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Ruby dodges double spill

as Ruby Walsh crossed the line on Master Minded in the Game Sprit Chase at Newbury and blessed himself, it was a fitting public appreciation of how he had the heavens to thank.

Firstly, Walsh lived up to his aura as one of our truly great sports personalities by immediately admitting his wrongdoing -- something many sporting figures seem immune from -- when at the last fence he almost brought Master Minded a cropper. He asked a horse that was clear, and almost home and hosed, for a big extravagant jump at the last rather than just a nice, easy 'do it yourself' option.

He got away with. It probably took a man of his experience to sit as well as he did and not fall off, but at the same time he had the horse to thank for staying straight, as a jink either side would have almost certainly led to one of Walsh's more embarrassing moments in the saddle.

Walsh, undoubtedly to his reluctance, was told to step aside and let his good friend Tony McCoy partner long odds-on favourite Denman in the AON Chase, as it would be McCoy onboard in Cheltenham and Paul Nicholls wanted his new partner to get, as he described it, "some invaluable experience".


Well, you could certainly say it was some experience for McCoy anyway, as Walsh not only missed out on what could have been him hitting the ground, but he also managed to reap the benefits. Denman took it up under McCoy as he tried to put the matter to bed five fences from home. On his form from the Hennessy at the same track, none of these horses should have been able to get near him, however Niche Market was never really shrugged away.

At the fourth last, there was a crucial, race-costing error that saw McCoy produce a better recovery than Walsh would on Master Minded, and at the third last the new partnership would come to a premature end as Denman took off for the fence from way out and landed in the middle of it, unshipping McCoy out the side door.

To see Denman take off where he did, and more importantly land where he did, and to see how Master Minded galloped through the last fence in his race, you would have to think that Paul Nicholls is also a good friend of the great man upstairs. If either horse made the same error in Ireland, over what are renowned to be tougher, more fiercely built fences, you'd imagine they would be lucky to come away with their lives.

The big question is should Tony McCoy or Sam Thomas have been riding Denman? Lest we forget, Denman did something similar with Thomas in Aintree last year, the last time the Gold Cup-winning jockey was onboard. If anything that is the horse's quirk -- he is too brave.

Ruby would have loved to have been onboard on Saturday and had the same thing happened, there would have been just a major anti-climax to the Gold Cup build-up and fears would be that McCoy wouldn't know the horse that well in the Gold Cup.

Hence the decision to let McCoy ride Denman on Saturday was entirely the correct one. Whether or not letting McCoy ride him over Sam Thomas was right is another matter. Yours truly pinpointed here many months ago when betting was first introduced as to who will ride Denman in the Gold Cup, that McCoy was too big a price for the job, simply because Nicholls is not going to leave a jockey of the calibre of McCoy sitting in the weighroom when he could be riding the favourite or second favourite in the Gold Cup, which he trains.

Speaking after the race, McCoy was excellent in admitting that people don't think he should be riding the horse. Many think having won a Gold Cup on him, Thomas is the man for the Denman, and after Saturday there are probably a few more on that bandwagon.

However, had Thomas rode Denman on Saturday and the same thing happened, just what would they have been saying then? Being a top level jockey is a ruthless position, but a lucrative one when it goes right. McCoy he has seen both sides of the coin and is around longer to take the slack, whereas for Thomas it is still a learning process.

The important thing is that the horse is none the worse, and while this will undoubtedly dampen some PR company's big promotion of the clash between Kauto and Denman, Nicholls is keen not to write off his 2008 winner.

"Don't write him off for Cheltenham," Nicholls warned yesterday. "Mentally and physically, he's still a month away from how he was for the Hennessy, and you've got to remember that was a trial for Cheltenham. If he'd jumped the fourth last I think he would have gone on and won the race."

Nicholls ensured there should be no doubt over McCoy's association with the horse. "Tony did absolutely nothing wrong. It could have happened to anybody and he'll ride at Cheltenham."

Incidentally, Walsh's novenas continued to work the oracle as not only did he get up and benefit from Denman's departure and win the race on outsider Tricky Trickster to contribute to a four-timer on the day, but there was also a treble at Navan yesterday.