Racing: McCoy hits milestone with years to spare

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The Independent Online
MAJADOU MUST have thought he had won the Gold Cup, such were the cheers here yesterday that swept him up the hill to the finish after the normally insignificant Wragge & Co Handicap Chase. A fresh roar of approval met the big bay gelding as he jigged into the unsaddling ring and he arched his neck and stepped high in acknowledgement. A proud horse, carrying an exceptional rider. Tony McCoy had just ridden his 1,000th domestic winner and Majadou's trainer, Martin Pipe, no stranger to achievement, took off his trilby and held it wide, adding his own salute to the public approbation of the master jockey.

McCoy was only the fifth man to the 1,000-mark, and the measure of his achievement is magnified by the speed with which he reached it. It took Stan Mellor, the first, 17 years and 333 days; John Francome made it in 13 years and 89 days; Richard Dunwoody 10 years and 270 days and Peter Scudamore 10 years and 167 days. McCoy rode his first winner, Chickabiddy, at Exeter on 7 September 1994. That was five years and 95 days before yesterday.

It is no coincidence that Pipe, the nine-times champion trainer, is the common denominator among the last three names, a fact which McCoy himself acknowledged. "Riding for a winner factory makes my job so much easier," he said.

McCoy, as were Scudamore and Dunwoody before him, is the perfect foil for Pipe's singleminded quest for success. But the gaunt 25-year-old from the Bann valley has made tunnel vision an art form. An example was his behaviour at the previous Cheltenham meeting when, a 5ft 10in man with a natural bodyweight of 11 and a half stone, he starved himself to 10 stone in order to ride Rodock, whom he judged - correctly - would add to his haul of winners.

McCoy has kept remarkably clear of injury during his career; most his holidays have been enforced ones courtesy of the stewards. The Ulsterman is the darling of the punters, but sometimes, because of his powerful, persuasive, but unconventional style, he seems a man the authorities like to mark.

Pipe was perfectly happy to list McCoy's good points, which are legion. "He has everything," he said, "he's dedicated, determined, he is superb at presenting a horse at a fence, he keeps them balanced, his judgement of pace is faultless. He has belief in himself and gives himself 100 per cent to his job, doesn't drink, doesn't even eat sometimes.

"And it is not just on the racecourse that we value him. What the public see is only half of it; watching him school a young horse is an unbelievable sight, the confidence he can send down the reins. And the feedback I get from him is a fantastic asset. Once a race is over, it's over, and the next one is more important. Tony knows exactly what he's been sitting on and can give me facts - he does a written report after each day's racing - which is what I need.

"He rode a horse to win earlier in the season and afterwards said it would never win again. So I put it in a claimer, got rid of it, a horse like that is no use to the yard or the owners. And he was right, it hasn't won, or looked like winning, since."

McCoy was visibly moved by the reception from the crowd. "They're the people who keep this sport going, the racegoers and the punters," he said, "and if they get disappointed if I don't ride a winner, they're not half as disappointed as I am."

Those hardy souls who braved a damp, raw winter afternoon were treated to a succession of emotional highs. After the I-was-there McCoy landmark, the feature steeplechase, the Tripleprint Gold Cup, went to Legal Right, trained by one of the iron jockeys of a former era, Jonjo O'Neill. The Irishman, whose long-held record score of 149 winners in a season was once regarded as unsurpassable, had his finest moment as a jockey here on Dawn Run in the 1986 Gold Cup. His handling of Legal Right, who turned a competitive handicap chase into a procession with his 22-length streak away from Nordance Prince up the hill, deserves the highest praise, as the six-year-old is sound less often than not.

The same could be said, with monstrous understatement, of the hurdler Relkeel, who defied his 10 years and an injury list that would shame the Highbury dressing room to take the Bula Hurdle for the third successive year from Far Cry.

The grey, who gave David Nicholson's successor, Alan King, his first Cheltenham winner was given a welcome to match McCoy's, is now 16-1 for the Champion Hurdle here in March. But King is looking no further ahead than this morning's inspection of the gallant gelding's legs.