Snow barrier to McCoy landmark

Legal Steps, Riszard, Chickabiddy, Bonus Boy, Majadou, Corporate Player – ordinary enough performers with a notable commonality. The racing world is waiting for the next name in the sequence but will have to hold its collective breath a bit longer. The horses listed are, respectively, Tony McCoy's first winner, his first over hurdles, his first in Britain, his first over fences, his 1,000th and his 2,000th. After the great man rode two losers at Fontwell yesterday, the identity of his 3,000th has yet to be revealed.

McCoy remains marooned on 2,998 jumps winners. The rider is more fortunate than the batsman waiting for that last elusive run for his century in that his landmark figure will happen, it is merely a matter of where and when. But the tunnel-sighted Ulsterman will be hoping his period in limbo does not match that of Stan Mellor during the 1971-72 season.

Then, Mellor had to wait eight days and 13 rides – seven of them short-priced favourites – between number 999, Prairie Dog, and Ouzo, who galloped into quiz-question immortality in the Christmas Spirit Novices' Chase at Nottingham. McCoy, who last scored on Stradbrook at Wincanton on Thursday, is set to ride three – Supreme Keano, Carnival Town and Paisley Cross – at Southwell this afternoon but, with heavy snow forecast overnight and a cold snap threatening, may have to mark time before his next success. Today's card at frozen Lingfield has already been called off.

McCoy finished third on 4-6 shot Burton Port and eighth on Blue Teal at Fontwell. "I thought the first one might win," he said, "but he ran with the choke out and never relaxed. The other one may have a problem of sorts, he was going OK and just cut out. For the sake of everyone I wouldn't want to drag this out. But I don't like the sound of the weather much."

Amid flurries of the white stuff at Fontwell yesterday, the improved form of David Pipe's charges continued when Mr Thriller notched the Devon yard's fifth success in six days. The four-year-old, a half-brother to smart filly Gaspara, did his job well but his stablemate Master Of Arts, a 310,000-guinea recruit from the Flat, was much more impressive in making a winning hurdling debut at Doncaster on Saturday and looks his trainer's prime candidate for the juvenile crown.

Pipe revealed that last year's Champion Hurdle runner-up, Osana, a fine second at Sandown the same afternoon on his seasonal comeback, will not race again before Cheltenham. The seven-year-old, whose owner, Thomas Barr, last week sold Derby candidate Kite Wood to Godolphin, gave much fitter Celestial Halo 4lb and made him work hard untill running out of puff.

"I thought that was a great run back," Pipe said yesterday. "He had a long time off and will only get better. He was fine this morning, came out of the race well, so it's all systems go and he'll go straight to the Champion."

Before Saturday, Osana had not raced since his second to Al Eile at Aintree in April. "He's had no problems, he just came back in late and it took him a while to come to hand," added Pipe, "but he'd been really pleasing us for the past couple of weeks. Obviously Binocular looks the one to beat, but there are 37 days to go and they've all got to get there."

Osana's performance at Sandown also impressed Binocular's trainer, Nicky Henderson, who supplied the third, Afsoun. "Binocular has beaten Celestial Halo the two times they have met," he said, "and while he did what he had to do on Saturday, Osana ran a very good race and I should think has a fair bit of improvement in him."

But the master of Seven Barrows takes nothing as given. "Through Afsoun, who has been third in a Champion Hurdle, don't forget, I know roughly where I am with the two in front of him, but both are going to be competitive," he added. "Our job is now to get Binocular there in one piece, fit and well. He's in very good form and going to be starting his proper build-up now. He'll probably have a racecourse gallop a couple of weeks before Cheltenham."

Henderson made his own little piece of history yesterday when Giorgio Quercus, his first runner at Musselburgh, also proved his first winner at the venue. On the same card, the Arkle Trophy third favourite, Kalahari King, enhanced his credentials for the novices' two-mile championship by giving weight and a gutsy beating to Astarador. "You need a tough horse for the Arkle," Ferdy Murphy, his trainer, said. "He's good enough to be thereabouts."

At Punchestown, two of Ireland's Festival contenders had contrasting fortunes. Novice hurdler Mikael D'Haguenet is now joint-favourite with Diamond Harry for the Ballymore Properties Hurdle after a smooth success, but two-mile chaser Big Zeb, who had been Champion Chase favourite in the "without Master Minded" lists, fell two out when coming to challenge the winner, Mansony, in the Grade Two contest.

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