Riders in eye of the storm pass their rehearsal

Contrasting styles will be on show in the Gold Cup but Walsh, who won on Big Buck's yesterday, and McCoy are on top of their game

If today's big race is to produce a masterpiece, then at least everyone should recognise the signature. Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy used the two Grade One races here yesterday to show why they are the only riders who could properly complete the epochal resonance of this great showdown, between Kauto Star and Denman. From Walsh, on Big Buck's, there was all the nerve and timing that has made him the consummate big-race jockey of his age; McCoy, in perfect counterpoint, infected Albertas Run with a will to win that has few precedents in sporting history.

Their afternoon also condensed the contrasts that have given McCoy's mission today a strangely poignant dimension. Albertas Run, in the Ryanair Chase, was his first success in an elite steeplechase in nearly two years – a statistic bravely brandished by those heretics who question his suitability for Denman.

Big Buck's, in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, was meanwhile one of three odds-on champions returning this week for Walsh and Paul Nicholls. This is the kind of ammunition so conspicuously lacking at Jackdaws Castle – the sumptuous stables, just over the hill, owned by McCoy's employer, J P McManus. McCoy always insists that Jonjo O'Neill could get the best out of any horse sent there, and will have found due satisfaction in the way Albertas Run saw off Poquelin, the favourite, representing the inevitable Walsh-Nicholls combination.

This was a copyright McCoy performance. The 14-times champion had begun his afternoon with a shuddering fall, and lay uncharacteristically still as the paramedics rushed on to the track. There was an anxious hum in the stand. Surely he was not destined to miss his chance for vindication on Denman?

Later McCoy wryly acknowledged the extremes necessary to prevent him resuming his afternoon's work. "When I was on the ground the pain threshold was at the limit," he said. "But I wasn't dead, and I didn't think I'd broken any bones." Instead he merely had stitches in his chin, and a headache, and gave Albertas Run the sort of uninhibited ride that everyone is anticipating on Denman.

Though Walsh closed with a stealth that was just as familiar, McCoy knew that Albertas Run would see out every yard – he had won the RSA Chase here two years previously – and drew Poquelin's sting on the climb to the post. He won by four and a half lengths, with the favourite just holding J'y Vole for second.

McCoy's regard for O'Neill is corroborated by his record here – this was the trainer's 17th Festival success – but they would seem unlikely to satisfy their craving for a Grand National with this horse. He is owned by Trevor Hemmings, and McCoy generally has commitments to McManus at Aintree. Not that he is a certain runner. "He'll probably run at Aintree, but in which race I'm not sure," O'Neill said. "The ground is so important to him – it helps him jump, and when he's like that he's a good horse. He would have won a King George if it hadn't been for Kauto Star, then he'd have been a real hero."

Big Buck's, in contrast, is different class. There were none of those flat spots this time, and punters who had retained sufficient cash and courage must have spent the race marvelling that he could start at 5-6. He was always coasting and Walsh restrained Big Buck's alongside the last of his rivals to fold, Time For Rupert, and released the brake only on the run-in. The champion promptly freewheeled clear, opening a gap of three and a half lengths at the post, and is already 6-4 with the sponsors for the hat-trick next year.

And so the siege was lifted – and not just for the punters. Notably with Master Minded the previous day, the man who trains both Kauto Star and Denman had endured a trying start to the meeting. "If he'd been beaten, I would have been getting worried," Nicholls admitted. "But maybe Master Minded just isn't good enough any more. There's a new champion now [Big Zeb] and that's what this job is about – finding new champions."

He discovered this one in a moment of rather haphazard inspiration, switching Big Buck's back over timber after he unseated Sam Thomas in the Hennessy last season. Andy Stewart, the horse's owner, thought Nicholls "bonkers" but now wonders if this "could be one of the best staying hurdlers we have seen".

Certainly, Nicholls reckoned this a new peak for Big Buck's. "We might go back to fences one day," he said. "You never say never, but there would be no point when he's as good as this."

Otherwise, the card showcased the next generation, among both trainers and jockeys. Two conditionals, Danny Cook and Hadden Frost, celebrated breakthrough wins for David Pipe, while Ballabriggs (another for Hemmings) confirmed the rising stature of Donald McCain, who had already saddled Peddlers Cross to win here the previous day.

Richard Johnson, who won the opener for Philip Hobbs, would of course have been a champion several times over but for McCoy. They each have two winners on the board now, along with Barry Geraghty, but McCoy handed over the armband of the meeting's leading rider even as Walsh pulled up on Big Buck's. Rest assured, to retrieve it on Denman would relieve a frustration not even Johnson could comprehend.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little