Things We Learned » It’s not just the numbers that make AP special

It’s not just the numbers that make AP special

It is difficult to know where to start and where to end with AP McCoy. You can start with the numbers if you like, over 4,300 winners, fastest 50, fastest 100, fastest 200, more winners in one season than any other jockey, flat or jumps, his 289 in 2001/02 beating Sir Gordon Richards’ record of 269 that was over 50 years old. And you can move from the number to the letters, OBE, MBE, FAB.

If you are not into racing, you might not fully get the figures, you might not fully understand the enormity of the achievement that 4,300 winners represents. However, you will understand 20. Twenty times champion.

We usually say it without thinking about it too deeply, AP has been champion jockey 19 times, 20 times in two and a half months. We take it as given, AP McCoy is champion jockey again. But it is worth thinking about that for a moment at this juncture. He has been the most successful National Hunt jockey in the world every year for the last 20 years.

It is difficult to think of any sportsperson who has dominated any sport for that long. Roger Federer dominated men’s tennis like no other in the modern era. Federer has won Wimbledon seven times, 13 fewer times than McCoy has been champion. Federer was world number one for 237 consecutive weeks. When he retires at the end of this season, AP will have been world number one for over 1,000 weeks.

Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon nine times and was world number one for 332 weeks. Steve Davis was world champion six times and was world number one seven times. Tiger Woods was world number one for 264 weeks and for 281 weeks. That still only brings him just over half way there.

For as long as AP has been riding in Britain, he has never not been champion. Champion conditional in 1994/95, his first season in Britain, he was champion jockey the following year at the age of 22 with 175 winners, and he has been champion every year since. It is an incredible achievement, it is a truly remarkable career.

AP lives and breathes figures, but the figures don’t do ‘qualitative’ so well. They don’t give you an insight into the generosity of the man, into his willingness to help others, behind the scenes, away from the limelight. They don’t tell you how unusually highly regarded he is by his peers, his colleagues, his rivals. They don’t tell you how highly respected he is among racing’s professionals or how popular he is with racing’s followers, not just with punters, but with racing fans in general.

If you were at Leopardstown on Sunday, or even if you were watching in on television, the atmosphere that AP generated, the feeling of goodwill that there was towards him, the interest there was in him and the affection that there was for him, gave you a glimpse of that.

National veterans

It is difficult to think Grand National when all around you says Cheltenham, but the three-mile veterans’ chase run at Exeter on Sunday could provide a couple of Aintree clues.

The winner, Soll, is an obvious one. He was under pressure from a long way out, but he managed to stay in touch until his stamina kicked in and he came away from Rebel Rebellion on the run-in to win well in the end in a really good time, 0.14secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.

A couple of things about Soll. Firstly, this was his first run for David Pipe, and he was backed beforehand as if a big run was expected. He had obviously been showing encouraging signs at home.

Secondly, he was rated 139 at his peak and he was racing on Sunday off a mark of 130. He will obviously be raised for this performance by the handicapper, but he surely can’t raise him by more than 9lb. He could be a well-handicapped horse even off his new mark. At the same time, there is a good chance that he will be raised to a mark that will be high enough to get him into the National on a low racing weight. A mark of 132 got him into the race in 2013, but you needed to be 139 or higher in order to be guaranteed a run last year. He could be borderline this year.

Thirdly, he has had two goes at Aintree, and he has jumped around the track on both occasions. Also, importantly, he ran better than his finishing position suggests when he finished seventh behind Aurora’s Encore in the Grand National in 2013, when a mistake at The Chair set him back and meant that he had to do a lot of running to get competitive again.

And fourthly, he was only eight years old then. He is 10 now, and better equipped for the rigours of Aintree’s test.

The other horse to take out of Sunday’s race with the Grand National in mind is Chance Du Roy. Philip Hobbs’ horse travelled well out the back for much of the race, and he stayed on nicely over the last three fences to take fifth place. He was the only horse who could get close from the rear. The first four home all raced prominently from early.

