IT is a measure of horse racing’s appreciation for the soon-to-retire AP McCoy that the 20-time champion jockey received the ovation of his life – despite not winning the race renamed in his honour to celebrate his final ride at the Cheltenham Festival.
McCoy had worked wonders to stay aboard Ned Buntline following a pile-up at a critical point in the race, but had to settle for fourth behind Next Sensation and an emotion-charged victory for the Scudamore family.
With sportsmanship so typical of the winning-most rider in National Hunt history and who will retire after next month’s Crabbie’s Grand National, McCoy acknowledged the cheers from the crowd before paying tribute to the winners.
“It’s amazing, but I feel a bit guilty as Next Sensation won the race,” said the 40-year-old, who was earlier denied a third Gold Cup win when Carlingford Lough finished ninth behind Coneygree in a spell-binding race.
“My horse made a couple of mistakes and the ground was always going to be a little bit of a worry in terms of stamina. It’s a very emotional thing. This is something I’m really going to miss. It has only just hit me that I won’t be riding here again, and that’s tough.”
Like McCoy, who won Thursday’s Ryanair Chase with a thrilling win on Uxizandre, the 4,336th of the rider’s career, this was a race that the Scudamore family will never forget.
The front-running Next Sensation was a first victory at jump racing’s showcase meeting for trainer Michael Scudamore – and made all the more special by the fact that his older brother Tom was in the saddle.
The win was made all the more poignant because their grandparents Mary and Michael, the latter a former winning rider in both the Grand National and Gold Cup, died within three days of each other last summer.
“We lost Granny and Grandad in a short space of each other in the summer,” said the winning rider whose whole career has been spent in McCoy’s shadow and who is now expected to be one of the main challengers for the 2015-16 jockeys’ championship.
“Grandad had been such an integral part of our lives for so long obviously and, if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here. It’s a shame he’s not here.
“But he’ll definitely be having a Scotch or two with the likes of Terry Biddlecombe and all the other old jockeys up in heaven.
“Someone is definitely looking down on us, especially as he tried to take the fourth fence with him and if I’d have come off him there, I’d have got a holy rollicking off Granny.”
As for the trainer, Cheltenham is Scudamore’s local track and he is now showing – thanks to horses like former Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude – that he is good enough to compete with the best. This was Next Sensation’s first victory since winning at Doncaster in December 2013 and atoned for the horse’s disappointing fourth-place finish in Cheltenham’s corresponding race 12 months ago.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Scudamore. “We thought we’d missed our chance last year and then I woke up this morning and found it pouring with rain, but credit to the horse.”
As for McCoy, he offered these reflections on his last Cheltenham.
“I’m a realist. I’ve been lucky to have ridden here for 20 years,” he said. “You can’t keep going forever, as much as you’d like to.”
McCoy nominated his 2011 Gold Cup win on Synchronised, when he narrowly denied the Tom Scudamore-inspired The Giant Bolster, as his greatest success, but added: “I’ve never looked back, as I’ve always looked forward. I suppose I’d better start looking back as I’ve nothing to look forward to.”
They are words that also apply to Tom and Michael Scudamore, brothers-in-arms who hope this shared success is the first of many as racing prepares for life after AP McCoy.
Who won what on Day Four at Cheltenham ...
1.30 Peace and Co: A Doncaster winner earlier this season, Barry Geraghty’s mount leads home a 1-2-3 for Nicky Henderson. This worst single result in Cheltenham Festival history for Leeds-based bookmaker William Hill following a massive public gamble.
2.05 Wicklow Brave: A record-equalling seventh win at the meeting for Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins – and a third success for jockey Paul Townend. Horse was pulled up at Sandown on Saturday.
2.40 Martello Tower: A bittersweet win for Irish trainer Mags Mullins, sister of the aforementioned Willie. Her son Danny, seeking his first Festival winner, was aboard the runner-up Milsean and her first concerns were for the beaten jockey.
3.20 Coneygree: The first novice to win the Gold Cup since Captain Christy in 1974, a win for racing’s romantics – the winner was bred by the late Lord Oaksey and trained by his daughter and son-in-law at a small family-run stable with just 10 horses.
4.00 On The Fringe: A fifth Festival win for Nina Carberry, this horse was previously associated with JT McNamara – the jockey left paralysed by a fall at Cheltenham two years ago.
4.40 Killultagh Vic: History is made – a record-breaking eighth win at the 2015 NH Festival for the unstoppable Willie Mullins following a tenacious ride by Luke Dempsey.
5.15 Next Sensation: A first Festival win for trainer Michael Scudamore – and ridden by his brother Tom – as AP McCoy is denied a farewell win in the race named in his honour. A record crowd of 248,521 racegoers attended the meeting, with 14 English-trained winners and 13 from Ireland.