Donn's Articles » AP McCoy and Denman

AP McCoy and Denman

It’s all about perspective. AP McCoy and Denman: match made in heaven or two north poles that repel?

It all made sense, champion jockey and champion racehorse equals champion combination. Moreover, Denman can be a tricky ride, he is a strong-willed individual who can need a degree of cajoling, and there is no better cajoler in the business than the champ.

Even before the Aon Chase at Newbury last month, however, there were questions from certain quarters. Only two riders had ever ridden Denman in a steeplechase, Ruby Walsh and Sam Thomas, both quiet riders, both more coaxing than bullying, more carrot than stick. There was even a suggestion that, because McCoy had got so used to riding ordinary horses in ordinary races, that he was less adept at riding good horses in good races.

Then the Aon Chase happened. Disaster.

Denman seemed to be a little lethargic through the early stages of that race, but he had grabbed hold of the bridle by the time they passed the stands first time. He travelled well down the back straight, but he didn’t put as much distance between himself and Niche Market when McCoy gave him a squeeze at the top of the home straight as perhaps he should have. Then he made that bad mistake at the fourth last, and the crowd gasped. Another one at the third last, McCoy decanted on the deck, and the crowd groaned.

The anti-campaign gathered momentum, the whispered sentiment that McCoy perhaps wasn’t the best man for the job grew a voice. The feeling that his forte was in bullying bad horses around mid-week racecourses grew legs. Admittedly, as moments go, it wasn’t McCoy’s finest. At best, he had to have been disappointed that he came out the side door at the third last.

However, AP McCoy is the most successful jockey in the history of National Hunt racing. Since he turned professional 15 years ago, nobody else has been champion in the UK. He has burst through the 3,000-winner mark and he is still travelling, he has won on all types of horses in all types of races, including top class horses in top class races, Gold Cups and Champion Hurdles and Champion Chases, and his enthusiasm for the game and his hunger for more is unflinching.

At Sandown yesterday, he got down to 10st 3lb, his lowest weight in years, to ride Qaspal to win the Imperial Cup, and the horse lacked nothing for strength or guile from his partner all the way through the race, his powers not blunted by the weight loss. He could not have achieved all he has achieved without having every weapon that a jockey can have in his arsenal, horsemanship skills and an innate understanding of the beast beneath him as well as judgement of pace and strength in a finish. Brain as well as brawn.

“He is the Eddie Macken of horse racing for me,” says Con Power, former international show jumper, multiple winner of the Aga Khan Trophy and Ireland’s answer to Yogi Breisner. “He can adapt to the horse. Eddie Macken was like that. It didn’t matter what the horse’s capabilities were, the man would adapt to the horse. McCoy is the same. He may look strong in a finish, and of course he is, but more than that, he is a horseman.

“He may not have ridden Denman before Newbury, but he wouldn’t have needed to. He would have figured him out on the way to the start, and he would have figured out what was working during the race as well, asking him to go long at some fences, letting him do his own thing at others. He is the perfect horseman.”

You can be sure that, if Denman is up to it on Friday, his rider will not be found wanting.

© The Sunday Times, 14th March 2010