One selling point that racing has above all other sports is that you can see the stars on run-of-the-mill afternoons. Not the Kautos of that ilk; horses generally cannot run day in, day out and you will not find the top ones competing for the buttons that are usually on offer at low-grade fixtures. But turn up at, say, Market Rasen on a cold Tuesday and you will often find the best the weighing room has to offer.
Take yesterday at Lincolnshire's only racecourse. There, earning their £145.45 per ride, plus 10 per cent of not very much for a win, were the likes of Tony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Timmy Murphy. Would you see the pride of the Premier League turning out on a park pitch for that?
Of course, where largely ordinary horses are concerned that certain frisson that equine excellence brings will be missing but McCoy, for one, will treat a Class 4 contest with the same intensity as the Gold Cup itself. In the opener at Market Rasen, theracinguk.com Juvenile Novices Hurdle with its first prize of £2,062, the 14-times champion produced a performance that was worth every penny of anyone's £18 entrance fee.
Going to the final turn, his mount Open Day appeared to be going backwards rather than forwards, left flat-footed as trailblazing Veronicas Boy piled on the coal and started to surge away with three others in pursuit. But McCoy, sensing there was more to come from his partner and armed with the knowledge of a possibly too-fast pace up front and more than two furlongs to run it down, persevered.
Two hurdles out, Open Day was still fifth, but losing no more ground. At the last, he was fourth, but 10 lengths adrift. Then, with McCoy still insisting, he found that second wind that his rider suspected might be there, and sluiced past his rivals to open up a near three-length lead in the last 100 yards and go past the post with his ears casually pricked. The gelding's trainer Jonjo O'Neill was as gobsmacked as anyone else. "I thought he was stuffed," he said.
If yesterday was a bread-and-butter day, with the magic of McCoy a bonus, the jam will be spread thickly on Saturday, when the Ulsterman partners the mighty Denman for the first time in the Aon Chase at Newbury. The 10-year-old, unbeaten at the Berkshire track, will have a maximum of eight rivals in his final preparation for his Gold Cup rematch with his Paul Nicholls stablemate Kauto Star.
Only a handful of yesterday's entries for the Grade 2 contest are likely to turn up and the trainer of one of them, Charlie Mann, has already accepted defeat for his injury-compromised charge Air Force One, making his seasonal reappearance ahead of a Grand National tilt. "If he can have a nice pop round behind Denman for some prize-money, that will be fine," he said. "I do need to get a race into him, and the main thing is that he comes back in one piece."
The same sentiments will be applied by Nicholls to two-mile ace Master Minded, set to reappear the same afternoon for the first time since his recovery from a cracked rib. He is one of eight in the Game Spirit Chase, with Voy Por Ustedes, the former divisional champion, and Mahogany Blaze perceived as his chief opposition.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Teescomponents (4.15 Carlisle) Creeping up the ratings but won a better race in sprightly style last time. May just be still ahead of the handicapper.
Bob Hall (4.30 Ludlow) His best wins have come on better ground but coped with soft as a younger horse in Ireland.
One to watch
Progressive at the end of last year, Freeze Up (D Pipe) showed signs of a revival at Newbury recently and still looks on a manageable mark.
Where the money's going
Numide, from a stable that has won the last two Totesport Trophies and which also houses one of this year's favourites Harry Tricker, was backed yesterday with Paddy Power for Saturday's running, cut to 20-1 from 33-1.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Nikos Extra (4.00 Ludlow)