Outstanding chasers, a travelling head groom, a champion trainer and a former jockey who has introduced tens of thousands of children to racing were among winners at the inaugural ‘The McCoys’ held in the Centaur at Cheltenham Racecourse last night, Friday, September 29.
Opening the event, which was attended by 450 people, Ian Renton, The Jockey Club’s Regional Director, Cheltenham & The South West, said The McCoys were an opportunity “to recognise fantastic achievements in National Hunt Racing”.
He added that while the awards focused on performances at The Jockey Club racecourses in the region, “they recognise some of the greatest talent in the industry today”.
He thanked Sir Anthony (A P) McCoy, the 20-time champion Jump jockey, for agreeing to let the awards carry his name.
While feats of brilliance, endeavour and achievement at Cheltenham, Exeter, Warwick and Wincanton were in focus, award recipients came from far and wide, and it was Scotland’s Randox Health Grand National winner, One For Arthur, who took the Shloer-sponsored Horse of the Season award by virtue of winning Warwick’s Betfred Classic Handicap Chase ahead of his Aintree triumph.
Deborah Thompson, who owns One For Arthur with Belinda McClung in a partnership called The Golf Widows, said their horse will reappear at Kelso next month, and added: “He won the Becher Chase at Aintree in December, but had to win again to get his [handicap] mark up for the National, so thank you to Warwick for putting on the race.
“We hoped he might be a Saturday horse, but we never dreamt he could take us to events like this – it will be tough to win the National two years on the trot, but he’s only eight.”
Sir A P McCoy took to the stage to announce the Judges’ Choice Award winner, sponsored by W O Lewis Badges, and given to star chaser Sizing John. Sir Anthony said: “I cannot remember any horse winning the Irish Gold Cup, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup. From the perspective of a jockey, a trainer or an owner, Sizing John is a very deserving winner.”
The night’s most rousing reception was given for the announcement that the late Many Clouds had taken the Rosconn Group-backed Horse Performance of the Season for his thrilling victory over Thistlecrack in Cheltenham’s BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase in January, although he very sadly collapsed after the race.
Compere Alice Plunkett, who shared that role with Nick Luck, tearfully introduced owner Trevor Hemmings’ racing manager Mick Meagher to collect the award. He said: “Many Clouds was a wonderful horse, one we had since a foal. The public loved him, we loved him, and what happened on that day was inexplicable. We ended up being just very proud of him.”
The Sue Gardner-trained Only Gorgeous, a first venture into racehorse ownership in Britain for Channel Islander Jane Edgar, and Dance Floor King, trained by Nick Mitchell for Nick Elliott, took the Winner Event Services leading novice chaser and chaser award respectively, while the A W Creative leading hurdlers were Wholestone from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable and Sceau Royal, trained by Alan King – both hurdlers are owned by Isaac Souede and Simon Munir.
Teenage prodigy James Bowen headed Finn Muirhead for The Jockey Club’s Pony Racing Achievement category, while jockey awards, backed by Brewin Dolphin, were given to Noel Fehily (professional), Harry Cobden (conditional) and Page Fuller (amateur).
Reflecting on two fabulous wins at The Festival at Cheltenham in March, Fehily said: “Barry [Geraghty] was injured, and I got the call up for Buveur D’Air [Stan James Champion Hurdle] and then Special Tiara [Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase] followed up the next day. There’s only one way to ride Special Tiara – to let him run and jump. I didn’t think we could beat Douvan, but he had a blip and we won.
“I feel great at the moment, free of the aches and pains I’ve had in the past, and I’m really enjoying it. There are some good young horses coming through to look forward to.”
Adrian Heskin’s brilliant performance on Sir Valentino in Exeter’s 188Bet Haldon Gold Cup – the combination beat the Richard Johnson-ridden Garde La Victoire by a short-head – was a first notable success for the jockey following his move to Britain and the yard of Tom George, and gained him the Racing Ride of the Season backed by Natural Green.
Buveur D’Air’s owner, J P McManus, collected the CHB Global award for owners with more than four horses, while Colm Donlon and Adrian Doyle received the three horses or fewer title. Donlon said: “I like partnerships, because it brings more people into the sport.”
