Tuesday 27 September 2016

Oscar leads Scottish nominees

Published 18/04/2015 | 02:30

Gallant Oscar (right), here winning at Naas last season, will carry the colours of new owner JP McManus in today’s Scottish Grand National
Gallant Oscar (right), here winning at Naas last season, will carry the colours of new owner JP McManus in today’s Scottish Grand National

As he embarks on what might prove to be his penultimate day in the saddle, AP McCoy has been denied the chance of another glorious big-race triumph by the drying ground at Ayr.

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All of 18 years after the front-running heroics that first enamoured the iconic champion jockey to the racing public ensured his sole previous win in the Scottish Grand National on Belmont King, McCoy's intended mount Benvolio is a non-runner.

Paul Nicholls, who trained Belmont King, scratched Benvolio yesterday morning prior to the 9.0 cut-off, a conscious decision to ensure the first reserve Vintage Star of a place.

With officials having pledged to water the course, Nicholls recognised that conditions wouldn't be soft enough for Benvolio and acted swiftly. He was applauded for doing so, although we could be forgiven for ruing the loss of another chance to see the sport's single most fearsome human competitor do battle.

Those opportunities are dwindling apace. Since announcing his decision to retire, McCoy has been an absolute revelation.

From Carlingford Lough's euphoric Hennessy Gold Cup triumph at Leopardstown the day after his announcement - surely his most memorable victory in that time span - to those of Uxizandre at Cheltenham, Gilgamboa at Fairyhouse and Jezki and Don Cossack at Aintree, the soon-to-be crowned 20-time title-holder hasn't missed a beat. True to form, he delivered on Capard King at Ayr yesterday as well.

It has been incredible to witness how unfailingly and patiently he has given of his time to fans at every remove, be it on the track or at the many functions to which he has signed up. McCoy has certainly made the most of his long goodbye, and he has done it all with a refreshing generosity of spirit.

In his ambitious youth, such interactions would have been chores completed through gritted teeth. Now, though, we are seeing the real measure of the man, a gracious 40-year-old, who, let it be said, is riding better than he has at any stage in his career.

McCoy might not ride after today until his farewell sally at Sandown next Saturday. He has three mounts, just one of which, Brendan Powell's bumper-bound Lettheriverrundry, is owned by JP McManus.

His great ally swooped for Tony Martin's Gallant Oscar this week, so it would be a touch ironic should the nine-year-old secure a historic triumph for the raiders in the four-mile feature under Paul Carberry.

McCoy, the definitive professional who has never done overweight in his life, cannot do the allotted 10st 1lb.

Given the hysteria that surrounded his mounts in the Irish and Aintree editions, then, it would be slightly cruel should Gallant Oscar now justify the National gamble that sees him trade as 8/1 clear favourite in McCoy's absence.

Jim Dreaper's Goonyella and Sandra Hughes' Raz De Maree, first and second in last month's Midlands National at Uttoxeter, are among four others on National duty.

Between the three of them, Martin, Dreaper and Hughes have won seven Irish or Welsh Nationals, so they are well placed to lead the charge for what would be a first Irish win in this version at Ayr, the final Celtic outpost left to conquer.

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