It isn’t as though the suspense and anticipation in the build up to this year’s Cheltenham Festival needed any more spice and vigour.
The bombshell of all bombshells was dropped on Saturday afternoon at Newbury as it was announced to the racing public that it would be Tony McCoy’s last ever season and last ever Cheltenham Festival.
After coaxing the quirky but talented Mr Mole to victory in the Game Spirit Chase on Saturday afternoon, the ‘people’s champion’ announced to his adoring public that he will be retiring at the end of the National Hunt season.
The 19-time champion jockey, who is renowned for his never-say-die attitude and will to win, will go down in history as the greatest ever National Hunt jockey after becoming the only jockey to surpass 4,000 winners.
In 2010, after claiming his first-ever Grand National victory aboard Don’t Push It, he was later that year named BBC Sports Personality of the Year and awarded an OBE for services to horse racing.
His decision has come as a major shock to the racing public, but after a gruelling but illustrious career which has included a broken leg, arm, ankle, both wrists, shoulder blades, collar bones, cheekbones, all of his ribs, several vertebrae in his back, plus suffering punctured lungs and having had all his teeth replaced due to racing injuries, it is completely understandable why he has decided to bow out while still in one piece.
Well on the way to his 20th champion jockey title after winning over 200 races this season, McCoy made the decision after long discussions with his agent and boss JP McManus
McCoy said: “I’m very lucky to have had a life in horse racing over the last 25 years. I wanted to retire as a champion and 20 would be a nice number to finish at.
“I spoke to JP, my agent and we decided it was the right thing to do and that to announce it when I ride 200 winners would be a good time.
“Any decision I’ve ever made in my life have always been my own. The best decision I’ve ever made in my life was to become a jockey. I love riding. I love the thrill of it and I will miss it.”
After a star-studded career in which Tony McCoy has claimed every accolade and won every big race there is to win, his adoring fans will be desperate for an emotional send-off at the heart of jumps racing, Prestbury Park.
Every runner he has at the Cheltenham Festival will be scrutinised and anticipated as the public predict which horse will be his last-ever winner at the famous Festival.
With a live chance in all the feature races with Jezki (Champion Hurdle), Mr Mole (Champion Chase), More Of That (World Hurdle) and either Holywell or Carlingford Lough (Gold Cup), lets hope for a fitting finale for the greatest-ever. It will be emotional.
With four weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, the majority of top class horses are wrapped in cotton wool and therefore we have a few weekends with a distinct lack of quality racing in store.
So now is a good time to complete the Ante Post Cheltenham portfolio.
Un De Sceaux (advised at 6/1, currently 4/7) to win the Arkle is looking like reaping a healthy reward but at a massive price it may be worth siding with a forgotten horse to win the Ryanair Chase. The horse in question is the David Pipe trained Ballynagour.
At odds of 33/1 his chances of winning at back-to-back festivals has clearly been underestimated.
Having watched back Ballnagour sauntering to an comfortable victory in last year’s Byrne Group Plate, it was obvious from the interviews post race with jockey Tom Scudamore and trainer David Pipe that they feel he is something special.
It was in fact probably the most impressive victory of the whole festival and he was considered good enough to run in the Grade One Melling Chase at Aintree a few of weeks later in which he finished a respectable third and the Irish Champion Chase a few weeks after that in which he finished a commendable second.
His only run this year was when clearly not staying the trip in the Hennessy at Newbury when he pulled up, but with this being Ballynagour’s only entry at the Cheltenham Festival it is certain his master trainer feels two miles and five furlongs is his ideal trip and has trained him especially for this race.
I am fairly certain he will go off a lot shorter than 33/1 with so many other horses in the race having other options and this been David Pipe’s main hope.
Ballynagour 33/1 Ryanair Chase, Cheltenham Festival