Cheltenham Gold Cup: AP McCoy reigns as Kauto Star pulled up
As one great racing champion exited the main stage, another showed why he is revered as the best of his generation.
The record-breaking racehorse Kauto Star earned the rare plaudit of being applauded when being pulled up as the chance of a fairytale third Cheltenham Gold Cup ended.
Meanwhile, 16-time champion jockey AP McCoy plotted a route on his mount Synchronised that ultimately led to the rider's first victory for 15 years in jump racing's showpiece event.
He coaxed and cajoled his 8-1 chance, who stayed on gallantly up the demanding hill to deny 50-1 outsider The Giant Bolster by two-and-a-quarter lengths, with defending champion Long Run (the 7-4 favourite) third.
It was a first Gold Cup win as a trainer for Jonjo O'Neill, whose stables are just 15 miles from the course, and the first time the green and gold silks of owner JP McManus had been carried to victory in the feature race.
LAST FIVE GOLD CUP WINNERS
2011 Long Run
2010 Imperial Commander
2009 Kauto Star
McCoy has set new landmarks in the sport, during a career which has reaped more than 3,000 winners, but he had not won the Gold Cup since his triumph on Mr Mulligan in 1997.
"I was niggling, slapping and cajoling him all the way round and I was just trying to keep going and keep in touch," said the 37-year-old, who keenly clenched both fists in triumph as he entered the winners' enclosure.
"Like everyone you want to win the big races more than you do. I live in the future, not the past and time moves on and the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of our sport.
"When you come on the day you believe, you have to be a dreamer."
The dream ended for Kauto Star just before the 10th fence after he pulled a muscle and was pulled up by McCoy's great friend and rival Ruby Walsh.
"I knew Kauto was not going well and knew Ruby would pull him up," said Northern Irishman McCoy. "He's been such a great horse for the game and Ruby wasn't going to take any risks."
It was a moment that could have been greeted with groans, but the 70,000 crowd showed their appreciation for the dual Gold Cup and five-time King George VI Chase winner for whom retirement moves closer.
"He has nothing to prove to me, and he doesn't need to go on and on," said owner Clive Smith, with tears in his eyes.
While much of the pre-race focus centred on Kauto Star and Long Run, it looked at one stage that The Great Bolster, also trained in Gloucestershire by David Bridgwater, might spring a surprise.
That was without counting on a man who despises being beaten, and a horse that demonstrated a similarly stubborn refusal to bend.
"The two of them will keep finding more and more. They're made for each other," said O'Neill, who completed the unique Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double on Dawn Run as a jockey in the 1980s.
Owner JP McManus, jump racing's biggest patron, has been coming to the Cheltenham Festival for 40 years and said his first Gold Cup win "meant the world" to him.
"I thought we had a chance. Every day he was improving and I was getting more and more confident," said multi-millionaire McManus, who owns more than 100 horses but says he does not know the exact number.
Synchronised trainer Jonjo O'Neill
“The two of them will keep finding more and more. They're made for each other”
McCoy is not good company when he loses and had come into the fourth day of the Cheltenham Festival without a victory.
He had to wait until the 22nd race to get off the mark, on the McManus-owned Alderwood, before completing a double with Synchronised.
"He has been having a bad week and this will mean the whole world to him. It's been all picture and no sound in our house up to now," his wife Chanelle told BBC Sport.
"He gave the horse an amazing ride as he had to encourage him all the way along - to connect with him, keep him interested and get him jumping.
"Because it wasn't just an easy win, it will be all the sweeter for him. He really has proved that he is the best rider out there."
Synchronised is a former Welsh National winner who claimed the Lexus Chase in Ireland last time out. He might not quite have the style and class of Kauto Star but he showed the iron will that so typifies his jockey.
"He's probably a bit like myself - he's not a looker, but he has more heart than any horse I've sat on," said McCoy.