Uxizandre ensures McCoy’s final festival proves a successful one

Champion jockey leads from the front throughout to claim Ryanair Chase on 16-1 chance

AP McCoy on the way to victory with Uxizandre in the  The Ryanair Steeplechase at Cheltenham. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty

AP McCoy on the way to victory with Uxizandre in the The Ryanair Steeplechase at Cheltenham. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty

 

Tony McCoy is as far removed from Gavin Sheehan in profile and experience as his Co Antrim birthplace is from Sheehan’s west Cork roots yet both decided the quickest way to Grade One Cheltenham success was resolutely from the front.

For McCoy, the 40-year-old legend about to retire within weeks, Uxizandre’s 16-1 Ryanair Chase rout was a possible last festival hurrah. Sheehan, 22, had never before scored at jump racing’s greatest meeting but secured a 14-1 Ladbrokes World Hurdle victory on Cole Harden which confirms the former conditional champion among the leading new boys in the British jockeys room.

“This is what dreams are made of; it’s very, very special,” said the ecstatic Dunmanway native whose star has risen alongside Cole Harden’s trainer Warren Greatrex. “It means everything, especially from a yard I lost my claim with. Warren has gone from strength to strength and I’ve improved having a boss like that and riding good horses like this.”

Rare blank

Paul Nicholls

“It makes a big difference Gavin knows him: he’s the real deal. We’ve just won a Grade One and beat the best which for a small yard breaking through is brilliant,” said an emotional Greatrex who rode just 13 himself during an undistinguished riding career.

If the World Hurdle has eluded McCoy, the Ryanair in contrast has been a notably happy hunting ground with back to back wins on Albertas Run (2010-11) before a revitalised Uxizandre guaranteed his jockey’s last festival will be a successful one. It brought the rider’s overall Cheltenham tally to 31 and understandably emotions were mixed.

“I will miss riding a horse like this which runs away with you all the way and jumps like a stag. It has to happen at some point so it’s a bit sad,” McCoy said. “Cheltenham is all about winning and while I came to the week with a few chances I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I was happy coming down the hill. He kept looking at the television cameras on his inside so I knew he had a little bit for himself.”

Trainer Alan King credited the addition of a visor for Uxizandre’s jumping being straighter and praised the rider: “AP is phenomenal, the winners, the dedication, the commitment - he’s quite remarkable.”

It was a first Ryanair success for JP McManus, and a second win for the champion owner this week after Cause of Causes on Tuesday. But he knew McCoy was the festival focal point.

“We spoke about it last week and he said if I can get him away, he loves it out in front on his own he’d give them a good run for it,” said McManus. “I’m so pleased he’s had a winner on his final Cheltenham and that we provided it.”

Don Cossack could finish only third as Michael O’Leary’s ambition to win the race he sponsors will have to be sustained for another year.

A slight mistake six out didn’t help the Irish favourite and Don Cossack was involved in an incident at the second last where he was checked by Johns Spirit and in turn hampered another Irish hope, Hidden Cyclone. Johns Spirit’s rider Richie McLernon was afterwards handed a four-day ban for careless riding.

The outsider Zaidpour finished best of the six Irish trained hopes in the World Hurdle but that was in a distant eighth behind Cole Harden.

Paul Nicholls appeared most frustrated after a mistake at the second last cost Zarkandar.

“It’s great for the lads that have won the race but we were unlucky with Zarkandar. He was travelling really well and that mistake cost him,” Nicholls said. “Ask Noel (Fehily) what he thinks – the horse was travelling so well and then that happens.”

The festival’s most successful ever trainer Nicky Henderson has had a largely frustrating week to date but Call The Cops answered the call in the Pertemps Hurdle, beating Unique De Cotte. Amateur jockey Tom Weston, who came down during the Kim Muir Chase, was airlifted to hospital in Bristol after initial medical treatment at the track.

“He has been airlifted to Southmead Hospital for further assessment and treatment,” a said a spokesperson. Weston was riding the Martin Keighley trained Benbane Head when becoming involved in a melee at the fourth last fence where a number of horses exited the race. “It sounds a lot better than initially thought,” reported Keighley. “He was struggling to keep consciousness but is a lot more stable now.”

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