"Tony McCoy is the Messiah," Jim Lewis, the owner of Edredon Bleu, said after the Queen Mother Champion Chase here yesterday, and few among the thousands of punters crowding around the winners' enclosure would have disagreed. They are used to heroics from the champion jockey, but in the biggest race on the second day of the Festival, he seemed to work a miracle.
Three horses jumped the last fence together, but as the uphill run to the line dragged at tired legs, Direct Route and Norman Williamson seemed to have grabbed a slim but decisive advantage. Even as Direct Route and Edredon Bleu flashed past the post, with Flagship Uberalles, the favourite, back in third place, most punters in the grandstand would have called Williamson's mount the winner. The photograph, though, told a different story. Somehow, McCoy had roused Edredon Bleu in the last stride to turn defeat into victory. As a rule, it is horses that win races, and riders that lose them, but this performance was a glorious exception.
Even Lewis felt that Edredon Bleu had probably finished runner-up in the race for the second year running. "Before the race I was telling everyone that we were going to win," he said, "and I never had a negative thought in my head until the photograph, when I thought we were beaten. McCoy sets my horse on fire, he's never ridden a better race."
The jockey's efforts were appreciated, too, by Terry Biddlecombe, once the champion jumps jockey himself, and now the husband of Henrietta Knight, Edredon Bleu's trainer. "He is exceptional," Biddlecombe said, "about 1lb better than me." Knight, though, was not able to offer an opinion, having been too nervous to watch the race. Instead, she "went out to talk to the ticket man on the gate", as her horse took a little under four minutes to record the biggest success of her career.
For Flagship Uberalles, a hot favourite who carried dozens of four-figure bets, there was only third place after clumsy jumps at the last two fences.
Williamson's disappointment, meanwhile, was compounded when the stewards decided that in the heat of the drive to the line, he had hit Direct Route across the ribs with his whip. He must now attend a hearing at the Jockey Club, which could result in a suspension of up to 10 days.
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