Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 21 March 2018

McCoy's last run on home soil not only potential Fairyhouse fairy tale

Party poopers are lining up to create magic of their own, says Aisling Crowe

McCoy and Cantlow, favourites for the Irish Grand National
McCoy and Cantlow, favourites for the Irish Grand National

Aisling Crowe

In sport, as in life, there are very few fairy tale endings. Few of us are afforded the chance to write our own happy-ever-after tale. For every Henry Shefflin calling time on his career in a blaze of glory and praise, there are 10 Ronan O'Garas cast aside without so much as a farewell glance.

If ever a sportsperson could script how they bow out, then surely it has to be AP McCoy, the man whose mind bent his body, hundreds of rivals and thousands of horses to his iron will for more than two decades. McCoy enters the last days of his phenomenal career, but if he can command the universe to his will, then this week will be the final act of a truly mind-boggling career.

After his last Cheltenham festival, the Antrim rider indicated that were he to win next Saturday's Grand National, the retirement, scheduled for Sandown on April 25, would be brought forward to the heat of Aintree glory.

What is almost certain, however, is that his appearances at Fairyhouse today, tomorrow and Tuesday are the last chance for Irish racegoers to see the 20-times English champion jockey in action on home soil.

Since rumours first swirled last week that the perennial champion would choose Cantlow of the JP McManus-owned runners in tomorrow's Boylesports Irish Grand National, the odds on the English challenger contracted sharply and with confirmation on Friday morning that the champion would be on board, Leon Blanche of the sponsors expects the McCoy factor to ensure Paul Webber's runner is sent off favourite tomorrow evening.

"Now that he has decided which horse he is going to ride, people are going to back him no matter what. It will be one of those occasions where people will tell their children and grandchildren they were there and backed AP McCoy's final winner of the Boylesports Irish Grand National. He probably will be a little shorter tomorrow evening than the current 8-1," Blanche said.

Grand Nationals are the stuff of racing fairy tales, from the fictional Pie with a young Elizabeth Taylor racing to glory, to the family successes of the Walshs and Carberrys, and Blanche thinks the farewell to McCoy might not be the only source of a magical ending at Fairyhouse tomorrow.

"We saw a bit of money for Vics Canvas before the McCoy announcement on Friday and he could spoil the party," Blanche said. "He ran a very good race at Leopardstown over Christmas and this race seems to have been the plan since then. He is trained locally by Dermot McLoughlin, which would be a fantastic success in itself, and I just think that if anyone was going to do it, it might be him."

If the sporting fates prefer their fairy tales in the mould of David slaying Goliath then Paul Fahey is hoping they turn a benevolent gaze on Lots Of Memories tomorrow evening.

The eight-year-old claimed the biggest success of his career at Fairyhouse last Easter when winning a three-mile handicap hurdle impressively. Since then, his form has been given added lustre with placed performances behind the likes of Don Poli and Beat All in Grade One races and a success over fences. Twice Fahey has brought Lots Of Memories to Fairyhouse and a second place and victory have been the results.

"We said we would go down the top route with him, but he was well beaten at Leopardstown over Christmas and we thought there was no point chasing those horses around Cheltenham, so we decided to find a handicap for him and this was it," explains Fahey, who also trained his half brother He'llberembered to finish eighth in the race, but Lots Of Memories is a better horse.

While McCoy has the pick of JP McManus' blue bloods to chose from, Paul Fahey and his team have more earthy sorts to work with. Lots Of Memories is owned by the trainer's wife, Siobhain, and their neighbour, John Breen, who comes into ride work for them most mornings before heading off to his actual job. The horse was bred by Mary Lett in Wexford, who Fahey, part of the renowned farrier family from outside Monasterevin, has worked for and known for 30 years. If they are to poop the McCoy party, then an even better celebration after years of toil will erupt.

"The horses are reared here, Mary breeds them and to have a horse good enough to even line up against so many expensively-bought horses with a chance is good, but from cheap stallions to get one to land in graded races is a fair achievement. We can compete against the big boys. We might not be able to beat them all the time, but to get one over them once in while would be brilliant," he smiles.

Most may be hoping for a fairy tale farewell for a champion who has graced his sport, but in the place where fairies once dwelt, there are some for whom magic would be a different storybook ending to the Irish Grand National.

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