Chance Du Roy is another who is surely being campaigned with the Grand National in mind. Sixth in the race last year as a 10-year-old, he won the Becher Chase over the Aintree fences in December 2013. He has only once failed to complete in six attempts over the big fences, and he should be feasibly handicapped at worst. He was rated 150 at his peak, he raced on Sunday off a mark of 141, and he really shouldn’t move from that mark after Sunday’s run.

Weekend updates

Speaking of which, it is a strange anomaly that exists in Britain, where the handicapping week runs from Sunday to Saturday, unlike in Ireland, where it runs from Monday to Sunday. The net result is that we do not have the revised ratings for Sunday’s runners in Britain until nine days after they have run.

We had all the new ratings from last weekend’s racing in Ireland, from Saturday and Sunday, during the week. For example, we know now that Carlingford Lough has been raised 8lb to a mark of 166 for winning the Hennessy, and we know that Foxrock has been raised another 6lb to a mark of 164 for chasing him home, which puts both horses in Gold Cup-land. We know that Nichols Canyon has been raised 8lb for winning the Deloitte to a mark of 148, which is 4lb lower than the mark of 152 that both The New One and Faugheen had achieved going into the 2013 and the 2014 Neptune Hurdles respectively.

And we know that Sort It Out was raised 14lb to a mark of 134 for running out a six-and-a-half-length winner of the Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle, which should be just about ideal to get him into the County Hurdle on a nice racing weight, as long as the British handicapper shares the Irish handicapper’s opinion, and if that is the route down which JP McManus and Eddie Harty choose to go.

By contrast, in Britain, while we know that Violet Dancer was raised 9lb for winning the Betfair Hurdle, and that Coneygree was raised 13lb to a mark of 166 for winning the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday, we do not know by how much Regal Encore will be raised for winning the Pertemps Qualifier or by how much Soll will be raised for winning the veterans’ chase at Exeter on Sunday.

We will not know until this Tuesday, and that is not ideal. While the quality of Sunday racing in Britain in general does not mirror the quality of Sunday racing in Ireland, Sunday racing is becoming more and more significant across the water. Surely a small operational tweak would mean that revised ratings from Sunday could be published two days – as opposed to nine days – after racing.

Hennessy day pointers

In 2013, five of the horses who ran on Hennessy day at Leopardstown won at the Cheltenham Festival. Our Conor, Flaxen Flare, Lord Windermere, Salsify and Champagne Fever. In 2014, four of the horses (Tiger Roll, Lord Windermere again, Vautour and Tammys Hill) who ran at Leopardstown won at Cheltenham.

So how many Hennessy day winners will there be at Cheltenham this year? Three? Four? More? It would be an interesting market for some forward-thinking bookmaker to open under their Cheltenham Specials.

There are lots of live chances. Petite Parisienne or Kalkir could win the Triumph Hurdle, Nichols Canyon or Windsor Park could win the Neptune, Alvisio Ville could win the Supreme or maybe even the Neptune.

Apache Stronghold could win the JLT Chase, Valseur Lido could win the JLT or the RSA, and Carlingford Lough or Lord Windermere or Boston Bob or On His Own could win the Gold Cup. Or Foxrock could win it, if Barry Connell chooses to supplement him.

Unfortunately, Prince De Beauchene cannot win the Foxhunter, he is not qualified for the race, but On The Fringe or Salsify could.

There are other possibilities. Sort It Out could win the County Hurdle or the Coral Cup, Adriana Des Mottes could win the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase, and one of the beaten horses in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle could pitch up the Fred Winter. Vercingetorix, sixth in the Leopardstown race on Sunday, is trained by Gordon Elliott, who put a pair of blinkers on Flaxen Flare after he finished fifth in the Spring Hurdle in 2013, and sent him to Cheltenham to spring a 25/1 shock in the juveniles’ handicap hurdle.

More defections

Last week it was Dynaste and Champagne West and Present View, this week it is Al Ferof and Shutthefrontdoor and probably More Of That. These are high-class horses and high-profile defections from the Cheltenham Festival. It is always a shame when you hear that a high-class horse is out, these are the Olympics, you want the best to be there, competing against each other.

We are getting into the red zone now though, when you don’t have time to recover even from a minor setback. It’s eggshell-treading time in National Hunt yards all over Britain and Ireland.

© The Irish Field, 14th February 2015