Tony McCoy ended the old year as both villain and hero at Cheltenham yesterday. The perennial champion jockey picked up a five-day suspension for improper riding on Deano's Beeno in the feature Spa Hurdle - slightly bizarrely, over an incident before the tapes ever went up - and then half an hour later was seen at his brilliant best on Lord Noelie in the long-distance handicap chase.
Tough old Deano's Beeno has been racing since he was two and has won on the Flat, over fences and over hurdles, in which sphere he has been not far short of the best in the staying division. But at the age of 11, with some hard races on his cv, he is becoming increasingly cranky about the idea of serious exertion and yesterday he was most reluctant to join his five rivals for the three-mile contest at a course over which he has recorded none of his 12 wins.
McCoy used plenty of tact to persuade the blinkered, Martin Pipe-trained gelding to get on with his job before resorting to the ultimate sanction. In the equine mind the sting or crack of a whip plays on a horse's primeval fear-and-flight response as a goad, not a punishment, but wily Deano's Beeno knows full well that no lurking predators exist at Prestbury Park and his response to his rider's urgings was largely of the single-digit variety.
Eventually, he consented to line up and jump off, but not before McCoy had administered some 50 taps, flicks and sharper reminders to his recalcitrant backside. During the race, the Ulsterman was hard at work from the moment the tapes went up and did well to keep his sulky mount in contention until Sh Boom, the winner, Crystal D'Ainay and Count Campioni skipped away up the hill.
After the race McCoy was, inevitably, summoned before the stewards, who later announced their penalty. "The horse is well known to be difficult and was mulish going down to the start," the stipendiary steward, William Nunneley, said. "McCoy requested extra time to allow the horse to join the others and he did eventually start the race, but, having said all that, the stewards found that in the space of two minutes, he had hit the horse approximately 50 times. That was clearly unacceptable and we had no alternative but to give him a ban for improper riding. The rules are in place to protect the horses and the integrity of racing."
McCoy, who starts 2004 on 132 winners, with Richard Johnson snapping on his heels on 127, will be off from 12 to 16 January. Clearly angry, he was reluctant to comment. "What am I supposed to do?" was his rhetorical response as he left the weighing room after the hearing.
Cameras brought the incident to television viewers and later the Jockey Club's PR director, John Maxse, expressed some sympathy with McCoy's predicament. "He was in a difficult situation," he said. "On one hand, he was trying to give the owners and those who had backed the horse every chance; on the other he must have been aware of the implications of trying to coerce Deano's Beeno into racing.
"I can understand why close-up television coverage of the incident would cause concern, in particular to a public not familiar with racing. And in order to fulfil their responsibilities, it is quite right that the Cheltenham stewards called an inquiry. But had McCoy lost his temper he would have been given a ban of at least seven days."
Several landmarks were reached as the racing world consigned 2003 to history in the three-hour window of opportunity between fog and darkness. In the opening novices' chase, delayed for 25 minutes, Magical Bailiwick gave Pipe his 100th winner of the season, a 12th consecutive century (of which eight have been converted to doubles) for the Nicholashayne maestro.
He is still behind Paul Nicholls on the trainers' earnings' leaderboard, but Magical Bailiwick's success and a runner-up spot for Imperial De Thaix took his total past the £1m mark, the first time two men have reached seven figures by the turn of the year.
It was a Nicholls victory that deprived Imperial De Thaix, but surely Pipe would not begrudge this one, even though it was arguably only the presence of his own McCoy on Lord Noelie's back that engineered it. The race will go down in the record book as the first for trainer Bridget Nicholls, ex-wife of Paul.
It was McCoy's inaugural acquaintance with the10-year-old, who was winning his first race since taking the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the 2000 Festival at the track when trained by Henrietta Knight. The jockey conjured a rare tune from the gelding, getting him jumping in an accurate rhythm and then pinching lengths with an audacious slip-through on the rails rounding the final turn.
"It's great to have my first winner here," Ms Nicholls said, "and even better to do it with a lovely horse like this."
Racing in brief: Ayr threatened as Catterick falls to frost
Tomorrow's meeting at Ayr is the latest to be threatened by the weather and course officials are likely to inspect the track this afternoon. Yesterday's card at Warwick and today's meeting at Catterick were abandoned.
Philip Hobbs remains unconcerned by Rooster Booster's defeat at Kempton on Boxing Day. "Brooklyn's Gold went off very fast and the others ignored him," Hobbs said. "The day that matters is at Cheltenham in March."
The Irish champion jockey Paul Carberry recorded a double at Punchestown yesterday on Baily Mist and the heavily backed favourite Commonchero to enhance his good strike-rate since resuming after injury last Friday.Reuse content