HAVING returned to the saddle less than four weeks after breaking at least seven ribs and puncturing his lung, AP McCoy now has his comeback sights on a big race success – tomorrow’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.
The 16-times champion jockey swerves Cheltenham’s prestigious Festival trials meeting to partner Jonjo O’Neill’s chaser Galaxy Rock in the Doncaster feature, a three-mile contest for potential Grand National contenders.
That the 37-year-old was not content with finishing second on Key To The West in his comeback ride at Warwick yesterday, Harry Skelton won an otherwise routine race on Ballyalton, shows that McCoy’s quest for winners has not been dampened by the potentially career-ending fall that he suffered at Taunton on December 30.
“I’d feel better if I’d had a winner; he was a bit keen so there you go,” said McCoy.
“I’ve recovered pretty quickly from what happened and I wanted to be back for the weekend and for riding a few horses over the next couple of weeks.
“I’ll be riding at Huntingdon (today) and I will try to build things back up from there.”
Key To The West’s trainer Nicky Henderson added: “He said he felt all right but knowing AP he is hardly going to say anything different.”
This was a tacit acceptance of McCoy’s ability to defy conventional medical wisdom – he has ridden many winners with either a broken collarbone or fractured ankle that he failed to declare to racecourse officials.
Earlier McCoy had said in an interview that he would have preferred riding round Plumpton rather than recuperating at the Barbados holiday home of gambler JP McManus, his retained owner.
When asked about the number of falls he has endured in a record-breaking career that could yet yield 4,000 winners, he admitted: “I haven’t a clue. I’ve ridden 3,651 winners if that’s any good to you. I don’t count the falls. I count the winners.”
Meanwhile ante-post favourite Hold On Julio is among a field of 17 declared for the Sky Bet Chase, with former Gold Cup-winning jockey Sam Thomas replacing the injured Robert Thornton in the saddle.
Trained by a resurgent Alan King, the lightly-raced nine-year-old ensured he headed the market for the three-mile feature when enjoying a comfortable success at Sandown earlier this month.
The David Pipe-trained I’msingingtheblues, just pipped by Tatenen at Ascot last Saturday, tops the weights.
The aforementioned Henderson has a leading fancy in Grand National prospect Shakalakaboomboom. He won in good style at Cheltenham last month.
He will be ridden by Barry Geraghty, another top rider to swerve Cheltenham tomorrow, as Henderson looks to secure a handicap mark which will guarantee an entry in the National, one of the few races to elude the trainer. The Seven Barrows handler, who has yet to decide whether to run top novice chaser Sprinter Sacre on Town Moor against former top hurdler Menorah, also saddles Osric in the big race.
Successful at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, course and distance winner Calgary Bay flies the flag for in-form Henrietta Knight and Guiseley’s Dominic Elsworth, who celebrated a Grade One triumph with Somersby last Saturday.
While Galaxy Rock bids to bounce back after a disappointing effort on heavy ground in the Welsh National, champion trainer Paul Nicholls’s Aiteen Thirtythree will try to redeem his reputation after a poor run in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November.
Other Hennessy also-rans Wymott, trained by Donald McCain, and Ian Williams’s Wayward Prince have also been handed the Doncaster mission.
Locally, West Witton-based Ferdy Murphy saddles Riguez Dancer while Cape Tribulation represents Malton handler Malcolm Jefferson, who has won staying chases at Wetherby and Haydock with According To Pete.
Brian Hughes rides Cape Tribulation who was an eyecatching fifth to Calgary Bay at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day on his last outing.
Veteran chaser Morgan Be finally won a long-distance chase at Newcastle when gamely hanging on in the Parklands Golf Course Handicap.
Middleham trainer Kate Walton’s 12-year-old has been placed in two runnings of the Eider Chase, and another crack at that four-mile marathon is on the cards on February 25.
When Allanard, Graham Lee’s only mount of the day, came down when in front at the second-last, Walton’s son-in-law Richie McGrath was left in front on the 10-1 chance.
Seven to eight lengths clear over the last, Morgan Be began to idle again and Keith Reveley’s Categorical was staying on with some purpose.
The post came just in time, however, and Morgan Be held on by a nose and survived a stewards’ inquiry as the two came close together. “He’s as tough as old boots,” said McGrath.
Walton added: “He was probably expecting to go round again. Hopefully he’ll come back here next month. He’s such a lovely horse to have.”