Runners and riders for player award

PUBLISHED: 14:25 08 April 2006 | UPDATED: 09:20 14 September 2010

It is, I guess, that time of year again when we ought to run a rule over the likely runners and riders for the 2005-2006 Player of the Season gong.

Given that today is Grand National day, you can't help feeling that - given the way this wretched season has panned out - most of this year's field failed to make it much beyond Aintree's first big hurdle, Bechers Brook.

It is, I guess, that time of year again when we ought to run a rule over the likely runners and riders for the 2005-2006 Player of the Season gong.

Given that today is Grand National day, you can't help feeling that - given the way this wretched season has panned out - most of this year's field failed to make it much beyond Aintree's first big hurdle, Bechers Brook. And that's the first time round.

Indeed, some runners didn't even make it that far with Matthieu Louis-Jean following the example set by Neil Emblen and pulling up almost at the first.

Others, you could argue, managed to make it somewhere to around Valentines only to decide that this jumping lark was not for them; pure thoroughbreds, they were off down the Melling Road at the first opportunity, looking for a new rich owner and a genteel day out at The Derby.

In fact - without doing any disservice to those athletes of the equine world who risk life and limb in their pursuit of lasting National fame - you could also suggest that most of the Canaries' finest found themselves in such a state somewhere around the Canal Turn that a vet and a tarpaulin screen would have been the most humane course of action. Be they injured or not.

So for me, as the finishing line thankfully hoves into view, there are probably just three runners and riders panting up the last, 494-yards to the post. All three are blowing hard; their legs threatening to give way Devon Loch-fashion before they ever reach the finish.

The great Irish hope is, of course, Gary Doherty who has been heading the field for the best part of the race.

Big, sturdy and generally reliable, the Republic of Ireland international has been the rock on which some of Norwich's better performances have been built. Even when the going underfoot has been treacherous, The Doc has stayed on his feet and ground his way around the course with the kind of consistency that makes him a firm favourite with trainers and punters alike.

As the final furlong looms, he remains in charge.

The second runner is a notorious slow starter, but - second time round Canal Turn - Darren Huckerby has moved up through the gears and left himself handily placed to challenge The Doc.

Whether he's left his late run too late, only the next few games will tell. But he does have the fresher feet; unlike The Doc, Huckerby tends to fly over the fences as opposed to charging through them and given the influence his twinkling toes have had in injecting welcome instances of quality into recent home games, Huckerby could yet delight the bookies and steal The Doc's thunder by a spiky head.

For me, however, there is one rank outsider to consider. Traditionally, you have to jump the majority of the fences to be in with a chance of winning; this particular runner and rider lost his way at the start after problems on the home gallops and missed much of the first circuit through injury.

Back in the running again, sheer heart has seen Leon McKenzie pop up away on the rails. And while he may still be a distant challenger, everyone always loves a trier.

Equally, if there was one person who summed up just what a God awful slog this season has been - on and off the field, on and off the message-boards - it would be Leon.

Because, to his credit, he's kept going. Every time he smashes into a fence - just as he did 12 minutes into that game at Burnley - he's got up and kept going. Just as he did one late summer night in Milton Keynes when he couldn't hit a barn door. But he kept going.

I suspect that The Doc is just a little too far ahead of the field to be caught and simple through the sheer consistent level of his performances, he probably deserves to life the silverware come the final game of the season.

To my mind, the nearest challenger has to be Darren Huckerby; the real outsider, Leon McKenzie, who even at this late, late stage might be a decent each-way bet to spring a surprise.

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