28 April 2002

Pipe and McCoy’s dominance of jump racing knows no bounds, reports Brough Scott

All things change. After 43 years the Whitbread becomes the Attheraces Gold Cup, but for Tony McCoy and Martin Pipe winning the big race with Bounce Back and celebrating their sixth consecutive championship together as trainer and jockey, there is an almost supernatural permanence about their excellence.

Figures alone are not enough but their size makes them essential reading. Bounce Back was the 235th Pipe-trained winner of the 2001/02 season which ended yesterday – the new one starts tomorrow! For McCoy it was an incredible-to-contemplate 289th success since he started out on his record-smashing journey last April. Pipe’s nearest rival, Paul Nicholls was 102 winners adrift, McCoy’s closest pursuer, Richard Johnson, a whopping 157 behind.

But happily, Bounce Back’s victory represented a lot more than statistics. It was a perfect example of the way both trainer and jockey have extended the range of even their own amazing abilities. Until now the sole return he had given Pipe and owner Belinda Harvey for the reputed £250,000 paid for Bounce Back last summer was a modest Chepstow novice chase. And the last two rides McCoy has had on him were let down by jumping uncomfortably close to dangerous.

But the key to both men is their relentless pursuit of perfection. Shrugging the shoulders is a reflex unknown to either of them. Bounce Back showed talent enough in France under Francois Doumen to finish third in last year’s French Champion Hurdle. So after those last two disappointing runs over fences, Pipe reverted Bounce Back (albeit unsuccessfully) to hurdles at Cheltenham and Aintree then, after intensive schooling sessions, sent him over fences yesterday.

He became McCoy’s choice from six Martin Pipe runners but only after much poring over the Form Book. “It was impossible,” the champion said laughingly afterwards, “I kept going through each horse in my mind. This horse’s jumping hadn’t been perfect but he was the one with the ability. I thought it was worth the chance.”

Hindsight often diminishes the achievement. As the 20 runners swept past us with two full circuits to run, the high-backed figure of McCoy was just another player in the pack. A lap later he was still just a stalker as stablemate Dark Stranger led them a stretching gallop, pursued most prominently by Carbury Cross carrying those gold and black Duchess of Westminster colours immortalised by Arkle when he put this race to the sword back in 1965.

None of these runners is in the same league as that equine super-god, none of their leaps anything approaching the unforgettable one he put up at the open ditch. But down the back stretch, young Danny Howard, on Dark Stranger, found himself pursued by three Irish jockeys who will rank high in any Valhalla of the jumping game. Paul Carberry on Frenchman’s Creek was biding his time before making a last-turn move. Ruby Walsh on Ad Hoc was already closing. But it was McCoy’s alarm bell that rang first.

“I never like to let a Pipe horse have too much of a lead,” he said, “because I know just how fit they are. I had told Danny to go out and attack. Now he was making it difficult for me.”

But not difficult enough. Those intensive, Jonathan Lower ridden, schooling sessions had given Bounce Back a fluency that put McCoy within two lengths of the leader three fences from home, right beside him at the second-last, and a full length in command at the last.

The Sandown hill still has to be climbed. It has stopped many a potential winner of the Whitbread (sorry, the Attheraces Gold Cup). Head down, legs and arms pumping in that uniquely compulsive and synchronised rhythm. It was not stopping McCoy now.

Surprisingly, but appropriately, Bounce Back’s heroics were not even the greatest equine achievement of the day. For this fixture has for so many years been associated with the Queen Mother presenting the trophy that it was a fine idea to put on a Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Celebration Chase, which drew the three best two-mile chasers – Flagship Uberalles, Fadalko and Edredon Bleu. It also drew Cenkos. But only a fortnight ago he was running in Tokyo. Surely this was a journey too far.

To Cenkos’ shining, chesnut-coated credit, the air miles only seemed to have enhanced him. With a wonderfully aggressive ride from Barry Geraghty he saw off a cheesed off-looking Edredon Bleu and then had Flagship Uberalles and Fadalko digging impossibly deep once they faced the hill.

Wednesday will be crunch day for Attheraces when the public can access their new racing channel on Sky Satellite 418. Part of the future of the sport depends on it.But even more still hangs on the likes of Cenkos, Pipe and McCoy to make this old nonsense much more than just a betting game.

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