Sunday 26 February 2017

Denman fall puts heat on McCoy

Chris McGrath

Ruby Walsh displays his rodeo skills to partner Master Minded to victory, despite the horse's error at the final fence, in Saturday's Game Spirit Chase at Newbury Photo: Getty Images
Ruby Walsh displays his rodeo skills to partner Master Minded to victory, despite the horse's error at the final fence, in Saturday's Game Spirit Chase at Newbury Photo: Getty Images

AMONG the various inconvenient truths suggested by their mortifying first encounter, the jumping game may yet discover a consolation unavailable to Tony McCoy and Denman.

On the face of it, their spectacular falling out on Saturday could only jeopardise the marketing momentum previously guaranteed by an impending showdown with Kauto Star. But while the odds between the horses themselves have unmistakably altered, there are now fresh questions to address -- and the answers, at Cheltenham next month, may ultimately stimulate greater curiosity still.

There were roadshows, scarves and rosettes already predicated on Denman outclassing five inferiors at Newbury. In recruiting McCoy, moreover, his owners had seemed to do their bit.

As one of them, Paul Barber, remarked beforehand, it only seemed right that the champion jockeys of Britain and Ireland should be riding "the two best horses in the world". (Ruby Walsh, given the choice as Paul Nicholls' stable jockey, has stayed faithful to Kauto Star.) As things turned out, however, McCoy's involvement has given the Cheltenham Gold Cup an unexpected new dimension.

Bruising

Only a brute as big and brawny as Denman would have kept his feet at all, after wrestling through the fourth last fence, but there was no way back when he ripped the next one apart as well. And even as he slithered out of the saddle, McCoy will have braced himself for a bruising that would not be absorbed through the seat of his breeches.

For some will tell you that the most prolific jump jockey in history, with credible claims to being the toughest, and the hardest to beat, is not even the best of his own generation. Until now, that debate has been confined to Aintree, where he remains tormented by that one omission in his CV -- and, no doubt, by the terrific National record of Walsh, his great friend and rival. But when McCoy was appointed to ride Denman, those who questioned his credentials did not do so solely out of sympathy for Sam Thomas, who won the 2008 Gold Cup on Denman.

The chances are that Denman was not himself. He was already struggling to see off Niche Market, which would have been 34lbs better off in a handicap, when he made that first mistake. McCoy opined that his mount lacked aggression going into the fence, that he was never really lengthening or dominating. It would be no surprise were Nicholls to try him in blinkers when he resumes work.

Yes, Walsh's quieter style was seemingly showcased an hour later when Master Minded produced a breathtaking leap over the same fence that first jolted Denman. But then Walsh, in turn, was all but catapulted out of the saddle by a massive blunder at the last.

Walsh, interestingly, enthusiastically blamed himself. The degree of accountability in either case is, like so many things with the potential to fascinate outsiders, a matter for debate.

Nicholls was studiously playing down the whole affair yesterday. "AP did absolutely nothing wrong," he said. "I spoke to him this morning, and told him not to think he had. The mistake four out could have happened to anybody. AP will ride him at Cheltenham, and you'll see a different horse.

"Denman ate up last night, and is 100pc sound this morning. I was very happy until four out. He landed awkwardly, went out to the left, and the race was over then. There are a couple of things to remember -- he's a month off being anywhere near as good as he was in the Hennessy. And it was a trial, not the real thing. I think you'd have found yesterday that if he'd jumped the fourth-last, he would have picked up and won."

Nicholls did so anyway, of course, Walsh just collaring Niche Market on Tricky Trickster. Both horses duly advertised their John Smith's Grand National claims, albeit also to the handicapper, who unveils the weights tomorrow.

McCoy did have the consolation of winning the day's featured handicap hurdle, the totesport Trophy, with Jonjo O'Neill's Get Me Out Of Here and went on to complete a double as he guided home Bellvano for Nicky Henderson in the novices hurdle. Walsh, meanwhile, teamed up with Nicholls to complete a four-timer as Alfie Sherrin and Al Ferof supplemented the wins of Tricky Trickster and Master Minded.

Nick Williams' star Diamond Harry (4/6 favourite) was a touch workmanlike in beating Bensalem in the Novices' Chase and will now be aimed at the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

At Warwick, Henderson doubled up but was left with a real head-scratcher after Long Run landed the Kingmaker Novices' Chase. Sent off the 4/7 favourite, he made a couple of novice mistakes under Sam Waley-Cohen, but after a superb leap at the last he ran out an authoritative 12 lengths winner.

Now the RSA Chase or the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy loom large at Cheltenham, with owner Robert Waley-Cohen indicating ground conditions will ultimately be the deciding factor.

Peveril (7/2) completed the Henderson double when impressing in the novices' hurdle. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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