Racing: McCoy the fall guy as record attempt stalls

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The Independent Online

A dangerous assumption has been made in the dangerous game of National Hunt racing and yesterday here proved that if Tony McCoy does indeed manage to beat Sir Gordon Richards's record of 269 winners in a season it will be a feat of some consequence.

It was a horrible afternoon for the champion jockey as he wrestles with one of the turf's most enduring records: a day which could be distilled to three falls and a submission.

Not least of McCoy's qualities is the reliance of his body when it comes into contact with Mother Earth. It was a gift he required repeatedly yesterday as the horses seemed to forget they were transporting the most successful jockey of modern times.

First Jour J plunged to the ground in a novice chase, to be followed by Bow Strada and Baclama. By then even the armour-plated McCoy had been dented and he gave up his ride in the last on Ski Pass to Seamus Durack.

Such is McCoy's hardiness however that the Tote still have him at 1-4 to beat the record established in 1947. He is only 6-4 to reach 300 winners by campaign's conclusion at the end of April.

It had all looked so promising when McCoy arrived at a Berkshire course surrounded by mist. A total of 681 rides this season had already passed, 199 of them successful, and AP was on the verge of the fastest ever double century. McCoy has locked himself into a virtuous circle, getting on more horses, more fancied horses, than any other of his workmates, largely through his association with Martin Pipe.

So it was in the opening novices' hurdle that he was united with the champion trainer's Riyadh. The 11-8 favourite wore the Pickwickian sheepskin sideburns that are becoming the modern trend in headgear. McCoy wore a mask of concentration and looked pale and cold.

Riyadh's breeding suggests he should one day have been swirling around Tattenham Corner in early June and he certainly showed no great natural affinity for jumping. Neverthless, the favourite led into the straight and looked likely to be a landmark beast until the tall figure of Sonevafushi moved ominously alongside.

The game was up, but not so McCoy's hands. He pumped away in the saddle on a palpably beaten animal and, at the line, there was just a neck difference. It was a disappointment yet, at the same time, the high point of his day.

Jour J got no further than the first fence, nosediving like a javelin into the landing side, while Bow Strada also had a sickening fall in the following contest.

The partnership came into the straight four wide and going well but then the weight began to tell on the little horse. Bow Strada was fifth and struggling at the final hurdle, but it is not McCoy's business to relent when there is even a glimmer of hope and he drove in.

The gelding performed a crude somersault and it looked ominous as McCoy immediately walked away from his conveyance and behind the wing of the adjacent fence. The winded champion sank to his haunches as the green screens were erected around his stricken partner. He was handed his whip, which had been lying near the prone Bow Strada, and driven back to the weighing room.

Then, just as hope had all but evaporated, a chestnut head poked above the top of the screens.

Word must have got back to Strong Tel, who made sure he did not complete an unfortunate hat-trick by ballooning all his fences in a handicap chase. By four out, even McCoy had had enough and pulled up the 12-year-old. It was short respite. Baclama pulled early and then she too crashed out, at the seventh, a fall which required her rider to have stitches in the back of his head.

McCoy emerged visibly suffering from stiffness around his shoulders, but it was no surprise when he announced he would be prepared for action at Wincanton this afternoon. He has five rides at the Somerset course and it may be quite appropriate that the most fancied is a runner in the Corscombe Novices' Chase, a horse by the name of Bounce Back.

* Brother Joe's Champion Hurdle odds were yesterday slashed from 33-1 to 14-1 by the Tote whose press officer Jeremy Scott said: "In just a few hours we had laid the horse for so much, that from being a near six-figure winner, it was flashing red as a £100,000 loser in our book."

* Ruby Walsh recorded the first four-timer of his riding career at Punchestown yesterday.