In the jockeys' championship, McCoy leads Richard Johnson by just eight. In the trainers' table, meanwhile, that relative fissure becomes a positive chasm: Martin Pipe, having also been overtaken by Philip Hobbs, is now over £350,000 behind Paul Nicholls.
While the prizemoney offered by John Smith's at Aintree will keep the door ajar until April, it is imperative for Pipe to confirm that his horses have found fresh momentum since Christmas. With £100,000 at stake in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle today, he saddles four runners - among which there could be no more fitting winner than Not Left Yet (Sandown 3.10).
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since this young hurdler landed a gamble on his reappearance at Cheltenham in November. At that meeting, while Nicholls struggled for form, Pipe's horses were winning with mechanical ease. Not Left Yet had qualified for handicaps with three opaque performances as a juvenile, and proved far better than his rating at Cheltenham. He was certainly ridden as though he had plenty in hand, emerging wide from off the pace to win with transparent authority.
Fully aware that handicappers do not take kindly to this kind of thing, Pipe ran Not Left Yet under a 7lb penalty at Market Rasen just five days later. He was beaten there, and his new mark remains another 8lb higher, but it may be wrong to be discouraged by either of these facts.
For a start, the Market Rasen race was over another three-quarters of a mile, and Not Left Yet ran out of steam only on the run-in. It may simply be that he did not quite get home, but it is always simplistic to assume that a relatively easy winner has had an easy race. The best horses always give generously on the bridle, and Not Left Yet was probably asked to run again too hastily. Having shown that he goes so well fresh, and with the stable apparently finding its rhythm again, he can be expected to resume his progress getting weight all round today.
Nicholls will be hoping to have maintained the pressure by this stage, as he has solid prospects in the two other most valuable races on the card. Ladalko (2.05) took his time to find his feet over fences but went with great zest stepped up to this trip at Newbury last time. Though raised 9lb for that, he remains favourably treated compared with his rating over hurdles.
The absence of Iktitaf from the AIB Tolworth Hurdle has meanwhile smoothed the path for Noland (2.35), who seemed to have derived much benefit from his first experience of timber when winning with assurance at Cheltenham last month.
Iktitaf, a revelation this winter, had already travelled from Ireland but was found to have knocked a hock after Noel Meade declared him yesterday morning. "He must have cast himself in his box," the trainer said. "The vet said it is only minor, that that he could nearly run, but it would be too risky. It's a shame because when they start improving like this, you don't know where they could go. He seemed to have stepped up again for his win at Fairyhouse, judging from the work he put in for this race."
With Harchibald rushed into surgery on New Year's Day, Meade has certainly hit the buffers since his great run at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting.
Fortunately Sweet Wake, Mister Nosey and Snow Tern have emerged in "perfect" shape from their impressive performances there. Indeed, the latter - who won his bumper by 20 lengths - makes his debut over hurdles at Naas tomorrow. Sweet Wake, a Group winner in Germany this summer, is likely to elaborate his Cheltenham credentials at the same track a fortnight today, while Mister Nosey waits for a grade one race back at Leopardstown next month. Paul Carberry, Meade's stable jockey, hopes to back in time for both these crucial assignments, having broken a bone in his neck at the Christmas meeting.
Nap: Radius (Lingfield 12.40)
NB: Not Left Yet
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