A multitude of Cheltenham Festival clues were on offer over the weekend, as first Newbury hosted a stunning National Hunt meeting on Saturday, with Leopardstown providing a Grade 1 feast on Sunday. However, the top class jumping action was overshadowed by legendary jockey AP McCoy announcing his retirement, and that takes centre stage in our weekly round up.
Champion Jockey McCoy Announces Plan To Retire At End Of The Season
It was business as usual for AP McCoy at Newbury on Saturday, as donning the silks of JP McManus he had just piloted Mr Mole to victory in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. A double on the day saw McCoy notch up his 199th and 200th wins for the season, but it was in an interview with Channel Four racing's Rishi Persad that the 19-times champion jockey announced that he planned to hang up his riding boots this season.
A dominant figure for two decades, McCoy explained that he had not taken the decision lightly and that he wants to leave the sport he has dedicated himself too since a young teenager at the top and the flurry of goodwill messages and continuous praise just emphasised what a void from the National Hunt arena he will leave.
Having ridden over 4000 winners during an illustrious career, the Northern Irishman has eclipsed all records and whilst he is likely to be seen at next month's Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National in April, it will be only a few weeks until a legend departs the saddle and embarks on a new challenge.
Lough Launches Into Gold Cup Picture With Irish Hennessy Win
Only a few months ago Carlingford Lough was seen winning the Galway Plate, but the John Kiely-trained star has improved with aplomb over the last few months and his fine win in the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup at the weekend has seen him propel into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture.
The aforementioned McCoy produced a vintage ride on board the 4/1 shot as he reeled in the progressive Foxrock in the closing stages, and incidentally it was one of the premier races that McCoy had not won in his illustrious career, so the perennial champion visually ecstatic by his pouncing victory.
In a field that saw the likes of Boston Bob, On His Own and reigning Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere struggle, it was the latter that had shaped like he could be a player, but Carlingford Lough was the most resolute and he was slashed to 12/1 with William Hill for the Gold Cup, whilst Lord Windermere is as big as 16s to retain his crown on March 13.
Mole Bounds To Game Spirit Glory, As Sire De Grugy Falls On Comeback
All eyes had been on Sire De Grugy, as the reigning Champion Chase hero made his hotly-anticipated return to the racecourse on Saturday in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. However, it was a race to forget for the Gary Moore-trained runner, as he suffered a crashing fall three fences from home and it was left to Mr Mole to ease to victory and insert his name into the Champion Chase reckoning.
Sire De Grugy looked to be struggling as they turned for home and an error prior to his fall had almost put the writing on the wall, but he missed his next obstacle and Jamie Moore was sent catapulting out the saddle and he is now available at 7/1 to retain his crown on March 11.
Meanwhile, Mr Mole was cut to 10/1 for the 2m Championship race, as after some early histrionics at the start he eased into the race and had the race sewn up as not only Sire De Grugy, but also Uxizandre feel and Paul Nicholls' charge is now Cheltenham bound.
Coneygree Continues Progression In Denman Chase And May Line Up In Gold Cup
Coneygree was backed off the boards in the lead-up to the Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday and the Mark Bradstock-trained raider showed his class as he trounced a host of seasoned chasers and he could well be lined up for a tilt at the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, despite being a novice.
With Nico de Boinville unable to take the ride it was Richard Johnson who got the leg up and he sent the 19/10 favourite to the front and he duly produced a jumping masterclass, as he soared to a seven-length victory in the Grade 2 contest.
He is now a best-priced 16/1 shot for the Ladbrokes, but some bookmakers are significantly lower about the progressive raider, whilst he is now a best-priced 5/1 with most firms for the 2015 RSA Chase, connections weigh up their options in what race to target next month.
Dynaste Ruled Out Of Cheltenham Festival
Reigning Ryanair Chase hero Dynaste will not get the opportunity of trying to win back-to-back renewals of the 2m 5f contest, as the David Pipe-trained grey was ruled out until the Autumn after picking up an injury.
He was last seen finishing third in the BetBright Cup Chase on Festival Trials Day, but it has since emerged that he strained a hind leg in that event and the previous 5/1 shot will now have to miss the Prestbury Park extravaganza next month.