The Racing Post-sponsored Stable Person of the Year came down to a shortlist of six, but was given to Seanie Mulcaire, a former amateur rider with Phillip Hobbs, and still travelling the yard’s horses 20 years later.
Hobbs described Mulcaire as: “The most reliable and trustworthy employee, and a man you can always rely on to give accurate going assessments and ensure horses get to the races. There have been a few close calls, but in 20 years there has only been one occasion when Seanie’s lorry failed to reach the course.”
Champion jockey Richard Johnson collected the award on Mulcaire’s behalf, and described the recipient as “a star”. Johnson added: “The travelling head groom is always the last back from the races, and then has to ensure everything is clean and ready for another early start the next day.”
An award that encourages runner participation at The Jockey Club’s South West region racecourses is backed by Equi-Trek. Paul Nicholls was always likely to take the title for yards with more than 40 horses, and his head lad, Clifford Baker, duly accepted the prize, while Jeremy Scott, Somerset born and bred, was given the award for yards with fewer than 40 horses.
Scott said: “This occasion is wonderful, because it brings a lot of people together, and it really is a team effort, from trainers, to staff, jockeys and owners.
“An event like this crystallises thoughts about how important everybody’s role is in racing. My award has been gained simply because we ran a lot of horses at tracks in the area, albeit we were narrowly beaten for the small trainers’ title [won by Nick Williams], but there is nothing like having runners at your local tracks.
“You are rewarded when you do, and the prize we have been given [the use of a box at Cheltenham] has blown me away. We were given an interim prize of a lunch table during The Festival, and had a blast that day, and now the box. We will enjoy it very much – now all we need is a first winner at The Festival, and we have some very nice young stores which give us hope.”
Nicholls also took the leading trainer title at The McCoys – backed by Barton Firtop Filtration and Beach Independent Financial Advisers – and when accepting the prize said: “We were lucky with the era of Kauto Star and Denman and then at The Festival last year Bryony Frost, the daughter of a great mate of mine, Jimmy Frost, won us the Foxhunter Chase on Pacha Du Polder.
“People talk about the trainer’s championship and how hard it will be to beat Nicky [Henderson] at a national level, but it is incredibly tough to win races in the South West.” Nicholls lost his champion trainer title to Henderson last season, despite a personal best 171 winners, although he did avail himself of a bet on the Lambourn trainer at the season’s start. He then told the audience of a similar flutter on Dan Skelton “at 33/1” for this year’s title – though he will be glad to lose the bet if he can regain his crown.
Nick Williams, who enjoyed a first success at The Festival when Flying Tiger won the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, took the trainers’ title for yards with fewer than 40 horses, but said his son Chester was unimpressed. “He wants Paul Nicholls’ award when he’s a trainer!” said Williams.
The final award, given for Outstanding Performance and backed by Roberts Limbrick, came down to a field of four, including jockey Andy Thornton, whose 1,000th winner came at Wincanton on Boxing Day, but it was given to former jockey Ollie McPhail, Lead Education Officer for Racing To School, the charity that uses the UK's racecourses, trainers' yards and studs to offer young people a unique learning experience.
During his time with Racing To School, McPhail has led over 1,000 events to offer young people a unique learning experience. He has worked with around 40,000 young people, giving the majority their first taste of the sport.
McPhail, who said his role includes taking schoolchildren’s class work into work-place situations, thanked Jockey Club Racecourses for creating The McCoys, and added: “I feel very privileged to do what I do, and to be given the chance of a second career in racing, but it is all down to the goodwill of people in the industry, from staff to owners, and racecourses to trainers. I am honoured to gain this award, but it is an industry effort.”
The McCoys are exciting new awards for owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff and horses running at Cheltenham and the three other Jockey Club Racecourses in the South West of England - Warwick, Wincanton and Exeter. The qualifying period for the inaugural awards was between September 20, 2016 and May 25, 2017 inclusive.
The awards are named the “The McCoys” after Sir A P McCoy, the recording-breaking 20-time champion Jump Jockey who retired from race riding in April, 2015.
The panel of judges for the McCoys comprised broadcaster and Cheltenham Racecourse Committee member Alice Plunkett, Regional Head of Racing Simon Claisse, Chris Cook, a racing journalist for The Guardian, and Sir A P McCoy.