Of those who greeted the advent of 2004 at Nicholashayne, the 12-year-old gelding Deano's Beeno, whose receipt of 50 contacts from Tony McCoy's whip at Cheltenham the previous day resulted in a five-day ban for the jockey and a public furore, was probably the least perturbed as he woke to the new year. The incident caused him little discomfort but back at Prestbury Park in the afternoon, his trainer Martin Pipe was still smarting as he sprang to McCoy's defence, armed with a photo taken of the veteran hurdler when he pulled out of his box in the morning.
"Deano's is in fine fettle, ate all his food and is perfectly perky. I was there when the head lad fed him first thing and I would stake my life that there's not a mark on him. In a sense I blame myself for bringing the horse to Cheltenham again. He's always been a bit naughty but he hates it here."
McCoy's ban resulted from his efforts to persuade his recalcitrant partner to line up for the Spa Hurdle, in which he finished fourth. The Ulsterman used his stick repeatedly with varying levels of force, behind the saddle and down the shoulder, for two minutes before Deano's Beeno consented to jump off.
"One thing that needs emphasising is that many of the so-called hits were just taps and Tony did not thrash the horse in any way," Pipe said. "It's all about perception and interpreting what happened was a difficult job for everyone concerned. Bit I think the whole thing was blown up because it was on TV."
And there, Pipe raises a most salient point, that of image versus reality. And stipendiary steward William Nunneley suggested by his comments yesterday that McCoy was judged guilty of improper riding not because he actually abused Deano's Beeno, but because it appeared he might have been doing so. "Nobody was suggesting that he injured the horse or that they were particularly hard hits," he said. "But the stewards can't allow that sort of behaviour to go unnoticed without doing something about it.
"We know the horse is difficult and we know that he is stubborn and tends to plant and he was worse yesterday than he has been for a long time. But the jockey can't go on hitting for that length of time, that's the problem."
The question is begged as to why McCoy, not only the best of jockeys but a fine horseman with a deep equine empathy, should have been punished for doing his best for punters and connections by using the tools (stick, heels, body and voice) at his disposal - in effect, doing his job - without harming his mount. One of the prime virtues of stockmanship is patience and the time taken to achieve an objective is almost immaterial.
It goes without saying that the welfare of horses involved in this sport is paramount and racing's authorities have, to their credit, taken the lead in some much needed reforms in this area. But great care must be applied before the mawkish sensibilities of the wider viewing public are allowed to dictate matters.
The Jockey Club is to look at the Cheltenham incident further. "It is going to be discussed at Portman Square," added Nunneley. "The film will be in London by Monday morning. "We monitor everything we do and the whole start needs to be looked at and lessons will be learnt."
McCoy himself was particularly miffed with yesterday's rather sensationalist headline in the industry trade paper, the Racing Post. "It makes it look as though I abused the horse," he said. "Deano's Beeno is a great character who I've ridden for seven years. There is no way whatsoever I would do anything to hurt him and not for one moment on Wednesday did I think I was doing anything wrong."
The champion took away better memories from Cheltenham yesterday, in the form of a thoroughly professional display from Therealbandit in the staying novices' chase. The Torus seven-year-old, owned by David Johnson, consolidated his position as favourite for the divisional championship, the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, at the Festival with an impeccable jumping display to beat the French raider Massac by 20 lengths.
McCoy was out of luck for the rest of the day - particularly when dumped in an undignified heap by Tarxien in the card's feature, the two mile five furlong handicap chase won impressively by Therealbandit's recent victim Whereareyounow - but the Pipe stable notched another, courtesy of the Jamie Moore-ridden lightweight Waterlaw in the opener.
Doubles were the order of the day, in fact. Carl Llewellyn and Nigel Twiston-Davies, rider and trainer of Whereareyounow, combined to take the handicap hurdle with Redemption, a faller over fences on the track last month. He will revert to the larger obstacles next time out, in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot on Saturday week. "That gave him a bit of confidence back," said the in-form Welsh jockey.
The juvenile hurdle went to Alan King-trained Trouble At Bay, who stayed on well under Robert Thornton to repel the giant French filly Meryl and win his fourth race in a row. The Slip Anchor four-year-old is now clear favourite for the Triumph Hurdle and Thornton and King were back in the winner's circle after the following long-distance chase with Bear On Board, who has the Grand National as his target.
ROYAL & SUN ALLIANCE NOVICE CHASE (Cheltenham 17 March): William Hill: 3-1 (from 9-2) Therealbandit, 13-2 Nil Desperandum, 8-1 Lord Transcend, 9-1 Lord Sam, 10-1 Our Vic, 12-1 Pizarro, Supreme Prince, 14-1 others; Ladbrokes: 5-2 (from 4-1) Therealbandit, 7-1 Nil Desperandum, 8-1 Lord Transcend, 10-1 Lord Sam, Pizarro, 12-1 others.Reuse content