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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own