McCoy delighted at return to grind
Sports Personality of Year keen to get back in saddle but freeze threatening big festive cards
IN the eyes of the public, there could hardly be a less appropriately named mount for the newly-crowned Sports Personality of the Year as he gets back to the day job he so loves.
In stark contrast to Sunday night's glittering suited and booted occasion at the NEC in Birmingham, AP McCoy's arena this afternoon is Kempton, a functional racetrack built on a former gravel pit in the London suburb.
And his first scheduled ride is on an as yet undistinguished gelding named Journeyman.
The 15-times champion is delighted to be back in action, as will his weighing room colleagues, even if it is on a card restricted to bumpers, which are flat races for jumping horses.
"When the weather closed in," he said yesterday, "the first few days off were quite nice, because I'd had a few falls and I was quite sore.
"But now it's just depressing as we've missed so many races. Racing is what we all love doing, so the sooner we get back the better."
Staff at Kempton spent yesterday scraping snow and ice off the artificial surface, but with more snow forecast, the meeting, organised to allow jump trainers to give their charges a leg-stretch, is subject to a morning inspection.
Whatever happens today at the Sunbury track, just two miles from beleaguered Heathrow Airport, next week's more important prizes are highly unlikely to be decided, if betting markets are a guide. Ladbrokes make the St Stephen's Day meeting, featuring the King George VI Chase, a 4/7 shot to be called off.
"The forecast for Christmas Day is 2C and the day after is 4C, so the trouble is the predicted thaw is getting later," said clerk of the course Barney Clifford.
"The problem is the volume of snow on the track. Just today I tried to move one section of the covering to check the turf underneath and even that was a massive procedure.
"We certainly need a thaw to help us. The forecasts are volatile, that's a problem too. So what we are going to do is assess the situation on a 24-hour basis because you can have the best contingency plans in the world but if the weather changes they are useless."
The good news is that the cards at Leopardstown and Limerick are 5/4 to go ahead.
But McCoy may have to wait another year to fulfil another of his ambitions. He has now won all the major Grand Nationals in these isles bar the Welsh version at Chepstow, traditionally held on December 27.
But that card, too, is an odds-on shot to fall to the weather.
Should Kempton beat the freeze, Kauto Star, a no longer price than evens to win an unprecedented fifth King George, will face a maximum of 13 rivals, with no surprise absentees among those declared for the William Hill-sponsored Grade One three-miler at yesterday's penultimate stage.
Paul Nicholls has four of the 14 possibles with The Nightingale, What A Friend and long-term absentee Noland possibles to join their illustrious stablemate.
However, Noland is declared to take part in one of Kempton's 'bumpers for jumpers' today.
Nicky Henderson has three strong challengers to Kauto Star's crown, with Long Run, Burton Port and course specialist Riverside Theatre all possibles.
There are two Irish representatives in last season's Irish Independent Arkle winner Sizing Europe and the 2009 Arkle hero Forpadydeplasterer.
Philip Hobbs' Punchestown Gold Cup winner Planet Of Sound could turn out, and Tom George's Nacarat is set to have another crack.
The 2009 runner-up Madison du Berlais and 2008 runner-up Albertas Run will attempt to go one better while veteran Ollie Magern completes the field. (© Independent News Service)