9 March 2003

THE present, the old and the new wrote their names on the Sandown scorecard yesterday. Tony McCoy mirrored the wisdom of taking a Dubai break with a waiting-race masterclass double, Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain broke a 30-year hoodoo with a first winner on the Esher track and young Emma Lavelle’s two victories showed that she will be around at least as long.

Five years ago Tony McCoy would never have taken a pre-Cheltenham break to ease an injured shoulder and would have been congenitally incapable of the stalking patience needed for both his successes on this chewed up stamina-sapping turf. But at 28 he is probably at the peak of his history-making effectiveness, still young and vigorous enough to mix it better than anyone, but now with a canny patience he never had.

On Korelo, in the Sunderland’s Imperial Cup, and again on Killusty, in the three-mile chase, he was content to sit cool and calm out the back while others fought the battle up front. Something seems to have gone wrong with the water table beneath Sandown and when the ground gets heavy it now reduces weakened finishers to a trot. The lesson has not been lost on McCoy.

Under the circumstances, Lawz did unbelievably well to lead and still be in command turning into the straight. McCoy was no certainty but at least he had powder to burn. The Irish raider Newhall loomed up as a threat but when Korelo had his wick fully lit, emptiness was going to be second. There is a £60,000 bonus if the winner doubles up at Cheltenham next week and Martin Pipe said all the right things about “having a look at the horse in the morning”, but take it as read that Korelo will trot out in front of the Prestbury stands.

Emma Lavelle is in only her third season as a trainer and her self-deprecating county-ness has concealed a steely will and a rare talent at her chosen metier. Her double with the front-running Immola and the late-thrusting Tana River was a declaration of future intent. Tana River’s success in the £29,000 European Breeders Fund National Hunt Novice Final was her richest victory. You can be absolutely certain that this status will not last long.

Ginger McCain was training before Emma was born. But before and after the Red Rum glory years he never trained a winner at Sandown. It was a sequence which looked odds-on to continue as the white nose-banded Heavenly Stride struggled behind the leaders in the home straight. Then, suddenly, the talented seven-year-old lived up to both his name and the ability McCain has always believed in. “He is a serious horse,” said Ginger. Those who appreciate history could only wish for more.

Which brings us to Killusty, off the course for 743 days but nursed through Sandown’s three miles by McCoy to fairly pulverise his field. For even to win was a training performance for which Charlie Egerton could die happy. By apt coincidence he had spent Friday afternoon at Chris Brasher’s funeral in Richmond, where Roger Bannister read the lesson and Chris Chataway gave an incomparable address. Charlie was as sad as the rest of us. But he knows, and we know, that what Killusty did yesterday was an achievement which Chris would have really relished.

Not for nothing did the choir sing “To dream the impossible dream.”

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