National dilemma for McCoy

Tonight Kempton hosts potentially the most significant all-weather race ever staged in Britain, the winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge being automatically eligible for a start at Churchill Downs on 2 May. Even those whose perspectives are more parochial will recognise the race as a reminder that a new turf season starts on the Flat at Doncaster tomorrow week. The sap is already rising in those who yesterday shared a sudden plunge on Expresso Star, in the William Hill Lincoln Handicap. This colt won three races for John Gosden last autumn, and has clearly resumed his progress on the gallops, cut to 5-1 favourite from 10-1 by the sponsors.

Here, however, even a golden spring afternoon remained redolent of Cheltenham last week, when fresh perspectives were applied to another muddy winter's work from the jumpers. For Tony McCoy, indeed, an interval of seven days was hopelessly inadequate to stifle the memory of Binocular's defeat on the opening afternoon of the Festival. To many witnesses, McCoy's handicap success on Wichita Lineman, 40 minutes before the Smurfit Champion Hurdle, stands as one of the defining performances of his career. But to McCoy himself, consolation for Binocular's narrow failure probably now rests with that unrequited craving for a first success in the John Smith's Grand National.

"It was a disappointing week," McCoy admitted. "Mainly because Binocular got beaten. I have my own ideas on the reasons, but I've watched it again plenty of times, and I certainly wouldn't have done anything different. The truth is that he was a much better horse at Ascot – and in my view that was nothing to do with the track. I can still look forward to riding him in the race next year, and I certainly wouldn't be scared of taking on the same horses again."

His trainer, Nicky Henderson, has already conceded that the high-risk strategy of giving him just two starts in the first half of the season – both in small fields, where nothing got him off the bridle – left Binocular vulnerable when snow intruded on his Festival preparation. Both Henderson and McCoy are adamant that the horse has no problem with the Cheltenham hill, while those who suggested that McCoy left him too much to do must accept that the horse was simply not as responsive this time.

As for Aintree, McCoy faces the same dilemma as last year, when he chose Butler's Cabin ahead of King Johns Castle. His mount fell at Becher's second time round, still going well in the van, while King Johns Castle found only Comply Or Die too good. King Johns Castle confirmed himself over a setback when resurfacing over hurdles at Naas last Sunday, while Butler's Cabin showed signs of renewal in an amateurs' race at Cheltenham.

McCoy's employer, JP McManus, also has Garde Champetre, but another cross-country success at the Festival reiterated how sweetly that horse goes for Nina Carberry. "I haven't spoken to JP yet but King Johns Castle and Butler's Cabin are the obvious ones," McCoy confirmed. "Butler's ran OK at Cheltenham, though I'm wondering whether he should have been winning that if he's going to have a chance in the National. It wouldn't put me off that he fell with me last year – he just knuckled over at Becher's, and he'd jumped as well as anything up to then. I suppose Garde Champetre might come into the thinking, but we'll see what the boss says."

There is only ever one guarantee, of course. "I know we'll have all the usual talk about when I'm going to win it," he shrugged. "But I always think this will be the year."

Though set for his 14th consecutive championship, last week McCoy had to endure his great friend and rival, Ruby Walsh, also being recognised by a broader public as a colossus of the age. No doubt he attributes Walsh's seven wins – a Festival record – at least in part to the superior resources of Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, which certainly show no sign of running low. Yesterday Mullins saddled Fiveforthree, himself a winner at the 2008 Festival, to cruise home under Walsh in a race at Wexford. It was his first race in 11 months, but now that he is back on track Mullins hopes to take him to Aintree and maybe Punchestown.

Here, Nicholls did have a rare reverse here, when Conflictofinterest contrived to get himself beaten at odds of 1-10 in the opener. But for McCoy, as for any of the game's professionals, the inherent lesson was amplified by the name of the winner. Nothing's Easy.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Anacreon

(Lingfield 3.00)

NB: Izita Star

(Chepstow 2.10)

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn