Sunday 18 March 2018

Don on Gold Cup trail after impressing for McCoy

Punters’ messages on a tribute wall for AP McCoy at Aintree
Punters’ messages on a tribute wall for AP McCoy at Aintree

Tom Peacock

Tony McCoy will carry the support and cash of many punters today, and yesterday, for the second successive afternoon, the retiring champion starred in the feature event at Aintree.

Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack looked in a class of his own when taking the Betfred Melling Chase for McCoy by 26 lengths.

Replacing the suspended Bryan Cooper for Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, the regular on-course sparring partner of McCoy's employer JP McManus, Don Cossack charged so relentlessly over two-and-a-half miles that trainer Elliott already believes he is a live contender for next year's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

"I said a couple of years ago he was the best horse I've trained. It didn't work out then, but he looks it now," said Elliott, after his third winner of the meeting. "AP said he just gallops and gallops. It will be the Gold Cup now."

A possible rival for Don Cossack had appeared earlier in Saphir Du Rheu. He had replaced his retired former stablemate Big Buck's in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, running a storming second, and there are plenty of other similarities between the pair, which now both have the Mildmay Novice Chase on their record.

While Big Buck's failed to achieve further over fences, trainer Paul Nicholls and owner Andy Stewart have high hopes that their new star can.

"I think the run over hurdles was the making of him," said Nicholls, who had changed tactics after the 15/8 favourite flopped twice in three previous novice chases. "There's one race he'll be aimed for next season - the Gold Cup. He's only six and physically he can improve enormously."

Sam Waley-Cohen became the most successful jockey over Aintree's Grand National fences in the modern era after yet another demonstration of fine horsemanship aboard Rajdhani Express in the Crabbie's Topham Chase.

It took a while for the 32-year-old to be truly accepted as an amateur, largely riding for his father Robert, against the seasoned professionals, but a Gold Cup victory in 2011 wiped most of the cynicism away and this sixth course triumph took him past even Ruby Walsh.

Waley-Cohen has also finished second and fourth in the National itself with Oscar Time, which he rides again in the big race today. Rajdhani Express, another to run in the family's chocolate and orange silks, had failed to replicate his useful form from last season up to this point but thrived under a typically patient and careful Waley-Cohen ride, eventually pulling 10 lengths clear of the gallant front-running Fairy Rath.

"I'm lucky because I get to ride in the Fox Hunters' so I get a few more chances, but so much depends on the horse," he said. "If you get on the right one you can have a magical time over those fences. You just sometimes need a damn bit of luck and we got that today."

The north of England has precious few jumping flag-bearers but Cyrus Darius took the Top Novice Hurdle in fine style and is in good hands with Malcolm Jefferson.


"I dream about all sorts of things, but they usually end up being nightmares," said the trainer. "He looks really good and will go chasing next year."

Nickey Henderson, trainer of Rajdhani Express, had earlier seen Theinval gain compensation for missing the cut at Cheltenham by lifting the Grade Three handicap under Jerry McGrath, deputising for the injured Barry Geraghty.

There was a breakthrough winner for trainer Ben Pauling with Barters Hill in the bumper, while Colin Tizzard's Thistlecrack swept well clear in Sefton Novice Hurdle. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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