The McCoys, The Jockey Club awards which recognise excellence in Jump Racing, were presented for the third time at Cheltenham Racecourse recently and saw legendary jockey Ruby Walsh honoured with the Outstanding Contribution Award. Walsh decided to call it a time on his star studded career on May 1st of this year. He had ridden a total of 2,756 wins in Britain and Ireland, a record 59 winners at the Cheltenham Festival and also had two Grand National victories to his name.
On receiving the ward, the 40-year-old Irishman said: “Cheltenham is a special place, it’s like Wembley or Twickenham. It was an incredible place before I ever rode here, and it will still be an incredible place now I have finished riding.
“I was lucky to have the success I had and never thought I would have it. It is a special night here at Cheltenham with A P’s name to it and he is on the deciding panel as to who wins what.
“He carries a fair bit of weight in this game. I missed riding against him when he stopped riding and he sent me a nice message to me tonight. He was so dedicated in what he did and the commitments he was prepared to make. He raised the bar for all of us – he set the standards we had to go and try and achieve. To me, that is more than his 20 championships. I enjoyed every day riding for what it was. It is a professional sport and I set out to try and achieve the best I could. That is just the way I was.”
Fehily the Judges’ Choice
Another jockey who retired in 2019 is Noel Fehily, who announced his intention to hang up his boots after partnering Eglantine Du Seuil to victory in the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He ended up with a total of 1,352 winners in total and was presented with the Judges Choice Award.
Fehily said: “It is great just watching back some of the memories I have around here. Any winner you have at Cheltenham is special, whether at the Festival or any other meeting. To win this award is fantastic.
“I have had a great career and it was the perfect ending. It is very difficult to say what my best race was, I enjoyed every one of them so much. Rock On Ruby (winner of the 2012 Champion Hurdle) was special as I rode him all the time and schooled him. Buveur D’Air – I was associated with him in his bumper and novice hurdle days and then won the Champion Hurdle (2017) on him, while I was also associated with Silviniaco Conti in his younger days as well as later on.”
Frodon’s Partner Frost Back in Winners’ Enclosure
There is no doubt that the horse and jockey combination that lit up the 2018/19 season was that Frodon and Bryony Frost. The duo won four of their five starts together, culminating with a thrilling raise-roofing success in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Frost picked up the McCoy for Leading Conditional Jockey and said: “It is mad to think that when I walked into Ditcheat I was nobody and didn’t really know what I was doing. Paul (Nicholls) gave me a massive opportunity. For the owners to let me ride their horses and for Clifford (Baker) to teach me and have the support of my family over the last two seasons has been amazing – it is unbelievable I am up here tonight.
“I managed to drag my parents away from Devonand get them here this evening – it was quite difficult, but they have come! I managed to have all my family here when Frodon won at the Festival. That doesn’t normally happen and made the day even more special, it was like a fairy tale would be written.
“Coming here tonight brings back all the winners you have had here. Cheltenham is the stage where the biggest battles happen and where the bravest horses win. To say you have had victories here is mega and gives you goose bumps on your skin. I get goose bumps just when I think back about Frodon.
Nicholls Lands Leading Trainer Honour
There was also an award for Frodon’s trainer Paul Nicholls, who took the McCoy for Leading Trainer.
The Ditcheat handler said: “The McCoys are getting better and better. Everyone is here and it is a brilliant night. It is almost a prelude to the new season, and it is also good to look back at last season. “It was a fantastic year and to look back tonight at those horses winning big races is amazing. Frodon and Clan Des Obeaux really stepped up to the mark as you might not have thought they would achieve what they did.
“Cheltenham is a special place and you just know the buzz here. I always think the Jump season starts properly in two weeks’ time at Chepstow. I think we are all looking forward to some rain and really getting going.
“I can’t wait for the new season. We have a lot of nice horses and they are well forward. We won’t be in a massive hurry and will just do what we do.”
Awesome Altior Crowned Leading Chaser
The outstanding horse of his or any generation is Altior, who maintained his unbeaten record over obstacles and went into the record books as he took his unbeaten stretch to 19 races in the Grade 1 Celebration Chase at Sandown back in April.
That was his 1Oth success at Grade 1 level and he is a four-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival. The Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old, who has won the last two renewals of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, took the McCoy for Leading Chaser.
Altior’s jockey Nico de Boinville said: “It is great to get so many people under one roof tonight and to have a party before it all kicks off. Everyone thinks they have got the next champion coming along and all their horses are in great form. It is great as everyone is in good spirits and nobody is disappointed.”
He added: “Altior’s achievements and longevity are testament to the team at Seven Barrows and the boss. It is hard enough to keep these horses sound, let alone to keep bringing them back and back and back. We are just incredibly fortunate to have a horse like him.”
There was a further honour for de Boinville as he picked up the McCoy for Ride of The Season Sponsored By Natural Green for his winning ride on William Henry in the Coral Cup at The Festival.
Tiger Roll a Winner Again
Another horse with amazing achievements is Tiger Roll became the first horse since Red Rum to win the £1-million Randox Health Grand National in back-to-back years when scoring in the world’s greatest
The remarkable nine-year-old, who is also a four-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival, was awarded the McCoy for Horse Performance of the Season.
On accepting the award, Tiger Roll’s trainer Gordon Elliott said: “Tiger Roll is the horse of a lifetime. He has won two Grand Nationals and won four times at The Festival, giving Lisa O’Neill and Keith Donoghue their first Festival winners. He has been a very special horse.
“We are very, very lucky to be training him. Whatever he does from now is going to be a bonus and you just have to pinch yourself every day. He gets so many letters and fan mail. We try and reply to everyone but if he met everyone who writes to him, he would be busy every day of the week.
“I put pressure on myself all year to come to Cheltenham and it is the one place to be in March.”
Leading Owner McManus Dreaming of More Cheltenham Glory
J P McManus, the most successful owner ever at the Cheltenham Festival, was awarded the McCoy for Leading Owner.
Defi Du Seuil, owned by McManus and the winner of the JLT Novices Chase at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, was awarded the McCoy for Leading Novice Chaser.
McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry said: “J P McManus really appreciates these awards and loves having winners at Cheltenham.
“From February onwards, it is all about Cheltenham. We chat every night about it and he gets very excited.
“Defi Du Seuil and Champ are ones to look forward to this season and Buveur D’Air is back in good form, so we will be looking forward to seeing him again. He didn’t get too far in the Champion Hurdle last season but still retains a lot of his ability and will be competitive.”
Richard Johnson Secures Top Jockey Honour
The McCoy for Leading Professional Jockey went to Richard Johnson, who was Champion Jump Jockey for the fourth time in 2018/19.
Johnson said: “We all love riding winners at Cheltenham and obviously the Festival itself is the biggest four days of the year for us. It is always a nice place to be and I have had some fantastic days here already – I am hoping there are more to come.
“I think I have lots of nice horses to ride this season. I still think Native River (the 2018 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup winner) has got some big days in him and I know the Tizzards are very happy with him. Thomas Darby ran well here in the spring and will go chasing. Philip (Hobbs) has got a huge amount of talent down with him. Obviously, if Barry (Geraghty) is not available I would love to get my leg over Defi Du Seuil again!”