THE prospect of retirement appears to be spurring record-breaking AP McCoy to even greater heights as the resurgent Holywell galloped back into Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup contention thanks to a resounding success.
The bloodless victory at Kelso in the Scottish Borders continued a remarkable run of success for the soon-to-be 20-times champion jockey, who signalled his intention to retire after recording his 200th victory of the current campaign at Newbury last Saturday.
Since McCoy’s announcement, the 40-year-old rode two big race winners at Leopardstown on Sunday, including an emotional first Hennessy Gold Cup aboard Carlingford Lough, before he flew to North Yorkshire on Monday to partner Dewala to victory at Catterick.
Undaunted by the public adulation, and desire to race in all corners of Britain and Ireland, he recorded further successes at Ayr on Tuesday, and Chepstow on Wednesday, before returning to Scotland to partner Jonjo O’Nell’s Holywell to victory in yesterday’s Ivan Straker Memorial Chase.
Today McCoy, the only jump jockey to ride more than 4,000 winners, heads to the remote Norfolk track of Fakenham before trekking to Merseyside tomorrow for Haydock’s Grand National Trial meeting.
As for Holywell, who has been victorious at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, this success was a welcome return to winning ways following the talented horse’s imposing Grade One novice chase success at Aintree last April.
Third on his comeback at Carlisle to Oliver Sherwood’s highly-rated Many Clouds before failing to complete the course at Aintree in December, McCoy dictated matters from the outset and his rivals were soon struggling as the field headed down the back straight for the final time.
He safely negotiated the remaining fences and passed the post 25 lengths clear of Fentara, who is trained at Sheriff Hutton by the quietly-ambitious Mark Walford.
McCoy is unlikely to be aboard Holywell in Cheltenham’s blue riband race on March 13, however, as he will be obliged to ride Carlingford Lough for his retained owner JP McManus.
However, the horse, a winner at Doncaster and Catterick last season, could be a dream big race rider for Richie McLernon, McCoy’s understudy at the O’Neill stable.
“He is definitely a horse who will have a good chance in the Gold Cup,” said the champion.
“He jumped well after the first. It’s amazing how different a horse he is in the Spring. He just seems to be better for some reason.
“He was the highest rated novice chaser last season after Aintree and he’ll only do nothing but keep improving.”
As for O’Neill, he said: “You would have expected him to do what he did, but it’s nice to have got the run in and he did all he could do.
“He’s economical with his jumping. He’s never going to be the most extravagant. Hopefully, he comes back safe and sound, that’s the main thing, but the Gold Cup is the plan.”
Leeds-based bookmaker William Hill responded by cutting Holywell’s Gold Cup odds from 14-1 to 12-1.
“Holywell’s biggest challenge was the obstacles and he’s prepared himself well for a potential tilt at the Gold Cup,” said spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke.
Meanwhile, O’Neill said no decision will be made on the McManus-owned More Of That’s defence of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival until nearer the race – the horse suffered a broken blood vessel while being schooled by McCoy on Wednesday.
Pauline Robson is eyeing a race at Kelso on February 28 for Upsilon Bleu after the James Reveley-ridden seven-year-old earned £12,000 for finishing second in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last Saturday.
Upsilon Bleu – the winner of Wetherby’s Castleford Chase last December – rewarded Robson’s decision to send him on the long journey down from Northumberland to Berkshire by taking the runner-up spot behind Mr Mole, a win which prompted McCoy to announce his intention to retire.
“We were chuffed to bits with him,” said a delighted Robson. “I know the other one Uxizandre fell, but I think he might still have finished second. Obviously we wouldn’t have beaten the winner.
“The key to him is the ground. Very soft or heavy ground he absolutely loves, but good or faster and he’s out of his comfort zone.
“He makes soft ground seem like good ground because he’s got a beautiful action.”
The British Horseracing Authority has upheld a 10-day ban handed down to North Yorkshire jockey Danny Cook by the Musselburgh stewards earlier this month.
The rider, whose appeal was heard yesterday, received the suspension for failing “to take all reasonable and permissible measures” to ensure the Brian Ellison-trained gelding Zaidiyn ran on its merits when finishing fifth in the John Smith’s Scottish County Hurdle.
Rigadin De Beauchene, who has finished first and second in the last two renewals of the Betfred Grand National Trial, is among 13 horses declared for tomorrow’s staying handicap chase at Haydock.
The Venetia Williams-trained 10-year-old took the prize 12 months ago after finishing second to Well Refreshed in 2013.
The weights are headed by the Paul Nicholls-trained Benvolio, who was second to the Williams-trained Emperors Choice in the Welsh Grand National.
Monbeg Dude, who was fourth, is set to take his chance for trainer Michael Scudamore and attempt to improve on his third place in this race two years ago.
In The Yorkshire Post tomorrow: Retired rugby international James Simpson-Daniel on the Monbeg Dude story.