NO VICTORY, BUT MCCOY IS JUST HAPPY TO BE BACK.

9 March 2008

He had his moment, a very necessary moment. As Tony McCoy came to the last hurdle of his first race after two months recovering from a career-threatening injury, he still had a slim chance of getting fourth place if he committed everything. He committed everything. Unfortunately Rapid Increase didn’t.

Rapid Increase is a moderately talented five-year-old who has won a couple of races in this, his first racing season. McCoy is a 34-year-old phenomenon who has won the last 12 jockeys’ championships and is still 32 clear this season despite being laid out with a dreadful fall that broke three of his vertebra on Jan 12. For a split second, as Rapid Increase blundered haplessly through the hurdle, there was a danger of another crash.

But McCoy’s long-legged compulsion has always had adhesion with it. Rapid Increase’s momentum smashed him through to the other side albeit with his hindquarters slipping, banana-skin like, to the turf as they missed their next galloping side. McCoy’s legs and rump and arms and torso adjusted in a levered flash of mind and muscle. Rapid Increase could only finish fifth. But there wasn’t much wrong with the jockey.

“It was good to get competitive,” he said afterwards, “to be amongst horses and get involved in a finish. There was nothing wrong with my core fitness and I hardly blew at all when I got off him. There hasn’t really been any mental barrier and although I won’t be riding over fences until Cheltenham, I have been schooling at racing pace. It’s just good to be back, my weight is fine. This is what I do.”

As far as McCoy is concerned the worst part of his eight-week recovery was the first fortnight prone on his back. He also revealed that he did a lot of exercises for his balance once the fitness work began at a Champney Health Resort, which included the kriotherapy sessions in a refrigerated chamber of up to minus 130C, so cold that he was still carrying some frost burns on his cheeks yesterday.

Racing is lucky to have McCoy back hot for Cheltenham where he will be joined by yesterday’s star turn Ashkazar, with whom David Pipe will be going for the £75,000 bonus offered by sponsors Sunderland if he doubles up with a victory at the Festival. Pipe’s father Martin achieved this twice in his legendary career as a trainer, David did it last year at the first time of asking. What was that about Martin having shoes too big for his son to ever fill?

Ashkazar is a big, rather rolling-gaited Sadler’s Wells colt. He was bred to win the Arc de Triomphe for the Aga Khan, but after finishing fifth in the Grand Prix de Paris now seeks fame over jumps. On yesterday’s dominance of a competitive handicap hurdle from the front, he is already well on the way.

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