only just recovered from a triple fracture to his pelvis. Virtually as his shoulder mended, he discovered ongoing problems with his left pelvic joint. Both the socket and the head of the femur had suffered avascular necrosis – death of blood cells as a result of interrupted blood supply – as a result of the original injury.

Hide, 34, now has joint linings of metal instead of cartilage. "They had to resurface the bone," he said yesterday. "I'm probably a bit stubborn and maybe pig-ignorant as well, but I never wanted to stop riding. It was touch and go, though. They didn't actually know what they'd find when they went in there and the repair is only one step down from having a hip replacement. But I feel fine today and I'll be riding again during the week."

Ruby Walsh is another who has got the injury T-shirt, having ridden Kauto Star to victory in the King George VI Chase just five weeks after dislocating a shoulder. But he has barely drawn breath since and yesterday a hat-trick in the first three races at Leopardstown, following success on his sole ride on Saturday, Nycteos in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton, brought his score since Christmas to 18 wins from 31 rides.

The best of yesterday's trio was Glencove Marina, highly impressive in the two mile-five furlong contest in which Casey came to grief. The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old cruised clear in the straight to win by 10 lengths, a performance which sent him to the head of some Arkle Trophy lists.

"I've always thought he was one of the best we've had in the yard for some time," said Walsh, "and today he was simply a cut above the rest. He's a proper horse."

The Pierse Hurdle marked the entry to the big-time of rookie trainer James Barrett. The 10-1 shot Barker, who took the €130,000 (£98,000) two-mile handicap under Timmy Murphy, was only the fifth winner of the Co Meath handler's brief career.

In keeping with the theme of the weekend, Murphy was in the saddle only because the grey's usual rider Martin Mooney is hurt. And also entirely appropriately, 78-year-old Lord Oaksey, once a fine rider, writer and broadcaster and always a tireless worker for the Injured Jockeys' Fund, enjoyed the pleasure of success as an owner-breeder when young hurdler Carruthers won at Warwick.

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