McCoy back on track for more National glory

UNLIKE the Grand National when, memorably, Tony McCoy had to be told which horse to ride in order to end his Aintree jinx, there has been no such dilemma over today's big race.

For weeks, it has been certain that the 15-time champion will ride Synchronised for his boss JP McManus, and trainer Jonjo O'Neill, in today's rearranged Coral Welsh National – one of the few major steeplechases which the record-breaking rider has still to win in his mercurial career.

And, despite a seven pound hike in the weights, the likely bottomless conditions at Chepstow could play into the hands of Synchronised, who proved that he was a top staying steeplechaser when winning last year's Midlands National at an Uttoxeter track that resembled a bog.

Only three out of the 17 starters completed the four-mile marathon, with McCoy having to give his mount early reminders before nursing him into the race and overhauling long-time leader L'Aventure in the shadow of the winning line.

In terms of horsemanship, it was a far superior ride to McCoy's famous success, three weeks later, aboard Don't Push It at Aintree – and he is likely to deploy similar hold-up tactics today as the jockey, McManus and O'Neill look to land another National.

"At home, he seems to be in great nick and I couldn't be happier," said O'Neill who, in his own riding career, enjoyed so much success with Yorkshire trainer Peter Easterby.

"The only thing that I'm not that happy about is that he's gone up in the weights since he last ran over fences. One thing definitely in his favour will be the conditions – it really can't be soft enough for him.

"When he won at Uttoxeter, it was nearly unraceable so we know he goes on heavy and he jumps and he stays, it's just the weight that could be the problem."

Synchronised has had two runs over hurdles this season, and was noted staying on in eye-catching fashion at Cheltenham last month.

As well as being the favourite, however, there is the added pressure of trying to provide that man McCoy with his first win in the race.

"He's come out of his last race at Cheltenham in great form, he's on really good terms with himself and everything has gone well," O'Neill added.

"He's one of only a few in the race that looks to be still improving, or at least we hope he is. He's a galloper, though. He isn't a horse that you'd say has much class about him, he's a real staying chaser.

"It would be lovely to give AP a Welsh National – it would certainly keep a smile on his face."

Last year's runner-up Silver By Nature will carry top weight of 11st 12lb with his conqueror, Dream Alliance, next in the list. Then comes Synchronised on 11st 6lb.

Synchronised's task has been made easier, however, by the withdrawal, through injury, of the Venetia Williams-trained Summery Justice. His jockey, Aidan Coleman, now rides the outsider Flight Leader.

However, two Yorkshire-based jockeys have mounts that could spoil the McCoy script.

Brian Hughes rides Howard Johnson's Royal Rosa, a narrow second to Hello Bud in the Becher Chase over the National fences, while Malton's Dougie Costello rides I'moncloudnine for West Country trainer Neil Mulholland.

Costello has enjoyed a number of high-profile wins on Mulholland-trained horses – most notably with Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Midnight Chase – and the handler is confident I'moncloudnine will live up to his name.

Even though the horse unseated Costello in the aforementioned Becher Chase last November, Mulholland still views the eight-year-old I'moncloudnine as a Grand National candidate this April when Don't Push It will attempt to become the first horse since the legendary Red Rum to win successive renewals of the world's greatest steeplechase.

"Stamina isn't a problem, he's in real good form and he schooled really well this morning," said Mulholland.

"We hope he's a Grand National horse so, hopefully, he can run well and make sure he gets into the race.

"Hopefully, he can run into a place off a nice weight.

"I know he got rid of Dougie last time but he's a good jumper. I always say Istabraq fell twice and he won three Champion Hurdles!

"He's unexposed. The only question is the ground, as it will be for a lot of horses. It's not to say he doesn't like it, he's never really run on it that bad before."

Mulholland also confirmed yesterday that Midnight Chase will head to the Cheltenham Gold Cup without a prep run.

The Prestbury Park specialist has won three times at the home of National Hunt racing this season, rising from a handicap mark of 137 to 163 in the process.

"He won't run again, the next time you see him will be in the Gold Cup," said Mulholland.

"He's been on a high around Cheltenham, we can get him fit here and give him a racecourse gallop. There is no point running him at another track for the sake of it, we're not saying he can't handle other tracks, but he enjoys Cheltenham.

"If we can get him fit enough and sharp enough, we are very happy to go straight there.

"He's rated 163 now. You see Long Run with a rating of 162 and Diamond Harry at 168, but we have the Cheltenham form over fences.

"We just hope he'll run a nice race, we're not shouting from the rooftops saying we're going to win this and that. He should run a nice race."

Mulholland and Costello will certainly be on cloud nine if they win today's Welsh National.

But, first, they have to get past AP McCoy and Synchronised, a combination who look tailor-made for Chepstow's undulations and yielding going that will place a premium on stamina and jockeyship.

Tomorrow's meeting at Sedgefield has been abandoned due to frost.