| 12.2°C Dublin

Weigh-room giants won't be left idle for biggest race of year

Close

Tony McCoy riding Plinth in action at Leopardstown racecourse

Tony McCoy riding Plinth in action at Leopardstown racecourse

Getty Images

Tony McCoy riding Plinth in action at Leopardstown racecourse

Think back to the 11th-hour sequence of frenzied events that resulted in AP McCoy getting the leg up on Sir Des Champs in last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Then consider this. Right now, the iconic Antrim-born rider, Ruby Walsh, Davy Russell and Paul Carberry are currently at a stage where they have no obvious mount in the sport's marquee event.

Between them, they boast 30 champion jockey titles. What price four of the best and most decorated riders of a generation are all sat on their hands come 3.20 on March 14? Any, I'd say.

In the Gold Cup more than any other jump race, the role of the man up top is imperative. When there is so little margin for error and so much at stake, the jockeys who make the fewest mistakes inevitably become even more invaluable.

There is a lot of water to cross under the bridge over the next month. Lots of plans to be finalised, and the chances of all four men being left idle during the Gold Cup are pretty slim.

Willie Mullins is unlikely to have a runner, with only Arvika Ligeonniere and Boston Bob left to consider. That leaves the services of the Festival's most successful rider ever up for grabs.

UNCERTAINTY

There is so much uncertainty surrounding riding plans for his old ally Paul Nicholls that you couldn't be sure the former British champion won't call on him.

Then again, Noel Fehily's position aboard Silviniaco Conti looks safe, and Al Ferof looks as though he might be more suited to the Ryanair Chase after a second middling effort over three miles on Saturday.

That leaves the likes of Rocky Creek and Unioniste, as well as yesterday's gallant Hennessy runner-up Tidal Bay.

Carberry, who continues to ride with all his trademark style and panache despite turning 40 years of age yesterday, is also available. Likewise McCoy.

McCoy will also hit 40 in May, but, as we saw 12 months ago, racing's most relentless phenomenon steadfastly remains the epitome of the sort of individual that many owners and trainers will move heaven and earth to have on their side.

Then there is Russell. Since his demotion as Gigginstown House Stud's number one at the turn of the year, he has been used on a bit-part basis by his old employer, though he wasn't aboard either Roi Du Mee or Last Instalment in yesterday's Hennessy.

It may have been that Russell opted for Lord Windermere instead, given that they won last year's RSA together and that he now has to take a more big-picture view.

As of now, the reigning champion has the most obvious potential Gold Cup mount in Jim Culloty's eight-year-old, though his participation in the contest must now be considered unlikely after a few hugely disappointing runs.

Russell should also have plenty else to look forward to next month. As you would expect of a man whose work ethic and professional insight have long been as renowned as his fantastic natural ability, Russell hasn't let the grass grow under his feet since his shock dismissal.

The loss of Solwhit to injury was an untimely blow to his stock, but he has quickly resumed his former reputation as the most sought-after freelance around.

Charles Byrnes, Arthur Moore and Tony Martin are among those who have utilised him increasingly and will continue to do so.

Henry de Bromhead has also taken a renewed interest in Russell, most pointedly when eschewing Andrew Lynch for him aboard Grand Jesture, which is owned by Alan and Ann Potts, who retain Lynch.

After Russell won on the horse at Fairyhouse last month, De Bromhead said they had simply wanted to try something different on a horse that had become frustrating.

That is understandable, but Lynch is one of many who could be forgiven for taking an uneasy look over their shoulder due to Russell's new-found freedom.

With Lynch at Newbury on Saturday, De Bromhead again turned to the Youghal native at Naas for Moscow Mannon – another that falls into the frustrating bracket.

Russell was his usual exquisite self in steering the eight-year-old to a stylish win over the odds-on Abbey Lane. He is rarely anything less, likewise Walsh, McCoy or Carberry. They surely won't all be twiddling their thumbs for the single most important jump race of the year.

SMASHING FAILS TO LAND TELLING BLOW AT NEWBURY

Willie Mullins' Smashing failed to make an impact in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday, eventually finishing ninth behind Nigel Twiston-Davies' 33/1 winner Splash Of Ginge.

Dell' Arca, Irish Saint and Cheltenian filled the minor places, frustratingly so having all been given a positive mention in this corner on Saturday.

The Denman Chase went the way of Kim Bailey's mud-lover Harry Topper, which we also shrewdly opted to eschew this time in favour of Al Ferof, having been disappointed after siding with him when he finished third at Cheltenham previously.

Back on a track that he had beaten Benefficient at last term, though, Jason Maguire's mount ran out a convincing winner.

Bailey, who enjoyed Gold Cup glory with another mudlark when Master Oats triumphed under Norman Williamson in 1995, conceded that Harry Topper would only contest the Cotswolds' March feature if the going happened to come up soft.

Mullins had better luck at Warwick where Glens Melody confirmed her recent course superiority over Mischievous Milly with a determined effort under David Casey.

Returned the evens favourite, Glens Melody is expected to take her place alongside Quevega in the mares' race at Cheltenham.

FENTON EYES UP NATIONAL INTEREST FOR AVONDHU LADY

David Fenton might consider a tilt at the Irish Grand National for Avondhu Lady after his classy Beneficial mare thwarted Byerley Babe – another of the excellent deceased sire's progeny – at Naas on Saturday.

Byerley Babe lost little in defeat over an inadequate two-mile trip in the mares' conditions chase as she was just held by a diminishing neck, but Avondhu Lady rallied brilliantly for Mark Enright, the injury-plagued reigning champion conditional who was enjoying a first winner since returning from a month on the sidelines after Christmas.

The odds-on Tarla failed to fire in fourth. Avondhu Lady (6/1) had won over flights on her previous start at Fenton's local Cork venue.

"She has never let us down – she's game and tough," Fenton said of his stable star.

"They got into a battle in the straight and that's her forte. The lads (owner Richard Flynn of the Avondhu Bar in Fermoy) were thinking about the Irish National. She might be a bit small for a big field like that but we'll see."

TWEET OF THE WEEKEND

@paddyfflood

Delighted to ride a winner for @MaluaRacing @PeterRaff @anthonymithen in Hamilton. It's not Cheltenham but I got as much kick out of it.

– Paddy Flood after winning on Set You Free in Australia. It was a belated first winner Down Under for Flood – who won an Irish Grand National on Hear The Echo in 2008 – 18 months after he opted to emigrate.

NUMBERS GAME

70 – The number of nominated race meetings that active, registered owners will be entitled to gain free admission to under a new scheme launched recently by the Association of Irish Racecourses. Previously, owners were only entitled to free entry at a meeting at which they had a runner.

Irish Independent