AS a substitute jockey, there is none better qualified than AP McCoy – the record-breaking rider who hopes to land a memorable Cheltenham Festival double for North Yorkshire trainer Ferdy Murphy.
It comes after Murphy secured the services of the 16-time champion to ride Divers, the winner of the Centenary Novices Chase at last year’s National Hunt Festival, in the Byrne Group Plate, a move that was immediately noticed by ante-post punters.
McCoy – who chased home Divers 12 months ago on the JP McManus runner-up Quantitativeeasing – replaces his great friend Graham Lee, who is on the sidelines after dislocating his hip in a sickening fall at Southwell last month.
Immediately Divers was backed into 10-1 favouritism for the two mile, five furlong chase that is staged on the Festival’s third day and which was won so memorably by Sue Smith’s recently-retired Mister McGoldrick in 2008.
Punters realise that McCoy and Murphy rarely leave Cheltenham empty-handed – the trainer has won 10 races in recent years – and the jockey can make the horse’s 10st 8lb handicap mark with a degree of comfort.
McCoy only became available once it became clear McManus, his retained owner, was unlikely to require the champion’s services.
“Dave Roberts, McCoy’s agent, called to say Nicky Henderson’s Aigle D’Or wasn’t going to run and that he was free to ride,” said a delighted Murphy.
“He’s ridden a few winners for me in the past and it will be great to have him on board; he’s a top man.
“Divers is the one horse at home who is absolutely flying, he’s in fantastic form.”
The grey now runs in the colours of the Let’s Live Racing syndicate that took over from David Parry last summer.
An eye-catching third in this season’s Paddy Power Gold Cup, Divers unseated the unfortunate Keith Mercer at Cheltenham in December before completing his Festival preparations with a spin over hurdles at Musselburgh last month.
Though 12th out of the 13 runners after a slow start, the syndicate’s Mark Ball was encouraged with the run.
“Graham was on board that day, it was before his injury, and told us afterwards not to be disappointed. He was very pleased with the run,” said Ball.
“I think the first, second and sixth have all come out and run really well since. The form is solid and Divers had a real blow. Obviously losing Graham is tough but we’re delighted to have secured AP’s services.”
As for the stricken Lee who rode his 1,000th career winner shortly before calamity struck, the Bedale-based jockey still faces a long spell on the sidelines, even though his hip injury does not require surgery.
“You can’t put a date on when he’ll be able to ride again as everyone heals at a different rate,” said his agent Richard Hale. “He can’t do much at present and it’s a slow job. I wouldn’t say he’s in good spirits, like any jockey who’s out.
“As soon as he can do rehab and any sort of work on it he will. At the minute he’s not quite ready for that.”