The incomparable Tony McCoy yesterday came within one race of emulating his Flat colleague Frankie Dettori's feat of going through a card at Ascot. All six of the six-times champion jump jockey's mounts started favourite and five of them – Tarxien (8-11), Wahiba Sands (9-4), Shooting Light (5-2), Seebald (evens) and Alvino (9-4) – scored to provide a 127-1 Christmas bonus for the great man's followers. The one that got away was Westender, who finished in the ruck at 5-2 in the day's feature contest, the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle.
McCoy, 27, thoroughly upstaged Santa Claus in his distribution of festive cheer, but it was a close-run thing as a blanket of seasonal but, in this context, unwelcome snow and frost wiped out the day's other jump meetings. Ascot survived only after four inspections – the first at dawn, the last less than half an hour before the scheduled time of the first race. Unsurprisingly, in view of his prospects, the Ulsterman was among the senior jockeys to throw weight behind the decision that the ground was safe for man and beast.
McCoy, whose target is Sir Gordon Richards' seasonal record of 269 winners (he is on 192 for the present campaign), has dominated his sport for so long and holds so many achievement records that a five-timer is almost commonplace. Yesterday's was the third of his career, the others having both come at minor meetings in 1997, at Uttoxeter in May and Newton Abbot in August.
Martin Pipe provided the first four of the fab five here. Tarxien, who notched a six-timer in the opening novices' hurdle, and Wahiba Sands, who paid his Sandown victim Best Mate a huge compliment in the two-mile handicap chase, owed their hard-fought successes to McCoy's unmatched strength. He was particularly effective in his handling of Wahiba Sands, who was momentarily outpaced as the course specialist Get Real went for home two out but stayed on again under strong driving and found the extra that mattered in the last five strides, as McCoy put his stick down and switched his hands, allowing his partner to surge three-quarters of a length in front as his rival began to stop.
It was the second pair, however, who produced performances redolent of class. The reinvention of Shooting Light as a smart, progressive staying chaser continued in the Tote Silver Cup, as the eight-year-old cruised away from a field of good handicappers to win by an eased-down 11 lengths from the ex-Irish Siberian Gale.
Shooting Light is now unbeaten in his three runs since joining Martin Pipe and his performance yesterday, when he jumped very much better than when winning the Thomas Pink Gold Cup at Cheltenham last month, was eyecatching enough for Ladbrokes to introduce him at 10-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. If that seems fanciful, it should be remembered that the Ascot three-miler has a distinguished history in its various sponsorship guises, having been won by luminaries including Arkle (no less), Glencaraig Lady, Midnight Court and Cool Dawn.
After the race, McCoy paid tribute to Pipe's assistant, Jonothan Lower, for the intensive work he has put in with Shooting Light's fencing technique. "Jonothan has got the horse jumping at home," he said. "It has been a tremendous team effort and I cannot praise the lads at home – and the trainer – enough."
Seebald, owned by the footballers Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, showed himself a novice of infinite promise as he despatched the consistent mare Returning virtually without breaking sweat by 17 lengths in the Cantor Sport Novices' Chase, a two-mile Grade 2 contest. The six-year-old, another who was on a six-timer, tended to jump to his left but that will not be such a problem when he goes to Cheltenham for the Arkle Trophy, for which he has supplanted Fondmort, who beat Returning by only eight lengths last time, as the early favourite.
McCoy completed his afternoon's work on the Henrietta Knight-trained Alvino in the closing bumper but, being the perfectionist he is, was niggled by Westender's disappointing showing. But even he acknowledged that it had been "a good day". He now faces the frustration of three days off before the circus regroups at Kempton on Boxing Day.
If McCoy was delighted that yesterday's meeting had gone ahead, so, in the end, was the Berkshire-based Hughie Morrison, who notched the biggest win of his training career with Marble Arch in the £100,000 Ladbroke Hurdle. Morrison had had misgivings about the ground and made the decision to let his charge take part only an hour before the race. "His brother broke down on frozen ground and I didn't want to do it twice," the trainer said.
The quirky Marble Arch, a 7-1 shot, was confidently ridden by Norman Williamson to pick off Fait le Jojo (20-1) after the last hurdle for a three-quarter-length victory. Tikram (14-1) came in third, with the Irish raider Adamant Approach (10-1) fourth.Reuse content