The recent indignities endured by Sam Thomas reached their inexorable nadir yesterday when he was told that he would not be trusted with the mount on Master Minded at Sandown this Saturday. The highest-rated jumper in training will instead be partnered by the champion jockey, Tony McCoy.
The sudden vogue for doubting Thomas has made it all too appropriate that the sword of Damocles should have been suspended, of all things, upon a horse-hair. It had been quite obvious since Saturday that Thomas was unlikely to ride Master Minded, but the horse's owner and trainer left him in an excruciating public limbo until yesterday.
Last year, when Ruby Walsh was injured at precisely the same time, his young understudy enjoyed a sequence of successes in big races for Paul Nicholls. This time round, however, Thomas has come down to earth with a bump – none too figuratively, either, in a number of cases – and Nicholls has made little attempt to disguise his alarm. The champion trainer has either lost confidence in Thomas, or believes that the jockey has lost confidence in himself.
Nicholls is particularly sensitive where Kauto Star is concerned, and the cumulative uncertainties about Thomas can be traced to the performance of that horse at Haydock 11 days ago. The previous year, Kauto Star had jumped beautifully for Thomas to give him a breakthrough success in the Betfair Chase. This time round, however, the horse lost momentum after hitting the third last and the issue was still in doubt when he slipped on landing over the final fence, unseating Thomas.
Master Minded, runaway winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, is in the same ownership as Kauto Star, and yesterday Clive Smith confirmed that McCoy would instead be wearing his silks in the Tingle Creek Chase.
"Obviously it was a tough decision, but I think it is the right one," Smith said. "I think it is right for Sam, as we need to get him right and he is obviously having a bad time at the moment. But he will get his confidence back.
"We are also doing the right thing by the horse, as he is a young horse with great talent and it is just the sensible thing to do. We had a great day with Sam when he rode Kauto to win the Betfair Chase last season, and that was a great ride.
"Tony has ridden for me in the past, including when he rode Royal Auclair to win the Cathcart at Cheltenham."
McCoy was effusive in praise of his new mount: "I thought Master Minded's run in the Champion Chase was as good as anything I've seen."
Thomas has unquestionably been blamed far too readily for some of the yard's recent reverses, but the reality is that the press and Nicholls between them have probably wrecked his belief for the time being. Arguably the most efficient way of salvaging the situation would have been to let Thomas ride Master Minded, but two more falls at Folkestone on Monday probably represented the final straw. Now he faces an examination of character that may determine the long-term course of a career that seemed on such a giddy trajectory when he won the Gold Cup for Nicholls at Cheltenham in March.
This unseemly sideshow has distracted from what promises to be an engrossing showdown between Master Minded and Tidal Bay, the leading novice in the north last season and impressive on his resumption at Carlisle last month. Nicholls may yet be able to put Thomas on one of his other entries, which include last year's winner, Twist Magic.
The champion trainer increasingly has the most valuable prizes in Ireland on his radar, and has a leading candidate for another in Noland, yesterday chalked up by Coral as 11-4 joint-favourite with War Of Attrition for the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on Sunday. The Listener, so disappointing behind Kauto Star on their reappearance at Down Royal, is 3-1 and Snowy Morning 7-1.
Zaarito, who was a heavily backed third in Cheltenham's Champion Bumper, makes his debut over hurdles at Fairyhouse today.
* Jodami, winner of the 1993 Cheltenham Gold Cup, has died at the age of 23.
* Sixties Icon, the 2006 St Leger winner, has been retired to stud after disappointing in Sunday's Japan Cup.
* Today's card at Ayr has been abandoned as the track is frozen in places.Reuse content