Ruby simply the best, but that’s a take from this neck of the woods
And as it turned out, McCoy didn’t put Sir Des Champs on the floor. The horse ran a fine race to be second to Bobs Worth. Willie Mullins was left to rue the impact of rain that turned the going softer than ideal for the Irish hope. But the race also confirmed some old prejudices. McCoy is capable of riding any kind of race if required. In the final race on Friday, for instance, he rode Alderwood to success with wonderful finesse and daring.
Yet it is remarkable how when the pressure really comes on, sports people react reflexively, and McCoy’s reflex is to drive and demand and infuse a horse with his own desperate will to win. It can be a wonderfully dynamic sight. But it wasn’t what Sir Des Champs required.
Never having ridden the horse before, and inevitably equipped with only second-hand information, McCoy adopted tactics he was comfortable with: up at the front, niggling along, cajoling the horse, relentlessly positive.
It has worked almost 4,000 times for the Irishman. But every horse is different. From looking like a winner on the turn-in, the toll of such a tempo eventually told. Sir Des Champs finished desperately tired, trumped by Bobs Worth, ridden by Barry Geraghty with a patience that might have made all the difference to his rival.
By definition it is impossible to know for certain about such things. And this is no talking-through-the-pocket whine, or contrarian reaction to years of adulatory frenzy that McCoy himself can hardly be responsible for. But it is surely a lost cause to argue for McCoy’s ‘G-O-A-T’ status when there are plenty who believe he ain’t even the greatest right now.
Ask the vast majority of professionals in this country, either trainers or other jockeys, and they’ll tell you Ruby Walsh is currently the real benchmark of riding excellence, precisely because he possesses a range of expertise that McCoy cannot emulate.
Watch again Walsh’s Champion Hurdle win on Hurricane Fly. At halfway the horse looks stuffed. Walsh’s solution is to do precisely nothing. It isn’t flash, or dynamic. It certainly isn’t obvious. But nothing is often the hardest option of all. Subtlety famously got its reward.
But of course that’s a take from this side of the water. You don’t have to travel too far to get a completely different one. And one person’s orthodoxy is often someone else’s heresy. Apart from the one about Ring of course: even Kilkenny can’t argue about that!