McCoy keeps Wichita on line to force thrilling Cheltenham win
Wednesday 11 March 2009
If a recording of one race could be placed in a time capsule to remind future generations of just why Tony McCoy is 13-times champion, then yesterday's William Hill Trophy might just be it. After a circuit it was just not possible that his mount, Wichita Lineman, the 5-1 favourite, could win. The gelding had walked through several fences and was galloping indolently in mid-division, with his rider pushing and shoving.
But the very fact that McCoy was still working kept hope alive in the hearts of Jonjo O'Neill and JP McManus. "We may have given up," said the trainer to the owner, as the pair watched from the stands, "but AP won't have."
O'Neill, knowing man and beast, had it spot-on. Three fences from home, Wichita Lineman made yet another error and after that McCoy began to insist. In the face of that irresistible, yet judiciously applied, force, his mount decided that co-operation was, after all, the best policy, passed seven horses in the air two out, thundered up the hill at a flat gallop and caught and beat Maljimar by a neck.
"This horse won't give an inch more than he's asked," said O'Neill, "but so long as he's asked, he'll keep giving. AP won't keep asking a horse that can't give, that's not in his nature. But if he feels there is something still there, he won't give up. When he gave Wichita Lineman a couple of belts at the top of the hill I knew there was still something in the tank, but going to the last I did wonder if there was too much ground to make up, even for him. But we're talking about a magic man."
Yesterday was McManus's 58th birthday, an occasion made the happier by his having backed his winner ante-post at 20-1. And as the faithful, banked round the winner's circle, broke into a suitable serenade, even McCoy, normally fairly stonefaced when he is at work, was moved to twitch the corner of his mouth. The Ulsterman's sister Roisin approved. "He promised me he'd give up not smiling for Lent," she said.
If McManus had a cake, it was iced when three of his four Enda Bolger-trained runners in the cross-country chase filled the principal places. Garde Champetre, ridden by Nina Carberry, repeated their win of last year, ahead of L'Ami and Drombeag, with stablemate Heads On the Ground sixth in an Irish clean sweep to eighth.
At the start of the week, O'Neill had nominated Wichita Lineman, who was running in his first handicap chase off a mark a stone lower than he earned as a smart staying hurdler, as his best chance of the meeting. Willie Mullins did the same with Quevega, who justified 2-1 favouritism in the closing mares' race to bring the raiders' first-day total to four from six.
Quevega, always travelling sweetly for Ruby Walsh – who was fortunate to escape unscathed from Tatenen's Arkle Chase tumble – powered up the hill 14 lengths clear of United. "Last year she was just behind Hurricane Fly in France," reasoned Mullins, "and he'd have been 1-4 to win in this class."
Not only Quevega's win left the Co Carlow handler rueing the injury-enforced enforced absence of Hurricane Fly from yesterday's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, for he had left the winner of the Festival opener 10 lengths behind at Leopardstown two months ago and is now the most prominent of this year's beginners in the betting for next year's Champion Hurdle.
Go Native, who held on by a neck from Medermit, provided a considerable tonic for his trainer, Noel Meade, at home in Co Meath recovering from back surgery. Despite his status as multiple champion in Ireland, Meade is not prolific in this arena; Go Native was only his third Festival winner. "He's always been superstitious about the place," said his partner, Gillian O'Brien, "and after this I'm not sure he'll dare come back."
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