Jump racing's vigil for McNamara goes on
McCoy and McManus find grim perspective in the uncertain fate of stricken amateur jockey
The bookends were nearly a perfect match: Tony McCoy in the green and gold silks of J P McManus, challenging at the final obstacle on a heavily backed favourite. But the critical difference was not so much the outcome – My Tent Or Yours was denied by half a length in the opener on Tuesday, while Alderwood was driven out to win the last race on Friday – as the traumatic inversion of joy and despair achieved, in the meantime, by a bare footnote in the latest volume of Cheltenham Festival history.
That is all it might have been, among so many epic tales, the fall of a 14-1 shot at the first fence in a handicap for amateur riders. Yet suddenly it was hard for McCoy and McManus to say which was the more trivial: their disappointment over My Tent Or Yours, or the fulfilment they were supposed to find in Alderwood.
Yesterday the jump racing fraternity continued its agonised vigil, praying for some redress in the malign destiny of J T McNamara. No further update is expected until tomorrow on the condition of the stricken jockey, in an induced coma since fracturing two vertebrae in his fall with Galaxy Rock on Thursday.
A cherished friend and respected rival for so many in the sport, McNamara has laid bare the terrors latent in their daily lives – no less at Southwell today than in the greatest crucible of their calendar last week. As such, dignity demands not only due circumspection over the odds now being contemplated by McNamara's family, but also a reminder that this kind of crisis is hardly unknown to jockeys.
As a rule, of course, a sport that works tirelessly to comfort and rehabilitate those who fall victim to its hazards is granted privacy as a corollary of indifference. The same disaster was no less likely to befall McNamara at one of the Irish point-to-points where he has enjoyed such prolific success. Other men and women have been maimed, killed even, in the innocuous morning routine of the gallops.
McNamara has been airlifted from obscurity, but that should not be permitted to compound his misfortunes.
If his peers can find it in their hearts to persevere, after all, then so must the rest of us. There is no affront or hypocrisy in savouring such consolations as were made available by Sprinter Sacre and others during the Festival. So let us count those blessings gladly, no matter how inadequately they measure against communal dread on behalf of McNamara.
Think of Jonjo O'Neill, for instance. The man who had hoisted McNamara into Galaxy Rock's saddle could hardly be better versed in the complex margin between his professional obsessions and the more fundamental challenges of life.
He battled cancer even as he began his training career; during his own riding days, moreover, he had once been menaced with the amputation of a leg. Last year, he won the Festival's greatest prize with Synchronised – only to lose him to a freak accident in his very next race.
Like McCoy, O'Neill is employed by McManus and will share their present emotional excoriation. Even so, somewhere in the back of his mind, he will already be pondering how to prolong a sequence that now extends to eight consecutive Festivals with at least one winner.
Yet again, O'Neill provided the key to one of those bewildering handicaps, this time with Holywell in the Pertemps Final.
Yes, the biggest prizes of all were duly divided between two yards corralling so many of the best prospects either side of the Irish Sea: Nicky Henderson won both the top steeplechases, while Willie Mullins not only took the Champion Hurdle but also provided the nearest challenger to Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup. But other championship races were claimed by Colin Tizzard and Charles Byrnes, and the Festival continues to find much of its appeal in the artistry of those confined by their resources to lesser targets.
Tony Martin, for instance, not only won a novice chase with the classy Benefficient but also laid out Ted Veale to cruise home in the County Hurdle, notoriously one of the most frantic handicaps in the calendar. Both were ridden by Bryan Cooper, an exquisite talent who crowned his breakthrough into broader awareness with the sensational Our Conor.
Already the imagination is fired by the prospect of Hurricane Fly defending his crown against Our Conor and The New One in 51 weeks' time. My Tent Or Yours remains a legitimate contender, too, with his conqueror last week off chasing and the pair of them having set a time nearly four seconds faster than Hurricane Fly the same afternoon.
No matter what happens in the meantime to test their resolve, there is no shame in the pleasure McCoy and McManus can still seek in that prospect.
CHRIS McGRATH'S NAP: Mizyen (3.0 Wolverhampton)
Decent pedigree and now steps up in trip for this handicap debut.
NEXT BEST: Prolinx (2.40 Southwell)
Has shaped well over fences, promising to surpass this mark on his handicap debut last time, and this undemanding contest looks the cue to deliver.
ONE TO WATCH: Grey Mirage (Marco Botti) led going well at Lingfield on Saturday, only to be run down by a couple of closers, and may reward more restraint next time.
WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING: Nine Realms is 6-1 from 7-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill Lincoln Handicap on Saturday.
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