Racing: McCoy regains role as leading man

Windsor appears in a Shakespearean title, so it should have been no surprise that there should be so much drama in the most prestigious race ever staged at the Thamesside course on Saturday. The Long Walk Hurdle was the principal Winter's Tale, one in which ultimately it could have been said that All's Well That Ends Well, but there was so much in between.

Windsor appears in a Shakespearean title, so it should have been no surprise that there should be so much drama in the most prestigious race ever staged at the Thamesside course on Saturday. The Long Walk Hurdle was the principal Winter's Tale, one in which ultimately it could have been said that All's Well That Ends Well, but there was so much in between.

It became clear before curtain up that this was an occasion on which Tony McCoy was intent on reclaiming centre stage. It has been a strange season for the dominant National Hunt riding figure of modern times. Once again, he is miles ahead in the championship race, but, for the first time in virtually a decade, he no longer monopolises the attention. There is a different man riding the Martin Pipe horses these days, a different man surfing the headlines, and it is probably no great comfort to McCoy that Timmy Murphy is doing it with an élan which will never characterise his own work.

Most of all, Murphy has been at his most conspicuous in the most conspicuous of races, the Saturday specials. By this weekend, McCoy had had enough. It was time for a grand gesture. Baracouda was the vehicle on Saturday and McCoy determined before games that he would ride the gelding much closer to the pace than tradition dictated. He would do his own thing. We knew this because McCoy told Norman Williamson beforehand, and as the ex- jockey had a microphone in his hand and a camera pointing over his shoulder, he was sharing it with the nation as well. The only man not in on the secret seemed to be François Doumen, Baracouda's trainer.

As the race unfolded, Doumen was a figure of exasperation from his viewing point, throwing his hands up in Gallic expression as Baracouda pulled himself close to the front. This was not the way to do it. Well, it was not the way that Doumen's son, the now retired Thierry, used to do it anyway. There was a reek throughout Saturday's proceedings that while defeat for Baracouda would not have been welcomed by Doumen, it would have at least given him buckshot to fire at those who ever deemed to criticise his son's adventures on the horse.

François, of all people, should know a simple truth. Thierry Doumen did not ride Baracouda because their talents were similar. He did not ride him because he was the best jockey in France or even the best jockey in Chantilly. He rode him because he was the trainer's son. When they mention Archer, Richards and Piggott, Winter, Francome and Dunwoody, they seem to miss out the name of Thierry Doumen. There is a reason for that, the same reason that, in terms of outside rides, they called him the Christmas Tree. He got put up once a year. Think of a French version of Mark Pitman in his riding days.

All the post-race chat in the winners' enclosure seemed to be between McCoy and Baracouda's owner, JP McManus. Doumen only became involved with the jockey on the winners' rostrum, where the conversation was lengthy and apparently laborious. McCoy had not won by far. The winning distances were only three-quarters of a length and a short-head from Crystal D'Ainay and the finishing bullet that was Rule Supreme, but they were winning distances.

The Irishman's ploy was a gamble, but then gambles always look very good when they come off. McCoy will have factored that in. He must have also thought it would make him the most outrageous figure of racing's weekend. In that particular contest, he finished second.

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