SUNDAY TIMES SPORT
You had to feel sorry for his car. AP McCoy’s was grounded by the weather so it was his luckless motor that was flogged from Warwick to Newbury to let him win the Betfair Hurdle on the super impressive My Tent Or Yours. The horse is likely to have returned home the fresher.
The Betfair Hurdle, which started life as ‘The Schweppes 50 years ago this March is renowned as one of the most competitive races in the calendar. Not yesterday, not with My Tent Or Yours always powering over his 22 rivals until his jockey finally loosed him down at the last flight to storm home by five easy lengths from Cotton Mill and Swing Bowler who had been the leaders throughout.
In fact the excess power was the 17 times champion’s greatest worry. “I have never had a horse pull so hard,” said McCoy, “as he did with me when I won on him at Ascot in November. I didn’t think he could win a race like this pulling like that. He was still tanking with me today but having him close up was better for him, and to do what he did today shows what a good horse he is.”
So impressive was My Tent Or Yours that bookmakers were soon aflutter with prices for Cheltenham which starts four weeks on Tuesday. The logical target for a horse like him with just four hurdling runs under his belt is the Supreme Novices for which he is quoted as 7/4 favourite but, significantly, Ladbrokes introduced him into the Champion Hurdle betting at 8-1. His connections were not being drawn yesterday but it cannot be out of the question, most especially and poignantly, in view of the fatal fall incurred by their Darlan at Doncaster on Monday.
It was a bitter coincidence that McCoy had also taken the heaviest of falls from Darlan in the green and gold silks of JP McManus when favourite in this very race last year. Yesterday may have been brilliant compensation for owner, jockey and currently all conquering trainer Nicky Henderson but Monday’s loss still cut them to the quick as AP memorably told C4 viewers as he rode back on the winner.
McCoy may once again be out clear in the race for the jockey’s title but the battle for the trainers’ crown looks a much tighter one with Henderson closing inexorably on current champion Paul Nicholls with another winner at Newbury and two more at Warwick. However Nicholls could still drive home happy to Somerset after watching his Gold Cup hope Silviniaco Conti come home seven lengths clear in the race named after Nicholls mighty Gold Cup and dual Hennessy winner Denman.
On the face of things, this seven length defeat of last year’s Gold Cup second The Giant Bolster at the same time as giving that tough horse four pounds was an admirable final rehearsal for the big day at Cheltenham. “He has had one target all season and that’s March” said Paul Nicholls, “he’s not the quickest but he’s a true stayer, a sound jumper and is improving which is just what you want.”
Bookmakers duly shortened Silviniaco Conti to as tight as 4-1 for the Gold Cup (with Henderson’s Bob’s Worth still favourite) but despite what appeared to be a wholesale defeat for The Giant Bolster there was still a lot to like about that horse besides his name. For after completely failing to fire with McCoy on Boxing Day, he was back to near his best yesterday under regular jockey Tom Scudamore and looked to be going every bit as well as the favourite when ploughing through the fourth fence from home.
“He would not have won,” said Scudamore afterwards, “but he was giving me a really good feel again. He has had an interrupted preparation so he will certainly come on for this and don’t forget that he always seems to run 10lbs better at Cheltenham than anywhere else.” Trainer David Bridgwater confirmed that snow temporarily stopped operation at his Cotswold base near Stowe on the Wold and the more we talked about it the more tempting an each way bet at 20-1 for the Gold Cup becomes.