Friday, March 23, 2012
A Beautiful Friendship
By Stephen Dwyer
An early departure could so easily have happened. Barely thirty seconds into this year’s Gold Cup, What A Friend met the second fence on a wrong stride and fell. Upsides him was Synchronised, Tony McCoy was blessed not to be brought down as What A Friend tumbled on landing. McCoy then quickened away from the fallen horse, his luck was in. On the first circuit, Synchronised ran along the rail near the rear guard. Efforts to settle him proved in vain and several times he was out of camera shot such was his distance from the main protagonists.
Half a mile later, McCoy was visibly hard at work on Synchronised when Ruby Walsh pulled up Kauto Star whose departure met with sincere applause from the 70,458 in attendance. Nine 12-year-olds have been placed in Gold Cups but not this year and it remains to be seen if we have seen the last of the great horse. After the Gold Cup Ruby Walsh admitted that McCoy noticed that Kauto was not travelling well had said to him mid-race; “If I were you I’d pull him up”, it was a measured call and the right decision.
As Kauto Star made his way back to the grandstand, McCoy was still niggling his horse along. He would touch 25/1 in-running during the race and several times it looked like his chance was lost. It seemed a tough day at the office for the Champion Jockey. Synchronised is not the most natural jumper in the world but McCoy made his mind up for him at several fences. Every time he was not fluent over a fence, his jockey would push and encourage him further. Turning for home, Synchronised was last of the chasing pack. Long Run was niggled by Sam Waley-Cohen and McCoy was several lengths off the pace. It was only at the last fence that a fully extended jump gained ground and he quickened on landing. Synchronised stayed on well, ears pricked, and won going away from The Giant Bolster and Long Run.
Surprisingly, Synchronised had run only once over fences this season prior to The Gold Cup. He beat the well-touted Quito De La Roque and Rubi Light in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and was expected to travel well in this year’s renewal of The Gold Cup. Prior to winning The Lexus he had started at 25/1 and 50/1 in two Handicap Hurdles. If not a brilliant jumper, Synchronised is a magnificent stayer. He won the Midlands National over 4m 1f and is a dual winner of the Welsh National over 3m 5f.
Speaking with McCoy afterwards he admitted; “Synchronised is all heart and he’s all will to win and I felt coming round the turn that nobody was going to come home better than him. This sounds like a crazy thing to say about a Gold Cup horse but he’s not really a chaser. He hasn’t got the physique but he won purely because of the size of his heart and by Jonjo producing him to win.”
It was a first Gold Cup victory for JP McManus and his 36th Cheltenham win to date. JP didn’t back Synchronised but he knew his horse would see out the distance; “When he jumped the third last I began to think he had a good chance. I knew he’d stay very well and in the Gold Cup you have to get that trip. That’s the one thing you have to do, otherwise you don’t win it.”
JP was quick to praise McCoy. He was simply sensational aboard Synchronised, he used all of his experience and gritty resolve to win the race. He attacked the fences in contrast to Sam Waley-Cohen who you feel did not extract the best from Long Run. Instead of confidence trickling down to the horse, Waley-Cohen regressed into an uneasy rhythm. Remember that when Mr. Mulligan won the Gold Cup with McCoy on board in 1997, Sam-Waley Cohen was barely fifteen years old, that is the depth of the gulf in class. Waley-Cohen was also banned for two days for his third-placed ride on Long Run Cup after the stewards found he had used his whip above the permitted level. There is more to come from Long Run but the day rightly belonged to Synchronised who is the 8/1 favourite for the Aintree Grand National. He is gamely bidding to become the first horse since Golden Miller in 1934 to win the Gold Cup and The Aintree Grand National in the same season.
There was a final twist in the story too, the Dam of Synchronised is Mayasta who was also owned by JP McManus. Mayasta, trained by Francis Berry for JP was the winner of nine races under rules. In a Handicap Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival back in 1996, Mayasta became the first winner that Tony McCoy rode for McManus. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.