Racing: Hail McCoy but keep respect for Richards

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The Independent Online

It may have come to a quicksilver conclusion at Chepstow on Saturday, when he was beaten on two favourites before winning the Tote Silver Trophy on Majed, but taken as a whole, last week was another excellent one for Tony McCoy. He did not look happy, and his dignity was certainly bruised, as he was driven back to the weighing room from the fifth last fence, after Royal Auclair knuckled over when 25 lengths clear in the big novices' chase. McCoy could at least reflect, though, that he remains a long odds-on chance to break an impressive record in racing.

It was after his four-timer at Newton Abbot on Wednesday that the Tote felt the need to cut McCoy from 4-5 to 8-13 to pass Sir Gordon Richards's all-time British record of 269 winners in a season. It is a mark which has stood since 1947, far longer than the 23 years for which Bob Beamon's famous long jump defied all challenges. With five and a half months of the jumps season remaining, though, McCoy has already reached 141. A winner a day between now and the Whitbread meeting, for a man who rides doubles and trebles as a matter of course, will see McCoy well past 269, and on towards 300. The Tote offer just 9-4, from 3-1, that he will pass that mark too.

Until McCoy arrived, even the youngest punters believed that Richards's record would outlive them, and probably half a dozen generations of backers after that. The judgement, balance and confidence which brought Majed home on a tight rein on Saturday was merely the latest example of an extraordinary riding talent, one which we are all privileged to witness at first hand.

At the same time, though, if and when McCoy starts to close in on 269, we should also stop to appreciate a talent and achievement which now survives only in newsreel footage, and the memories of a dwindling number of veteran racegoers.

"McCoy is in a class of his own," a Tote spokesman said last week, "and it's hard to think of any jockey who deserves these records more." In fact, it's not that hard at all, because Sir Gordon Richards does. He rode 269 winners over the course of an eight-month Flat season, without the benefit of regular evening meetings, or a helicopter – or even motorways – to ease the passage from track to track.

The modern-day winner-machine that is Tony McCoy has a chance to beat his total only because the jumps season now covers 12 full months. Had Richards completed another four months at the same strike-rate in 1947, his final tally would have been within sight of 400.

This is not to denigrate McCoy, or his astonishing talent, but merely to point out that Richards's achievement will remain the greatest by any jockey, jumps or Flat, regardless of his final total. As it happens, McCoy may well come up short anyway, and 8-13 is certainly a very thin price about him getting to 269. Back him at those odds, and your heart will skip a beat every time he hits the floor. Even if the bet is a winner, the person who collects will like as not be your next of kin.

There is the weather to remember too, since the water table remains high in many areas and sustained rainfall would soon see racecards drowning on a daily basis.

But if he should turn up on Whitbread Gold Cup day at Sandown with the record in the bag, you can only hope and trust that racegoers will not treat Richards's memory with the same cavalier disregard as the course itself. At the end of 1999, a Racing Post analysis of the century's outstanding achievers named him the greatest jockey, ahead even of Lester Piggott, and for many years, the mile-and-a-quarter Group Two race at the Whitbread meeting was run in his honour as the Gordon Richards Stakes.

Until, that is, Whitbread decided that every race on the card should bear the name of one of its brands. Hard cash beats tradition every time at modern tracks, and Sandown was only too happy to comply. The late Sir Gordon duly conceded his place in the calendar to Marriot Hotels.

If the slightest feeling for racing's heritage remains at a shamelessly hard-nosed racecourse like Sandown, then Richards should get his race back in this year above all, with his record finally looking vulnerable. The odds against any modern racing executive valuing respect over readies, though, are a great deal bigger than 8-13.