``I've had nothing to eat today, and nothing yesterday. On Friday I just had a few nibbles,'' he said after winning the day's big race, the Murphy's Draughtflow Hurdle, on Rod-ock. ``But when you ride horses like that, it's worth it.'' The mere sight of him, though, was enough to make you wonder.
Nature never intended Tony McCoy to indulge in serious, athletic activity with anything less than about 11 stone of muscle and flesh on his frame.
Even Martin Pipe, Rodock's trainer, said that he had ``fully expected him to ride at 10 stone three or 10 stone four.'' But McCoy managed to shed every last pound, down to the 10 stone on the racecard. ``It shows how dedicated he is,'' Pipe said. ``And if he had done 10st 3lb, he would have got beat.''
And that, of course, is the figure which matters to everyone - the ``1`` in front of Rodock's name, and the money paid out on the result. She's Our Mare, the Cambridgeshire winner and a horse who does not go quietly, came at Rodock on the run to the line, but from somewhere, McCoy found strength for both of them. Since Rodock was a novice running in only his third race over hurdles, against opponents hardened by long experience, it was an immense performance on both their parts.
Like his jockey, Pipe was probably feeling a little below his best, having travelled to Cheltenham direct from the airport where he had been deposited after a holiday in Barbados.
There was little hint of a tan on his face, though, and no wonder, since he seemed to have spent most of his time in one of the island's betting shops. One of the locals had even dared to offer him some advice. ``Stop running novices in handicaps,'' he told Pipe. Last night, he was one of the few residents of Barbados with a face redder than any of the tourists.
``It was nice to get him used to Cheltenham,'' Pipe said, ``and I hope we'll be coming back.'' Sean Graham, the Irish bookie, is almost certain that he will, fitness allowing. He makes Rodock the 6-1 joint-favourite, with Stage Affair, for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Festival.
Even in November, it is impossible to see horses galloping up the hill at Cheltenham without wondering whether they will do the same on one of those three days in March. Fadalko, who won the Grade Two November Novice Chase, is another who might. A fast, clever jumper, he swept around the course with great self- assurance, and is now the 7-1 favourite with Coral for the Arkle Trophy.
``He's a grand jumper and the Arkle is his target,'' Paul Nicholls, his trainer, said. ``Chasing was always going to be his job, and he won the Scottish Champion Hurdle last year when he wasn't even right.''
This was a special moment for Robert Ogden, who despite many seasons as one of jumping's major owners, was leading in his first-ever winner at Cheltenham.
Over in the runner's-up spot, however, David Nicholson was beginning to realise that he had already saddled his last. Toto Toscato, possibly his best chance of a winner yesterday, lost any chance with a blunder two out, but worse was to come. Dream Ride, Nicholson's runner in the handicap chase, was killed in a fall, to complete a miserable weekend for the departing Duke.
That race gave McCoy his final winner of the day, on Legal Right, at all of 6-1, for a treble which rolled up to 117-1. Someone suggested to him that a celebration might be in order, perhaps even a square meal.
``I've got to be a bit careful,'' he said. ``My stomach's a little shrunk.'' The price of success was stamped not just onto his face, but into his fibre too.
NB: Blowing Rock
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