Racing: McCoy's futile search for glint of hope

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The Independent Online

Another brave horse died here yesterday and, as always, there was no way to temper the angst that comes when they put up the screens around the stricken animal.

But as the hurdler Rouble was put down humanely, as they say in the official statements, the extinguishing of a life that had been so vibrant a few minutes earlier might just have offered a flash of perspective to the world's greatest jumps rider. Tony McCoy could at least reflect that his body, which has been so awfully abused in the course of his extraordinary career, was still in working order. The state of his spirit was surely the worst kept secret on the racecourse. He came here looking for a rainbow. What he has found, for two straight days, is his version of Calvary.

Nothing, he said cryptically in the bleak dawn, could match the pain he felt on Tuesday when his Champion Hurdle contender, Valiramix, broke a shoulder and was put down on his way to what looked like a surge to victory in the wake of the great Istabraq's forlorn farewell from the scene of his greatest triumphs.

McCoy cancelled all scheduled interviews yesterday, including the one with the national newspaper which runs his column, and braced himself for a day of attrition. He had counted on a hard challenge, but what he got was something more, something which became utterly pervasive as the light began to die, for him and this Cotswold valley. At last he seemed to have a winner as he eased the mare Lady Cricket over the last fence with all that powerful authority which has become his trademark, but nothing at this Festival is what it seems for the man who was described the other day by Jonjo O'Neill as the greatest rider the sport has ever known.

The precocious Ruby Walsh came flying by on the 25-1 shot Blowing Wind, sent out by the Martin Pipe stable, McCoy's own yard. The Ulsterman would have picked up Lady Cricket and carried her over the line if he could have done, but instead was not exactly frugal with the whip. Of course it did not work. Nothing would work.

When McCoy came in, his pale, broad face ­ wasted to the limits of human endurance in a dietary regime remarkable even among the Piggott breed of over-sized jockeys ­ was a book slammed shut against any expression of his pain.

Before the Festival one bookmaker had offered odds of 6-1 about the possibility that McCoy would go through this meeting without a winner. At the opening of the action it was an invitation no one was inclined to accept. Last night it looked like the last word in generosity. Not for the sudden feebleness of the Pipe training machine, which yesterday delivered two winners after the first day wipe-out. Not for the dwindling of a McCoy appetite for victory which has become a legend in his own relatively brief career. But because the rider's luck here has become more than a bad streak. It feels almost like victimisation.

Pipe's other winner, Ilnamar, was also 25-1. It had aboard Rodi Greene, a splendid journeyman jockey who works down the trainer's batting order. Greene came in with a whoop of triumph. McCoy, on the favourite, Golden Alpha, could only peer at the ground. Golden Alpha placed 26th of 27. You could have laughed if there had not been a great quarantine on mirth around the man who was supposed to ride so high.

In the first race he did everything he could on another favourite, Classified. He drove over early signs of a lack of resolution, he steered into a position from which to strike, but then trailed in only fourth. He will do well to resist a flirtation with theories of conspiracy.

He had to suffer the exhilaration provoked by Richard Johnson's hard-driving, suspension-earning victory in the big race on the favourite, Flagship Uberalles. All McCoy could do was grind away against the certainty that the time of the reigning champion Edredon Bleu had gone. McCoy had to settle for fourth again.

It was another affront to his nature, another crashing jolt to the rhythm of a life which is maintained with a fanaticism born of the certainty of victory, one of them after another in a stream of dominance which, it is still reasonable to assume, will in the next few days surpass the winning record in a season of Sir Gordon Richards. But not here. Here has been the blindest of alleys.