The most successful partnership in jump racing history is over. And true to the cliché of the sporting vote of confidence that is the precursor to the kiss of death, the champion jockey, Tony McCoy, announced his decision to relinquish his position as first jockey to the champion trainer Martin Pipe just four days after paying tribute to him for his part in a record ninth riders' title.
McCoy is now to team up with Jonjo O'Neill, master of one of the most upwardly mobile of Britain's training yards.
Together, McCoy and Pipe have re-written all their branch of the sport's record books, both men obsessed with the quest for winners. Pipe has won 14 championships; McCoy, 30 next Tuesday, is the winningmost jump jockey in history.
They have formed a feared and formidable partnership for the past decade and before the era of McCoy, Pipe's winner factory at Nicholashayne, Devon propelled Peter Scudamore and Richard Dunwoody to fame and fortune.
But perfectionist McCoy feels he now needs a new challenge, perhaps in terms of quality as well as quantity. O'Neill trains at the state-of-the-art Jackdaws Castle yard, backed by the millionaire Irishman J P McManus, and perhaps the balance of power is shifting.
Pipe had his toughest battle for many seasons in fighting off Paul Nicholls' challenge for the championship in the latest jump season, which ended on Saturday.
Pipe conquers his rivals by numbers but, the leading two-mile novice Well Chief and talented young staying chaser Therealbandit apart (both owned by his principal patron David Johnson) lacks firepower at élite levels and has yet to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup.
A shrewd Irishman, O'Neill has such as Iris's Gift, Rhinestone Cowboy (who take each other on at Punchestown today) and Keen Leader to look forward to and McCoy's new arrangement means he will be able to cherry pick more outside rides.
The Ulsterman delivered what he described as the biggest decision of his life to Pipe, who supplied 116 of the 210 winner in his latest title, after racing yesterday. "It's going to be a huge change in my life," he said, "but I'm very much looking forward to it. I hope to continue to do a good job and will still be trying to be champion jockey.
"The agreement is that I'm first jockey at Jackdaws Castle this season. Jonjo wants me riding the best horses as much as possible. He has fewer horses than Martin, which means there should be a greater opportunity for outside rides in the big races."
McCoy added that there had been no disagreement with Pipe; rather his move was merely a move on to a new phase of his career. There are no more numerical records for him to break.
"It was one of the saddest days of my career," he said. "Martin and his family have been my family for the past eight years. I owe him everything that I've achieved in that time and I'll always be indebted to him, the staff, the owners and the horses at Pond House. I hipe to continue to ride for him when possible in the future. The man is a genius."
The decision meant that McCoy's last winning ride as Pipe's retained jockey came in the 3.40 at Exeter yesterday, the Diamond Edge Novices' Chase, with Lucifer Bleu winning by 19 lengths. Ironically, in the last big chase of the season, the Betfred Gold Cup at Sandown last Saturday, Pipe saddled the winner of the £87,000 prize, Puntal - but McCoy was aboard another Pipe horse, the unplaced Stormez.Reuse content