9 January 2005

Considering that he is having to live off other men’s leavings, Tony McCoy has been helping himself to quite a harvest in recent days. Yesterday’s treble, including the featured Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle on Tamarinbleu, at Sandown Park made it 13 winners from his past 44 rides. Not bad for someone whose main Jonjo O’Neill stable is out of commission with a virus.

This brings his total to 157 for the the season, a mere 53 successes ahead of Timmy Murphy his successor at Martin Pipe’s powerful stable. Any fears during Murphy’s purple weekend patch that somehow McCoy might be losing his shine can be hastily thrown in the garbage can. He remains a unique and unprecedented force in a jumping saddle.

The biggest mistake is to discount A.P. just because he seems, as he was on all three mounts yesterday, to be riding the lesser-fancied of a stable’s runners. This was particularly striking in the first race, the Ladbrokes Freephone Juvenile Hurdle, in which McCoy on the 8-1 chance Diego Cao got the better of a run-in duel with Jamie Moore on stablemate and 2-1 favourite Nation State, both horses trained by Jamie’s father Gary.

“The way Nation State won at Plumpton I felt sure he would have more speed than the other horse,” said Gary ruefully all right. “But it looked as if he ran out of stamina up the hill. The owners are being good about it but I am not sure about all the people this morning whom I told that Nation State was the better of the pair.”

The McCoy ride on Bongo Fury to beat Murphy on the other Pipe runner La Lambertine in the second race, the Mares’ Only Handicap Hurdle, was not such a surprise as indicated by their 13-2 and 11-4 starting prices. But it certainly suggested backers took McCoy’s ride on Pipe-trained Tamarinbleu seriously in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle and those who took the hint would have seen the champion jockey take command on the home turn and win convincingly at the rewarding price of 14-1.

True, the last time we saw Tamarinbleu was when he finished 13th of 13 at Aintree last April and he had twice been beaten at odds-on before that. But he had opened his British campaign with such a scintillating victory at Ascot in November 2003 that he was made ante-post favourite for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. He would not be the first ex-French horse to lose his form after an opening flourish. He clearly goes well fresh. In hindsight he should have been backed yesterday.

Those, and there are a lot of them, who back McCoy blind were repaid with a lip smacking 1,011-1 treble. The Pipe stable also had three up but as the other was the prolific Marcel, who started at 3-1 for the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle, his treble was a mere 449-1. Such statistics are interesting enough from a backing point of view but the honours of the day surely go to Marcel who was winning for the ninth time in 10 races since he came over from France in July.

What a magnificent constitution, what a marvellous credit he is to his Normandy background. Pipe bought him at public auction for owner David Johnson and when he duly obliged at Stratford first time out, followed quickly by successes at Newton Abbot, Hereford and Fontwell, the talk was about him going over fences later this season.

But further victories at Newbury and Cheltenham, and even his sole defeat when having to make the running at Haydock, underlined quite what a good engine lies within that tall and rangy frame.

With no great gallop, Marcel attacked the front-running Chilling Place off the last turn and was in command when completely missing his take off stride at the second last. A weaker horse would have been stopped by the mistake but Marcel dug in up the hill, Chilling Place stumbled desperately on landing at the last and it was left to McCoy on It’s Just Harry to drive through to be second.

Steeplechasing plans for Marcel will have to wait as Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice Hurdle becomes the season’s target in March. Cheltenham is also on the agenda for Mark Rimell’s Oneway who won the two-mile Handicap Chase under Jamie Moore, but in his case rather sooner than the Festival – the Victor Chandler Chase at the end of the month.

Moore may have been slightly outgunned by McCoy in the first but at 19 he remains the outstanding riding prospect in the jumping game, just as his brother Ryan is already on the Flat.

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