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Sunday 17 December 2017

McCoy is the man of steel

Jarring fall and kick to the head from a horse can't stop masterful AP

So how did AP McCoy prepare for Cheltenham? Well, on Saturday morning he donned a sweat suit and ran for 20 minutes on a treadmill before plunging himself into a steaming hot bath. Keeping the temperature topped up, he lounged there for the rest of the morning.

He was battling to shed a few pounds. Operation Transformation, as RTé's Gerry Ryan might have put it, was needed to get McCoy down to 10st 3lb in order to be able to ride Qaspal in the Imperial Cup at Sandown that afternoon.

He succeeded. Despite it being the first time he'd ridden at this weight in four years, AP triumphed on JP McManus's horse.

Afterwards he credited trainer Philip Hobbs with having had the horse right on the day, making his punishing routine worth the effort. After this debilitating endeavour, surely Cheltenham would be a doddle?



SHATTERED

Yesterday, as he went back to the weighing room after the second race (on Ainama), McCoy looked shattered. If you didn't know it was AP McCoy, you might have said this man looked ill.

Pale, gaunt, bruised and bloodied, he looked like he just crawled from the wreckage of a motorway car crash. I've seen professional boxers in better shape after being pummelled around the ring for twelve rounds.

Tony looked like he'd been kicked by a horse.

In fact, he had been given a kicking by a runner (possibly Nicanor). Less than an hour earlier, he'd taken a piledriving fall when his mount in the first race, Noel Meade's Jered, came a cropper at the first. As the song says, "Ain't that a kick in the head." Well, yes, actually it is.

As the medics swarmed around him all I could see of the jockey was his white legs. They seemed to be moving. Onlookers were concerned that McCoy looked concussed and mightn't be passed fit to ride any further races that day. But now here he was looking disconsolate after Ainama didn't have it in the tank in the Pertemps Final.

Next race up is the Ryanair Steeple Chase and here's Tony.

There's a plaster on his chin covering the stitches he'd received after the kick he'd received in the first race. He looks a bit shaken as he climbs aboard Albertas Run. If trainer Jonjo O'Neill is concerned that McCoy mightn't be at his best, he's not showing it.



COMBINATION

From the off, there's something about the McCoy-Albertas Run partnership that suggests we're looking at a championship combination. The nine-year-old responds to McCoy's commands. Eventually they're in prime position and holding off allcomers and leaving it to Ruby Walsh (Poquelin) and Davy Condon (J'y Vole) to argue the toss for second. They win by four lengths.

In the winners' enclosure, McCoy has difficulty dismounting. He's still suffering the results of his first race. There's an ugly red weal down the line of his jaw on the left side. He involuntarily touches the plaster that covers the wound on his chin.

"I got a good auld kickin' in the first race," he admits. "It hurt. It really did."

But the adrenaline is pumping. This is AP's second win at this year's Festival. And it's an important one. Tony had made the call on Albertas Run. He'd urged the owner Trevor Hemmings to run the horse in the Ryanair instead of the Gold Cup.

"He's not here as he's not well," explains McCoy.

"Trevor is an absolute gentleman, and I'm not just saying that. He's an absolute jumps racing enthusiast and racing needs people like him in the sport."

And how are you feeling Tony?

"I'm alright. I've just got a few stitches. I got a good kick in the back of my head. I wasn't dead. And I didn't think I had broken anything. If you can get up and feel like you can give something a good ride then you carry on."

Having been part of the trophy presentation party, AP steps off the platform like someone waiting for a hip operation. Clearly he's still in pain.

I ask trainer Jonjo O'Neill how he felt about McCoy riding the horse. "He was a bit sore in the neck," he says brightly. "He got a kick but he's all right. Don't worry about him. AP knows what he's doin'. He didn't do anythin' wrong there a'tall."

The win put AP on two Festival wins along with Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh. Ruby added another win in the World Hurdle on the 5/6 Big Bucks.

Maybe AP would catch up in the Byrne Group Plate where he was to ride Song Of Songs. Then again, maybe not.



SETBACKS

He's used to injuries and setbacks, is McCoy. Two years ago, he was racing at Cheltenham despite the fact that he'd suffered a broken bone in his back, that required surgery, seven weeks earlier. At the time, he outlined the facts of a National Hunt jockey's life. "If you ride up to a thousand horses every year, you'll get up to 40 or 50 falls and 10 will be absolute crunchers. There is a good chance you will end up in hospital."

Yesterday we saw an example of how McCoy put one of his own rules into action. Two years ago he explained, "I have a rule that however badly I am hurt I always get up afterwards."

Yesterday, the last I saw of AP McCoy, was him stumbling along the rails as paramedics flustered around him.

He'd been on fourth place Karabak in the World Hurdle. But when Song Of Songs came down in the next, AP was back on shaky ground, walking gingerly like someone in an old folks' home.

The doctors might want to have checked him this morning. Today could be a big one for the Iron Man of racing.

The last day of the Festival is set to be a thriller.

After The Midnight Club came in third in the first race yesterday, Willie Mullins spoke positively about Cooldine's form and chances in today's Gold Cup. Despite a Festival win already, this year's meeting can only have been disappointing for a top trainer with so many fancied runners.

Today Willie gets to put a better complexion on things. Following the setback of losses by Scotsirish, J'y Vole, Cousin Vinny and Jayo, time is running out for Willie Mullins to make his wished-for mark on this year's Festival.

A win by Cooldine could reverse everything. And the way things have been going for the favourites this year, Kauto Star and Denman had better look out in the Gold Cup. At this rate of going, with most of the bankers failing to deliver, the race could be Cooldine's to lose!

And then there's the McCoy factor to consider. After Qaspal won the Imperial Cup on Saturday, he was asked what his banker was for the Festival, AP (and he's insisting on remaining AP when racecards switch to using jockeys' first names) told reporters: "I think Denman is going to win the Gold Cup."

Take it out of that!

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