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Coyle can maintain impressive strike rate with River

Tony Coyle, once a decent amateur rider with the late Paddy Mullins, has proved a shrewd addition to the training ranks in the north of England.

Since acquiring his licence last year, he has saddled 10 Flat winners for a 20pc strike-rate, with two of his first nine jumps runners scoring for a 22pc return. Clearly, Coyle is careful about what he runs, so River Dragon, his sole runner at Market Rasen tomorrow, warrants support in the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle.

Granted, with 16 runners, this is an open-looking contest, and Nicky Henderson's Wise Move is sure to prove popular with punters at the Lincolnshire venue. Fourth on its seasonal debut in what was its third run in a maiden hurdle, Wise Move can be expected to be a more potent force for the switch to handicapping.

Nonetheless, River Dragon strikes as a more appealing sort. An improved campaigner that won twice on the Flat since coming under Coyle's stewardship in the autumn, the one-time Ballydoyle inmate has run just twice over hurdles for his new handler.

While he failed to cope with three miles-plus in testing going at Wetherby, he justified good support to collect over two miles and three furlongs here on St Stephen's Day. River Dragon carries a 6lb penalty for that now and must contend with two extra furlongs, but the better ground that is forecast could suit.

In the beginners' chase, Victor Dartnall and Denis O'Regan can get on the score sheet with Mic's Delight.

A bumper and dual hurdle winner that was edged out by a nose in the EBF final at Sandown last March, Mic's Delight did lots right on his fencing bow.

At Exeter on January 1, he finished second in a race that featured just three other runners, all of which had already won over fences. Given that he was only beaten a length on what was his first start since April, it was a massively promising effort.

Outsider to note

Overton Lad

Two years after winning his last race at the track, Overton Lad can run well at a price in the three-mile handicap chase at Towcester tomorrow.

While Peter Pritchard's 11-year-old is limited, the one thing that he has in his favour is a liking for Towcester's stiff track, and that is crucial here. In 10 starts at the course over fences, Overton Lad has won once and been placed six times.

The home-bred showed that he retains some ability when finishing second on his two most recent outings, and the handicapper has given him a chance now by leaving his rating unchanged. He should at least reward each-way backers once again.

Sunday Yankee

Market Rasen 2.0 -- River Dragon

Market Rasen 3.05 -- Mic's Delight

Fairyhouse 2.55 -- Theleze

Towcester 3.15 -- Overton Lad

Numbers game

84 Days left to Mick Kinane's comeback. The 52-year is due to showcase all his old cool in the Aintree Legends race on Grand National Day.

20 The online price in euro of a two-day ticket to next weekend's Leopardstown fixture, which features the Boylesports.com Hurdle on Saturday, and the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle and Frank Ward Solicitors Novice Chase on Sunday.

6 The number of months that Tote Ireland's general manager Craig Robertson lasted in the job. His departure was announced on Thursday, stating that he had left "to pursue other business interests".

Quote of the week

"His coat is gleaming, he's full of enthusiasm and it's astounded me how little his two races have taken out of him. We're having to canter him every day as he's so fresh and well. He came out of his box this morning, even with the temperature at -1, with a real spring in his step. I can tell you I have never seen the horse look better. Never." -- Paul Nicholls provides an upbeat bulletin on Kauto Star, days after his five-time King George winner turned 12 years of age.

Three things we

learned this week

1 Horse Racing Ireland's statistical report for 2011 makes for grim reading.

While the 3pc rise in attendances is a credit to the racecourses, the other positive figures, in bloodstock sales and Tote betting, need qualifying.

Unfortunately, neither portrays an entirely accurate picture of the way things are, with the sales returns, up 19pc, driven by foreign clientele, and the Tote boost of 11pc attributable to co-mingling of pools with England and France.

On its own, that evidence of growth via inward investment is welcome, but sadly the critical figures weren't nearly as swell. Horses-in-training (12pc), owners (8pc), on-course bookies' turnover (9pc), prize money (3.5pc) and race sponsorship (3pc) were all down. It seems there is no end in sight.

2 Solwhit is out for the season. After Charles Byrnes revealed back in November that his stable star had damaged a suspensory ligament, the chances of him making an appearance this term were always slim, and the trainer confirmed on Monday that he had run out of time with the six-time Grade One winner.

Having played second fiddle to Hurricane Fly for two seasons, Solwhit was due to switch to fences this term. In a cruel twist of fate, his nemesis has also remained absent thus far.

3 The British Horseracing Authority's new chief executive Paul Bittar has acknowledged that the controversial whip sanctions are excessive.

While his acceptance that there have been times when the "penalty did not reflect the breach" seems an olive branch of sorts, he has given the impression that it will be merely the penalties, rather than the rules, that could be revised. Expect more tinkering.

Racing Diary

Monday: Wetherby, Wolverhampton (AW)

Tuesday: Kempton (AW), Leicester, Southwell (AW)

Wednesday: Limerick, Hereford, Kempton* (AW), Lingfield (AW), Musselburgh

Thursday: Gowran Park, Kempton* (AW), Newcastle, Warwick

Friday: Dundalk* (AW), Fontwell, Huntingdon, Lingfield (AW), Wolverhampton* (AW)

Saturday: Leopardstown, Cheltenham, Doncaster, Lingfield (AW), Uttoxeter

Sunday: Leopardstown, Ffos Las, Sedgefield

Irish Independent