Masterful Tony McCoy secures famous Hennessy victory
AP McCoy left Leopardstown rocking by claiming an unforgettable first triumph in the Hennessy Gold Cup aboard Carlingford Lough with the sort of dogged drive that has defined his glittering career.
McCoy's breakthrough victory in the €150,000 Grade One, of course, will also be his last, after he had on Saturday revealed his impending retirement. When he drove Eddie Harty's 4/1 favourite Sort It Out home for his similarly revered boss JP McManus in an earlier handicap hurdle yesterday, he returned to a hero's welcome.
It was fitting that the perennial champion jockey would say a winning farewell to Leopardstown on what is likely to prove his final visit to the Foxrock venue in his current guise. Fate still had another hand to play, though.
Davy Russell sent the reigning Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere on at the second-last fence in the Hennessy. Regardless of the outcome, that constituted an improved performance for Jim Culloty's nine-year-old.
However, try as Russell might, he couldn't stretch his rivals. They snapped at his heels, and, by the final fence, Ted Walsh's progressive handicapper Foxrock had nosed in front of Lord Windermere on the outside.
McCoy went inside on Carlingford Lough, and, once he had the leaders in his sights, there was a sense that this would be another to file in his collection of vintage steers. As he had done 4,314 times before, the great man lifted his mount home in front.
If he doesn't ride another winner, this will have been a fittingly memorable climax to his incredible career. Just two weeks after that epic Irish Champion Hurdle bout, the Leopardstown faithful, of which there were 11,259 yesterday, were spoilt again.
This three-miler might have lacked a little in terms of sheer quality, but it made up for it as a spectacle. Watching McCoy do his interminable thing is a sight to behold, and he returned to a rousing reception after crossing the line three-parts of a length to the good. It was also a famous success for Dungarvan-based veteran handler John Kiely, but this McCoy's day. "You can't fight fate, it was obviously meant to be," McCoy gushed as he struggled to keep his feelings in check. "Fair play to John Kiely, he has produced this horse 100pc so often when I've ridden him. He deserves the credit, I only steered him - it's just sad I won't get to steer many more for him."
It is a sad reality for all of us that a man so defined by success will soon ply his trade no more, not least because many of the stats tell us that he is doing it better than he has ever done before. Few will miss him more than the absent McManus, with whom who he has built up such a prolific association.
McCoy added: "It's great for JP, (McManus' wife) Noreen and their family who are here, and for my family who are here too. I have to be careful not to get too emotional - it's bad for the image!"
Carlingford Lough was slashed from 20/1 to as low as 8/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. If he keeps progressing at the rate he has been, anything is possible, and McCoy wasn't talking down the chance of Kiely's nine-year-old giving him a third victory in the sport's most cherished contest.
"It's a very open Gold Cup," he said, "so he has got to go there with a chance." Kiely is one of Irish racing's shrewdest operators, a wily, soft-spoken gem now closer to his 80th birthday than his 70th. He has enjoyed famous wins with Ivan King, Black Queen, King Of The Gales and Liss A Paoraigh, but the manner in which he has brought Carlingford Lough to such heady heights is among his finest feats.
The King's Theatre gelding hadn't won for nearly a year when it landed a massive gamble in the 2013 Galway Plate, in the process breaking its maiden over fences at the ninth attempt.
He has progressed steadily since, plundering a novices' Grade One here in December the same year. A second followed at Punchestown last spring, and he built on his encouraging reappearance fifth in the Lexus Chase with this determined coup. In a way, whether or not Carlingford Lough will have a say in the big race come March is irrelevant, for what Kiely has achieved with him already is remarkable.
"It's the culmination of a great period for the horse and it was a privilege to have AP riding for us," Kiely said modestly. "He gave him a peach of a ride and did exactly as he was told! "It was a great finish and it was special to have AP - he gave him a peach of a ride, didn't he? He's a hell of a fella. We'll take it a day at a time and see what happens. We've been patient with him and he's kept improving."
Kiely hasn't trained a Festival winner, but McCoy's last Gold Cup winner Synchronised was cut from a similar cloth to Carlingford Lough. And as the Co Antrim legend confirmed spectacularly here, success that you have to wait for can taste especially sweet.
Foxrock will need to be supplemented if connections opt to go for Gold, while Culloty expressed himself happy with Lord Windermere's display eight lengths behind the runner-up in third. Willie Mullins was "a little disappointed" with Boston Bob (fourth) and On His Own, which finished fifth after making the running, but said that both would likely run in the Gold Cup next.
The champion trainer initiated a near 86/1 treble by taking the two Grade One novices' hurdles with apparent second-strings. Petite Parisienne (6/1) led home market-leading stablemate Kalkir in the juveniles' hurdle under Bryan Cooper, with both horses now set to tackle the Triumph.
Nichols Canyon earned a tilt at either the Neptune or Supreme by making all under Ruby Walsh to land the Deloitte from Windsor Park and the McCoy-ridden hot-favourite Alvisio Ville. The 9/2 shot unshipped Walsh at Christmas, but the Royal Bond winner was far more polished here. He will cross the water to the Cotswolds as a leading player in whichever race he contests, although, as one wag quipped to Mullins with a nod to 'Jaws', "I think you're going to need a bigger boat."
One that won't be on it is Mullins' third winner Prince De Beauchene (5/4), as he is not qualified for the Foxhunters. On a normal day, Paul Carberry's exquisite performance in getting Noel Meade's Apache Stronghold (9/2) home with a late flourish to chin Mullins' Valseur Lido in the Flogas Novices' Chase would have stolen the show. This, though, was no ordinary day.