Annacotty wins Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham
Jockey Ian Popham puts a catalogue of injuries behind him for deserved win
Jockey Ian Popham celebrates his victory onboard Annacotty in the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase during day two of The Open at Cheltenham racecourse. Photograph: David Davies/PA
If ever there was a jockey that merited a slice of good luck then the 25 year-old would have been close to the top of the list having suffered a catalogue of injuries in recent seasons.
Although no stranger to top-level success having steered the talented but quirky seven-year-old Annacotty to glory in the Grade One Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton in 2013, this win meant more than most given the journey he has endured.
Despite never being a position he was content with, Popham, much like with his injury battles, was in no mood to throw in the towel aboard the 12-1 shot.
While Irish Cavalier, having travelled strongly throughout the race, held a slender advantage at the last, victory for the six-year-old was always in the balance with a stack of challengers poised in behind.
And as expected it was all change over the last with Annacotty taking up matters under Popham as the pair prepared to make the best of their way home up the hill.
Although faced with several late threats the son of Beneficial, who was having his first start for trainer Alan King, had enough in hand to deny the hard-charging Buywise by half a length, with Sound Investment a further three-quarters of a length back in third.
Double Ross was fourth, denying Irish Cavalier a place, but favourite Kings Palace eventually beat only three home having assumed control with four to jump.
Popham said: “I just want to say a big thank you to the owners and their racing manager, and to Mr King for letting me keep the association with the horse, it means a lot to me.
“I was just hoping for a bit of rain this morning because he stays very well.
“I knew his stamina would come into play, he jumped brilliantly and travelled everywhere I wanted to.
“He dug deep at the end for me and it’s a great training performance to win first time up without a run.”
He went on: “I broke my collarbone in November and again in December, then I had a bad fall at Market Rasen on Boxing Day where I broke my cheekbone and chin.
“I missed both Cheltenham and Aintree and I went to France for the summer as I needed to get my head straight as things were not going well.
“This season has been a slow burner. I only had my first winner 10 days ago. I’ve been working hard and riding out at a lot of places.
“Riding in the Paddy Power was miles away a few months ago, as all I was riding were 100-1 shots around Plumpton and Taunton, but you have to take the rough with the smooth when you are trying to get back on track.
“I’ll have to pinch myself, it doesn’t feel real.”
As for King, who was celebrating his first success in the race, the win held a special significance with Annacotty being out of Mini Moo Min, the mare that provided him with his first ever winner as a trainer back at Towcester in 1999.
He said: “We were happy with him at home and probably just the change of scenery has helped him and freshened him up a bit, because he does think about things.
“At the top of the hill I thought we were in big trouble, but stamina has kicked in at the end I think.
“He’s a lovely horse to deal with and interestingly his mother is the first winner I ever trained in 1999. So I’ve always had an eye on him.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, I knew he was as well as we could get him, but I really wanted the heavens to open at lunchtime.
“I’m sorry for Martin, he’s a great mate and he’s done very well but the horse was going to move through the summer and the view was if I didn’t take him, someone else would. I feel for him, but that’s racing.
“The December Gold Cup could be his next target but I just wanted to get today out of the way with. He’s in the Hennessy, but I doubt he’ll go there. We’ll enjoy today first. This might have been his day — catch him fresh on his first run.”
Having looked in trouble throughout the race trainer Evan Williams was delighted with the performance of runner-up Buywise.
He said: “He has run a great race and has been given a very good ride if you look at that race. It is not very easy to say that when you finish second, but he has been given an exceptional ride as he was in jail everywhere.
“There were no excuses and he has been beaten fair and square. He will run over further at some stage in his life, although both the trainer and jockey think this is his trip and the way they raced was just how he wanted it.”