SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 2000
12 November 2000
Brough Scott marvels as the champion jockey, despite his starvation diet, treats the Cheltenham crowd to a feast of his riding talent
FOR TONY McCOY hunger is not harsh enough a word. By sheer willpower and starvation he pared his 5ft 10in, 11 stone frame down to 10 stone for the fifth race at Cheltenham. But not before he had feasted on the only meat that satisfies, the big race, the Thomas Pink Gold Cup on Lady Cricket.
The exercise physiologists will tell you that depriving the body slows reactions and weakens function. Somehow, McCoy continues, unwisely or otherwise, to defy the norm. For Lady Cricket’s 10-length victory over fellow Martin Pipe-inmate Exit Swinger was preceded by a hard-fought success in the first and then a quite astonishing recovery in the novice chase.
Galant Moss, pitched so violently on landing that all bar acrobats or prehensile animals would have been ejected as surely as emptied cartridges. But while it looked impossible in real speed, in slow motion you can see that McCoy’s short stirrup balance is so sure that unseating was never likely. With that behind him why should something as minor as having only one stirrup to land on after the last fence on Lady Cricket be a worry?
For that was the situation McCoy found himself in after the chesnut took over, pulling double, as the Thomas Pink field turned down the hill towards home. The blinkered Lady Cricket had pulled so hard early on that McCoy had sought cover behind Exit Swinger as the locally-trained Corniche cut out the running. But at the top of the hill the two Pipe runners had only Davoski threatening them. One look at McCoy’s angled body and Lady Cricket’s determined neck told you the next act would be her attack.
By the second-last he had everything struggling. At the last only a fall could foil him, but somehow McCoy’s right stirrup iron flew away from his foot meaning that there would be nothing to stabilise that side on landing. In normal riding such an eventuality would mean capsize. With McCoy, the close clamping of the knees and leg line meant that the landing was secure, the rhythm uninterrupted, and, with almost disdainful aplomb, the champion leant a hand down to recover his stirrup and rode his 106th winner of the season.
The Irish challenger Feathered Leader ran on to be third, while Pipe’s third runner Majadou, ridden by Tom, the 18-year-old scion of the jockey house of Scudamore, finished fifth. Tom had earlier, on Maid Equal, claimed the scalp of no less a rider than Richard Johnson in a desperate photo finish.
The Irish got their share when Dr Tony O’Reilly’s Foxchapel King stormed home in the Intervet Trophy. But once again the glory and wonder of this home of jump racing belonged to the hauntingly-lean, outrageously-talented, obsessively-committed, ludicrously-unsung but still wondrously-pleasant young man from Toombridge. We rejoice in the time of Tony McCoy.