Sir Gordon Richards, the 26-times champion Flat jockey, always maintained that the secret of his success was his will to win. He would expand by explaining that his desire to win, to be the best and stay the best at his profession gave him the reason to concentrate absolutely on his job, before, during and after a race and ignore any physical privations. Anyone who saw Tony McCoy set off down the final metaphorical straight here yesterday in pursuit of Richards' record British seasonal total of 269 will have no doubt that the two men are from the same mould.
On Friday, McCoy notched the fastest 200 by a jump jockey, breaking his own record by 38 days. Yesterday he reduced the deficit on Richards' 1947 mark by two, on the crack Martin Pipe-trained novices Seebald and Classified. He will resume the chase at Plumpton tomorrow and has 85 jump racing days to find the 68 winners needed for immortality.
But once he finds that target – taking in his own previous best of 253 four years ago on the way – there will be others. His status as the winning-most jump jockey in history will, with a fair wind, be confirmed next season. With a career tally of 1,516, he is 183 behind Richard Dunwoody, the current record-holder.
Even McCoy is not sure whether it is possible to equate feats by Flat and jump jockeys – "ask me about that once I've beaten the record" – but, set against the fact that Richards' achievement came in the days before Sunday racing, evening meetings and helicopters, and was achieved over nine months, not 12, are those that the great little man, who stood a shade under five feet, could ride comfortably at his natural weight and did not face the daily prospect of falls and injury.
McCoy, a broad-shouldered 5ft 11in, habitually maintains his frame at least two stone below what nature intends, giving him a gaunt, phantom skull of a face, which was exaggerated here by the dull light of a chill grey afternoon and a lumpy bandage, the legacy of a rough afternoon at Newbury a few days earlier, poking from beneath his helmet. A five-stitch gash on the neck was not even the ghost of a reason to slacken his resolve – he has not had a day off through injury since 31 January last year.
He had allowed himself the luxury of a beaming public smile when he made the 200, but yesterday it was back to another day at the office, his tunnel vision unwavering on the repetitive trek from weighing room to parade ring to track and back, seven times in all.
It was, by his standards, probably an ordinary day, with just the two winners, though both are young horses of immense promise, likely to start favourite for their respective races at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Seebald, owned by the footballing duo of Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, brought up a seven-timer en route to the Arkle Chase in the Roscoe Harvey Memorial Novices' Chase, and Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle candidate Classified, in the colours of Pipe's principal patron, David Johnson, made it five in a row with some slick jumping and an eight-length rout of the opposition in the Grade Two Leamington Novices' Hurdle.
But for the rest of the day McCoy and Pipe had to hand the spotlight to others, notably Jonjo O'Neill. Probably for the first time in racing history the quality of sport here in rural Warwickshire was better than that at Ascot and, as the Nicholashayne Festival hopefuls consolidated their credentials, a pair from Jackdaws Castle emerged.
The rescheduling of the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle from frozen Sandown proved a blessing for O'Neill, who had not entered Miros at the original venue, when the five-year-old produced a blinding turn of foot over the two hurdles in the straight to leave his rivals – including Johnson's expensive French import Stormez, the odds-on favourite – for dead. The winning margin of 11 lengths would probably have been more had he not required Norman Williamson to sit tight with a clumsy dive over the last, and the gelding now has the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in his sights.
"He'd won only two minor races," said O'Neill, "but he jumps pretty well. He needs soft ground, which it usually is here, so we thought we'd give it a chance." Another of O'Neill's young hurdlers, Quazar, made it five wins from six runs in the juvenile heat.
The veteran staying chaser The Last Fling turned in an impeccable round of jumping for once to take the richest race ever run here, the £60,000 Warwickshire Gold Cup. Warren Marston, riding for Sue Smith's yard for the first time, brought the 12-year-old with a perfectly timed cruise down the straight to snatch the prize by three-quarters of a length from gallant Earthmover, who had led every stride of the marathon but the last. "He was travelling well all the way," said Marston, "but I kept hold of his head until we turned in and I knew if we jumped the last two we'd get there." Trevor Hemmings' chestnut has the Grand National as his target.
At Ascot, Turgeonev, trained by Tim Easterby, proved himself a lively outsider for the Queen Mother Champion Chase with a four-length defeat of Wave Rock in the Victor Chandler Chase to give his rider, Richard McGrath, a win on his first ride at the Berkshire track. At Newcastle, Barton, one of the season's leading novice stayers, extended his winning run to four in the Grade Two Dipper Chase.Reuse content