But Tinkler, the Malton-born 25-year-old, showed that he is a more than capable deputy when the highly-rated Finian’s Rainbow completed his Cheltenham preparations with a comfortable win in the important Kingmaker Novices Chase at Warwick, a race won 12 months ago by stablemate and Gold Cup prospect Long Run.
It was not as straight-forward as it appeared in the form book. The fact that the horse comes from the all-conquering Henderson yard that has just recorded its 2,000th winner adds to the expectancy levels. Tinkler should know; he had the misfortune to be unseated from the 1-10 odds-on chance Line Freedom at Fakenham’s first flight a fortnight ago.
Small fields – the Kingmaker attracted just four entries – are an occupational hazard. They invariably produce a muddling pace that does not help the fluency of the better horses. And this was so with Finian’s Rainbow who, at times, did not jump with his anticipated gusto. He was pressured by Kilmurry before Joe Tizzard’s mount had to be pulled up abruptly before the final fence after suffering a fatal leg injury.
Bookmakers were unimpressed – they now make Alan King’s Medermit, a recent winner at Sandown, favourite for the Arkle Trophy, the two mile championship for novice chasers that is named after Ireland’s equine colossus.
If Finian’s Rainbow prevails, he will become the third horse in the last 12 years to complete the Kingmaker and Arkle double following Flagship Uberalles (1999) and Yorkshire owner Sir Robert Ogden’s Voy Por Ustedes (2006).
While Tinkler is unlikely to be in the saddle for the Arkle – the aforementioned Geraghty is expected to have the honour – he believes the eight-year-old will be better suited by a faster gallop.
“It was not the tidiest round but he has learned an awful lot,” said Tinkler after the 2-11 odds-on favourite finished 11 lengths clear of Sue Smith’s Stagecoach Pearl to maintain his unbeaten record over fences.
“Riding him that way, dropping him in behind the leaders, was done with Cheltenham in mind, teaching him that he can’t go gung-ho early and attack every fence.
“The five fences down the back take some jumping and Kilmurry has asked me a massive question by asking to go and jump them and get in and out of trouble.
“It was not the best round of jumping but he was strong minded and I was very impressed.”
This is an accepted part of Tinkler’s role. While he will be guaranteed rides on many of Henderson’s second-string horses at Cheltenham, Geraghty and McCoy’s riding arrangements will always take precedence as the trainer uses the best rider available.
That said, the Yorkshire rider’s 25 winners this season – including an eyecatching win last week on Sir Alex Ferguson’s Sinbad The Sailor – leave him on course to beat last year’s tally of 35 and confirm his status as the weighing room’s most improved horseman.
Riding horses as good as Finian’s Rainbow when required are part of the jockey’s continuing education – and helping the Henderson yard close the gap on the perennial champion Paul Nicholls in the trainers’ championship.
On a weekend when Cheltenham clues were limited because of the deaths of two horses in Newbury’s paddock, the JP McManus-owned Kempes jumped into the Gold Cup reckoning after winning the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown. However, today’s action could be as informative as Donald McCain’s Chamirey and the Ferdy Murphy-trained De Boitron put their Festival credentials on the line at Catterick.
This is an intriguing meeting – Murphy’s Poker De Sivola recorded his first over fences at the corresponding meeting 12 months ago before landing Cheltenham’s National Hunt Chase under amateur rider Katie Walsh.
McCain and Murphy hope to follow Tinkler’s example on Finian’s Rainbow – and then consider their Cheltenham plans. Festival races are not won in February. But they can be lost.