On the day which will in all probability mark the end of Kauto Star’s stellar career, Tony McCoy rode his second winner of the Gold Cup 15 years after Mr Mulligan’s success in 1997, when Synchronised stayed on in the closing stages to score by 2 ¼ lengths.
Synchronised gave trainer Jonjo O’Neill his first Betfred Gold Cup winner as a trainer, after riding Alverton (1979) and Dawn Run (1986) to victory when he was a jockey.
He was in little doubt which gave him the most pleasure. “If you cock up as a jockey you let yourself down,” he said. “If you cock up as a trainer you let the team down. Far more responsibility, far more pleasure when you get it right. And getting this horse to this day has been such a massive team effort, with a magic result.
“The horse came back from Leopardstown not quite right. It was only in the past few days that he really came to himself, came right. He was like a flower who finally bloomed.
“This is a horse who really needs knowing”, he said. “The important thing was to keep him in the race for the first mile, but he has his own way of getting from one side of a fence to another, and any little mistake at that stage would have knocked him back, and it would have been hard for him to recover the ground once he got detached.
“But AP got him into a great rhythm and once he was still in touch after a circuit we knew we’d have a chance.”
AP McCoy was full of praise for the horse afterwards saying: “Like myself he’s no looker and you probably wouldn’t buy him in the sale ring but what he lacks in size and stature he makes up for in heart. He doesn’t look like a chaser but more than stature, class and physique, he is all heart and spirit that’s what you need more than anything. He’s a professional and has a great will to win and never knows when he’s beaten.”
After Kauto Star was pulled up before the 10th flight, Clive Smith his owner said: “Kauto Star is very well in himself and seems fine. I have just has a word with Ruby [Walsh – jockey] and he said that he jumped the first really well, jumped the second really well and he went on and when he got to the water jump Kauto Star just stretched a bit. He obviously felt a strain inside and pulled him up straight away.
“I think that we will probably (retire him). We said that we wouldn’t say anything today, that we would just see what happens, but I think that it’s a very good bet.”
The first race of the day gave another win to the north when the John Quinn-trained Countrywide Flame was the surprise winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle at odds of 33/1.
Quinn said: “He was well over-priced at 33/1 as he’s not run a bad race this season and he won a Listed race and been paced in a Grade One but I did think he had to find a bit to win.
“He’s very tough and hardy and stuck at it really well but he’s not very big and he got buffeted about a bit through the race. Dougie [Costello] gave him a great ride and got him back into the race.”
The Vincent O’Brien County Hurlde went to the Irish and gave trainer Tom Mullins a first Festival winner when Alderwood won under AP McCoy. Mullins said: “He’s been working very well in the past three weeks and everything was right for him so we said, ‘to hell with it we’ll go to Cheltenham’. He had a beautiful spin around under AP until the final bend when it got a bit tight. You’re lucky to have everything go right at Cheltenham.”
Lucinda Russell also had her fist Festival winner when Brindisi Breeze outstayed Boston Bob to win the Alfred Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
She said: “It’s just fantastic. We’ve been trying so hard to have a winner here at The Festival. I’m delighted for [owner] Sandy Saymour. It’s his first horse but what a horse to have.
“He’s not the fastest horse in th world but he just doesn’t like others passing him. He jumps really quickly and maybe he does go on good ground as well as soft!”
The Irish had their second winner of the day when Salsify won The Christie’s Foxhunter Steeple Chase Challenge Cup.
Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson made it three wins for the north when the trainer saddled his second Festival winner of the week with Attaglance wining the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle.
The finale of The Festival, The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Steeple Case Challenge Cup, gave JP McManus his third winner of the day and Nicky Hendeson his seventh winner of the week when Bellvano won.