Tony McCoy times it right: Cheltenham inspections can't stop him scoring on chaser

Can't Buy Time showed why his trainer Jonjo O’Neill and jockey Tony McCoy were so keen for Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture to survive by forging through the field to win the feature £50,000 Handicap Chase.

The confident manner with which the 8-1 shot strode clear after the final fence to hold off Private Be by two and a quarter lengths sharply contrasted with nervous moments earlier as the survival of the meeting rested on a knife edge.

McCoy, Henderson and Geraghty

Three wise men: McCoy, Henderson and Geraghty walk the course at Cheltenham

The card had overcome two earlier inspections, but a further look was needed after Nicky Henderson’s Radium won the opening handicap hurdle under Barry Geraghty with a significant proportion of the members of the weighing room voicing concern about the frosty conditions creating inconsistent ground.

Although frost covers had offered overnight protection, temperatures had dropped to minus seven by 9.30am, handing staff a dilemma. Their decision to press on ultimately paid off with a record crowd estimated at over 30,000 showing few had been put off by the uncertainty.


...And McCoy later rides to victory on Can't Buy Time

And, although there was one fatality - Hold Em fracturing his off-fore knee when brought down in Can’t Buy Time’s race - the circumstances were unrelated to the conditions.

But it was a close-run thing. There were 30 non-runners from the 86 originally declared and racing was only allowed to continue after a 35-minute delay. Significantly, McCoy was in the vanguard of the pro-racing lobby, who were consulted by the stewards.

The champion jockey said: ‘I think it is safe but there are a lot of different opinions. If you have a horse which is highly regarded, you are going to take a cautious route but if this was Folkestone or Plumpton, we’d definitely be racing.’

Can’t Buy Time, who had been racing over further, will be one of the horses that McCoy will choose from for his mount in the Grand National in April. His mount earned quotes of 25-1 from Victor Chandler - not particularly generous considering he was a 33-1 faller in the race last season.

O’Neill said: ‘We never had him down as a two-and-a-half mile horse but AP felt he had plenty of pace and said to drop him back in trip. He’ll probably have another go at the National, although AP is not convinced about the trip (over four and a half miles).’

The mass withdrawal did scupper the Dipper Novices’ Chase as a competitive race with Knockara Beau, Punchestowns and Bensalem all pulled out. That left David Pipe’s Seven Is My Number and Timmy Murphy to hand a jumping lesson to sole rival Pigeon Island.

The eight-year-old, who carries the colours of David Johnson, is now 16-1 for the RSA Chase. Where Punchestowns runs en route to that target is an unresolved problem for Henderson, who went on to complete a 75-1 treble after Radium’s win with Sentry Duty and Tetlami.

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