Racing: McCoy whips up crowd support

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The Independent Online
THE IRONY of Cyfor Malta's hugely impressive victory in the Murphy's Gold Cup here yesterday was lost on no one. As the jockey Tony McCoy, who is about to feel the full weight of officialdom's wrath for persistent misuse of the whip, passed the post on the five-year-old he stood in his stirrups and waved the offending, and in this instance entirely redundant, article at the massed crowds, who roared back their approval.

Around the winner's enclosure the racegoers again gave vent to their feelings as their favourite son, the champion jump jockey for the past three seasons, hurled his whip towards them. Unfortunately his aim was not as pointed as his gesture and the missile fell short and was clamped firmly underarm, swagger-stick style, by a humourless bowler-hatted attendant with a face like a bag of chisels.

Following his latest breaching of the whip rules - seen by some as restrictive - at Fontwell last Monday, McCoy will be on the mat tomorrow afternoon at Jockey Club headquarters in London and a lengthy enforced holiday seems certain. The stewards have the option of giving him up to a month's ban, which would compromise his prospects of a fourth title.

Despite his posturing in the emotional immediate aftermath of victory, the Ulsterman seems resigned to the fate that will rule him out of the next significant steeplechase of the campaign, the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. When his whip was returned to him he looked at it ruefully and mused: "A little race at Fontwell, and I'll miss this horse next time."

Cyfor Malta's participation in the Newbury feature in 13 days' time has yet to be confirmed, but such was his dominance yesterday that if he starts, it will be as favourite.

The white-starred bay, the first of his age to win the beer-sponsored chase in its 39 runnings, is a young horse with talent almost beyond his years. One of the quick-maturing French-breds with which Martin Pipe has excelled, he had already won the Cathcart Chase at the Festival in March, but it was his devastating performance over the Grand National fences in the John Hughes Chase at Aintree in April that really turned heads.

Yesterday was his first appearance since and, despite Pipe's poor strike- rate in recent weeks, he started the 3-1 favourite. McCoy had Cyfor Malta right up with the pace as last year's winner, Senor El Betrutti, assumed his usual place at the head of affairs, a position he retained until uncharacteristically falling at the eighth obstacle. The grey escaped with a shaking, but his rider Graham Bradley was taken to hospital with suspected pelvic injuries.

McCoy, whose will to win is one of the qualities that has kept him at the top, almost immediately seized the initiative on Cyfor Malta, leading at the 10th. From there, he was always in control and his mount showed a pleasing change of gear as he left his rivals behind.

The northern raider Simply Dashing came out of the pack in pursuit and had reduced the deficit to an on-sufferance length at the line as Cyfor Malta began to idle and McCoy began to play to the crowd. It was seven lengths back to Dr Leunt, who was followed in by the winner's stablemate Challenger Du Luc, Mandy's Mantino - hampered by Senor El Betrutti's fall - and the Irish-trained Papillon. It is a measure of Cyfor Malta's progress that he confirmed his Cathcart beating of Dr Leunt on nearly two stone worse terms.

Cyfor Malta, who carries the blue and green colours of David Johnson, has now entered the Gold Cup reckoning - he is a best-priced 14-1 with William Hill - although his stamina is as yet unproven over three and a quarter miles. Despite his proven ability at Aintree, he is not eligible for the Grand National; the race is for seven-year-olds and upwards.

Pipe was characteristically noncommital about future plans. "I thought today was a super performance", he said. "He clearly loves Cheltenham and I see no reason why he should not stay further. The plan was not to be in front so soon, but once he was in front Tony was quite right to send him on." Pipe would not be drawn into any debate about his stable jockey's troubles, but added meaningfully: "He is a brilliant rider, who loves his horses."

McCoy is as puzzled as many over his repeated targetting by stewards, but is on surer ground when he talks through a race. "My fellow had been jumping left, but once he went to the front at the ditch he was much better. He certainly didn't stop in front, but perhaps on the hill, with the crowd and the noise, he began to idle. He's an improving young horse - and at five he's entitled to be - but he's got to carry on progressing to make a Gold Cup horse."