• Synchronised triumphs under never-say-die ride
• Favourite Long Run finishes back in third
Tony McCoy, jump racing’s most famous son, triumphed aboard 8-1 chance Synchronised as former champions Kauto Star pulled-up and Long Run finished third in a dramatic Betfred Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Hopes that Kauto Star might deliver an incredible third success in the race were dashed early on. He lost his position from an early stage and was pulled up by Ruby Walsh before the runners had even completed a circuit of the contest.
Favourite Long Run held every chance at the final fence, but was simply unable to match the determined finish of the winner, who didn’t always jump with aplomb but stayed on determinedly to overhaul the leaders having turned for home back in sixth place.
The Giant Bolster, belying his 50-1 odds, finished a brilliant second, two and a quarter lengths behind the winner with Long Run a further three-quarters of a length back third.
A year ago this week the pint-sized Synchronised was running over four and quarter miles in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter, finishing a laboured third of the four finishers.
But this season has seen a revolution in the form of the JP McManus-owned horse, who took some notable scalps in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on his latest start.
He had been under consideration for the Irish Hennessy last month, but the decision was taken to wait for Cheltenham.
“A big, big team effort has gone into this horse at home,” said trainer Jonjo O’Neill, who himself won the Gold Cup as a jockey aboard Dawn Run in 1986. “He came home and he just wasn’t right and took a long time to recover. I can’t tell you everything, because I’ll give all my secrets away, but he wasn’t right.”
McCoy, whose only previous success in the race came 15 years ago aboard Mr Mulligan, showed his delight as he punched the air all the way back to the winner’s enclosure.
“It was always going to be the case that he might get a bit outpaced and might get into a bit of trouble, but he’s got so much heart,” he said. “Whatever he’s got in class, he’s got so much more in heart. Like me, he’s not a looker, but he’s got more will to win than any other horse I’ve sat on.
“It’s the big races like these that everyone wants to win and I’ve been lucky enough to do it now for JP in this race, the Champion Hurdle and the Grand National. Jonjo was happy and confident and I knew he’d run a big race. People give Jonjo a bit of stick and think that it’s a closed shop at Jackdaws Castle but he’s come here with a few and won three races now this week and I don’t think he gets the recognition he deserves.”
David Bridgwater, trainer of the runner-up, was also celebrating the performance of his charge.
“I’ve put my cock on the block with this horse this season and I told everyone I knew he was good enough to run a big race,” he said.
An unprecedented round of applause had broken out in the stands as Walsh dropped Kauto Star out of the race and trotted him back to the unsaddling area, before watching the climax of the race on the adjacent big screen.
Owner Clive Smith said that there would be no immediate decision over the future of Kauto Star, although he made it clear that he was pleased with the decision of Walsh to pull the horse up rather than persevere.
It was only an hour earlier that McCoy had belatedly broke his duck for the Festival when forcing 20-1 chance Alderwood home in the County Hurdle.
The champion survived interference on the final bend which nearly brought his mount down, gathered the winner together and brought him back to challenge and defeat Edgardo Sol by three-quarters of a length.
Winning trainer Tom Mullins was celebrating his first Festival victory.
“We’ve had a few chances over the years, but I was beginning to think I’d never be able to match Willie (his brother) and my father (Paddy) so this is just brilliant,” he said.
Northern stables have traditionally struggled at the Festival in recent years, but Countrywide Flame supplemented the Coral Cup success earlier this week of the Malcolm Jefferson-trained Cape Tribulation.
An unconsidered 33-1 chance, Countrywide Flame came from a long way off the pace to win the JCB Triumph Hurdle. One of the first to be asked a question by jockey Dougie Costello, he ate up the ground in the closing stages and won going away, beating Hisaabaat by three lengths.
“I expected him to run a good race as he’s never run a poor race over hurdles yet, but I didn’t think he would win,” said Quinn.
“He’s very tough and hardy and stuck at it really well. He’s not very big, and got buffeted about, but he jumped brilliantly.
“I’m delighted to have another winner for the north, I was delighted for Malcolm (Jefferson) on Thursday and I’m delighted for myself today. He’ll go to Aintree now.”
Lucinda Russell became the first Scottish trainer to taste victory at the meeting for 10 years when Brindisi Breeze delivered a high-class performance to floor well-backed favourite Boston Bob.
It was jumping which won the day for the 7-1 chance, as he met every hurdle on the perfect stride, repeatedly taking ground out of his rivals.
Despite showing far less fluency, Boston Bob looked as if he might peg back the leader on the run to the final flight, but another flying leap under Campbell Gillies sealed success for Brindisi Breeze.
“I was getting ready for people to can Campbell for going too soon, but they just kept jumping and galloping and he’s such a genuine horse,” said Russell, whose partner Peter Scudamore is far more familiar with Cheltenham Festival glory from his days in the saddle.
“He’s a real athlete. He had his ears pricked the whole way round.”