TOP trainer Jonjo O’Neill has said that it will be virtually impossible to replace the soon-to-retire AP McCoy after National Hunt racing’s winning-most rider signalled his intention to hang up his saddle.
O’Neill, the mastermind behind McCoy’s iconic Grand National and Gold Cup wins on Don’t Push It and Synchronised respectively, was speaking after McCoy – champion for 20 successive years – partnered Sebastian Beach to an emphatic victory at Chepstow yesterday.
Like Catterick on Monday, and Ayr on Tuesday, there was a significant increase in attendance at the Welsh track as racegoers took the opportunity to watch one of the all-time greats of world sport in action.
“It’s not the right decision for me. I wanted him to keep going for a few more years!” reflected O’Neill whose 149 winners in the 1977-78 season was a then record before McCoy started amassing 200-plus successes each season on a regular basis.
“I’d say everyone is happy in the weighing room. I’m the only one that’s sick. He could easily ride 5,000 winners. I don’t know what his problem is!
“He’s a great guy to work with. There’s no messing, the job is done and it’s straight to the point, which is great. He’ll be very sadly missed.”
McCoy and O’Neill will be teaming up at Kelso today when the Grade One-winning chaser Holywell, victorious at Doncaster and Catterick last season, puts his Gold Cup credentials on the line in the Ivan Staker Memorial Chase.
However, O’Neill has scratched Shutthefrontdoor from Cheltenham’s showcase race – the Crabbie’s Grand National will be the priority for the JP McManus-owned staying chase.
Leeds-based bookmaker William Hill have offered odds of 6-1 on McCoy being knighted in the New Year honours.
“This is one of the biggest waves of betting we’ve seen on a sportsman receiving a knighthood ever,” said spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke.
Tim Easterby’s Cheltenham Festival winner Hawk High reappears in today’s Timeform Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso.
With Brian Hughes in the saddle, it means Sandy Thomson has opted to delay stable star Seeyouatmidnight’s comeback until Saturday’s Rendlehsam Hurdle at Haydock.
This is the Grade Two race which the hurdler won last year, with Saturday’s renewal a possible precursor to a Ladbrokes World Hurdle tilt.
Warren Greatrex is looking to give his Crabbie’s Grand National hope Dolatulo a prep run in a Pertemps Hurdle qualifier at either Haydock on Saturday or Chepstow the following weekend.
Dolatulo won Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase and the trainer says any success prior to the National will be “a bonus”.
He also says Cole Harden, winner of Wetherby’s bet365 Hurdle under Gavin Sheehan, is also on target for the aforementioned World Hurdle after a successful wind operation.
Star novice chaser Coneygree, a leading Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, has been given a handicap rating of 166 following his latest success – a higher mark than the legendary Denman was accorded at the corresponding stage of his career.
Street Of Newyork’s win at Musselburgh yesterday took Danny Cook’s tally of winners for the 2014-15 campaign to 31 – a new personal best for the North Yorkshire rider.
Cheltenham’s County Hurdle is the target for the Brian Ellison-trained hurdler.
Epsom has announced that the Investec Derby and Oaks will start 30 minutes later at 4.30pm this year. It is part of a concerted bid to improve TV viewing figures.