FORGET AP McCoy's Grand National heroics – the steeplechasing success of the past year was, in many respects, the ageless Mister McGoldrick returning to winning ways after a racing reunion with his faithful jockey Dominic Elsworth after his successful comeback from a career-threatening injury.
But, 14 years young today, Mister McGoldrick races into the unknown today when he gives age – and, in several instances, weight – to each of his rivals in today's Victorchandler.com Chase, the highlight of today's New Year card at Cheltenham.
A heroic third in the corresponding race last year behind a McCoy-inspired Can't Buy Time, another of today's rivals, it is virtually unprecedented for such an equine veteran to be taking on such exalted company at jump racing's spiritual home.
However Mister McGoldrick earned that right after his 14-length victory in a veterans' race at Huntingdon that left Elsworth, trainer Sue Smith and the horse's owner Richard Longley in tears.
It was the mercurial horse's first victory since his emotional triumph at the National Hunt Festival over today's course and distance. And Mister McGoldrick's fine form at Cheltenham is one reason why connections are prepared to take their chance – provided that the ground has sufficiently thawed out following the big freeze.
If it has not, Smith will not be taking any chances with her stable star and old favourite.
"Everything has got to be right – or I won't risk him at this stage of his career," Bingley-based Smith, wife of showjumping legend Harvey, told the Yorkshire Post.
"He's in extremely good form but, at the end of the day, we've all been held up by the weather.
"There are a lot of plusses – he likes the course, Dominic gets on really well with him, he'll go on the ground provided that there's no frost and he doesn't know that he's another year older, does he?"
It's a view shared by Leeds-based Longley who named the horse after the heart surgeon who successfully treated him at Leeds General Infirmary more than a decade ago.
He wants to take no chances with Mister McGoldrick, a horse that has given him so much pleasure and landed a record eight wins at Wetherby, his local track.
Such success has enabled Longley to set up The McGoldrick Partnership, a series of syndicates with Smith-trained horses that enable other enthusiasts to share his passion for the sport. And, while Mister McGoldrick has been placed on seven occasions in recent times under young conditional Shane Byrne, who is currently sidelined with injury, Elsworth's affinity with the horse – their association spans eight years since their first win at Wetherby in November 2002 – was self-evident at Huntingdon last month.
Longley says he was "delighted" when he was told on Thursday that Elsworth could take the ride – the Guiseley-raised jockey had been initially booked for Edgbriar, the Paul Webber-trained win who provided him with such an emotional comeback success at Cheltenham last October following 14 months on the sidelines after being concussed in a fall.
They simply rolled back the years with an eyecatching piece of jumping with horse and rider in perfect harmony.
"A 10-1 chance in the Victor Chandler at the age of 14 – what more can I say?" said Longley.
"I don't expect anything, but he's lost none of his enthusiasm and he is raring to go.
"If he's in with a chance, Dominic will give him every chance. If he hasn't, he won't push Mister McGoldrick.
"As usual, I shall be a bag of nerves."
Ownership is not easy, as Longley alluded to. The wins are hard to come by, even with a horse as brave as Mister McGoldrick. But the responsibilities are even more onerous when his charge has such a public following.
Looking at the form, Tartak, the recent winner of the Peterborough Chase, appears to be the horse to beat. And, at just eight years of age, he's only coming under his prime – in contrast to the pride of Yorkshire racing.
But few horses in the field jump as fluently as Mister McGoldrick who will, once again, try to justify the adage that that age should be no barrier to success. As Smith added: "He'll only get bored if he doesn't race. Just as long as he comes home sound, that's all that matters."