Horse Racing Cheltenham Festival By Sir Anthony McCoy

Sir Anthony McCoy

There’s not many people calling me Sir Anthony. The title is not getting much use to be fair, but my daughter thinks it’s funny. Eve was being told off the other day and turned to my wife Chanelle and said “you and your big title Lady Mummy McCoy”. It’s going to take a bit of getting used to.

I was recently photographed on the beach in my swimming shorts. They must be desperate. Have they not got anything better to do? I never saw the photographers, the first I knew was when I got a message from Richard Hughes saying “you’re looking fairly fat on the beach”. He showed me the picture. The comments in the paper were very complimentary about Chanelle, but I couldn’t see anybody saying how great I looked?!

There’s a lot of people who work incredibly hard at the Injured Jockeys Fund who never get any recognition for the great job that they do and it is a real honour to be their new President. John Francome has been brilliant since he took over the job from Lord Oaksey and it is a privilege to follow in the footsteps of the two of them. Jack Berry and John asked me to do it and it’s something that is very close to me and I know how important it is.

It’s crucial for jockeys to protect themselves. The instinct of a jockey is to get back out there and perform. The majority are self-employed and competitive and their natural instinct is to carry on wherever possible, but sometimes you need protecting from yourself. I’m taking part in trials for the International Concussion and Head Injury Research Foundation. The science over concussion has improved and each jockey is required to do an annual test based on reactions which they can then use as a comparison. It is a lot better than it used to be. The concussion rate for jockeys is probably more than any other sport and any research that they do is only going to help make things better.

There were times when I think that I got delayed reactions from concussions. There were times when I got up from the ground and my head was spinning, yet I knew where I was. But then half an hour later you could feel the effects of it. That’s an important thing – to try and analyse what may bring on delays to concussion. The last time I was officially concussed was 1997 and I’ve had a lot of bangs to the head since then. You become aware of your reactions and what you need to do to survive.

It’s hard to identify a head injury though. The difference between a slight concussion or having a far more serious injury is very difficult to judge. They can look perfectly okay but there’s a very fine line. It’s not an easy thing to gauge. Having said this, you can’t just sign someone off their rides for the rest of the day if there is nothing wrong with them. This research should help and be able to identify what the issue might be.

Last weekend was the Willie Mullins show. It goes in cycles. Before Willie there was Vincent O’Brien, Martin Pipe and Paul Nicholls. He is clearly one of the best trainers and he has the best horses. It’s up to everyone else to find ways to beat him. If you look through there doesn’t seem to be a real system. It’s not just buying the best horse in France. Don Poli got beat there, finished second and beaten by 10 lengths, but the winner has done nothing since. Willie is an exceptionally good trainer, he’s good at placing them, he has one of the best jockeys we’ve ever seen riding for him and he’s becoming just as dominant in the UK as he is in Ireland. He’s a brilliant trainer and at the moment they are all struggling to compete against him, but people will be watching Willie and learning from him. The best way to compete with people who are successful is to copy them. You then have to find a way to be better than them.

However, Nicky Henderson is still the most successful trainer at Cheltenham and Paul Nicholls has been so dominant over the past fifteen or sixteen years. I would hate to be a bookmaker laying Paul or Nicky NOT to have a winner at Cheltenham as they are so good at placing their horses. If anyone can find a horse to win at Cheltenham it’s them.

Jonjo O’Neill shut down his yard for the last few weeks as he wanted to get them ready for the coming months. More Of That will run in the next few weeks before Cheltenham and he will be built up to that accordingly. That was always the plan. This weekend, he’s got a few interesting horses. Holywell is better from the turn of the year onwards, the drying ground will help him and he’s not badly handicapped. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him from now until the end of the season. He’s definitely one to keep an eye on. Johns Spirit will like better ground and I don’t think he’s far off coming back to form. Having a break will have done him good and I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up and performed well.

Last weekend there were some great performances and now I just can’t see any horse beating Douvan in the Arkle and it’s hard to see any of them beating Faugheen. I think Douvan’s form is rock solid and I wouldn’t see any faults with him. I’m not knocking Faugheen, but I was looking at ratings of former Champion Hurdle winners and there were horses rated higher than Hurricane Fly. I can’t work that out myself. A horse that won 22 Grade 1 races. With the exception of Istabraq who won three Champion Hurdles in a row, I found it difficult to think any horse should be rated higher than Hurricane Fly.

Having said this, I think Douvan and Faugheen both look like bankers on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. Nothing can beat Annie Power if she turns up in the Mares’ race. Not that I’ve seen anyway. But I think Min is probably the one who could be beatable. He’s a keen horse. If I was taking one of Willie’s on then it would be Min all day long.

This weekend it’s the big trials before the Festival. Camping Ground is an interesting horse, but Thistlecrack has improved and has lot of stamina and I couldn’t go against him in the Cleeve Hurdle. He’s a banker and so is Djakadam. He obviously stays the Gold Cup trip and he won the John Durkan over two and a half miles. I just wouldn’t know how you could go about beating him on Saturday. The Gold Cup might be a different matter.