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)

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
News
i100
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas