Best Mate and Tony McCoy returned to a hero’s welcome after winning the Pertemps King George V1 Chase in front of a massive Boxing Day crowd at Kempton.
McCoy, who had earlier broken his own record for the fastest 200 winners in a season on Lord Sam, stood high in his stirrups, punched the air and on dismounting declared: “This horse will not need to improve to win a second Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
“If he does improve on this I think I’ll have to kidnap his regular jockey Jim Culloty!” he added with a laugh. “No, seriously, Jim has done a lot for Best Mate and it’s his ride.”
McCoy had finished second on Best Mate behind Florida Pearl in last year’s King George and returned afterwards to say he would have won if he’d ridden the horse before.
This time he called on his mount’s stamina and Best Mate responded with a compelling show of class and guts in rain-soaked ground which made the Sunbury course no place for faint hearts.
Best Mate was brilliant over the final three fences and as the Nicky Henderson-trained pair Marlborough and Bacchanal attacked him all the way up the home straight there was never a moment when he was going to be thwarted.
He battled away for a determined one and a half-length triumph over Marlborough with Bacchanal four lengths back in third.
Bookmakers reacted by making Best Mate around 2-1 favourite to win his second Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. McCoy added: “He is getting very professional and is the model racehorse.”
Trainer Henrietta Knight was absent at Wincanton where she saddled Edredon Bleu to win the big race at the Somerset track. Her husband former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe had spoken to Hen on the mobile “several times” in the first few minutes of post-race euphoria.
The superstitious Ms Knight hardly ever watches her horses in action, particularly the stars, and the incorrigible Biddlecombe roared: “I’m not sure how much of the race Hen saw, but she says she saw me on the winners’ rostrum with myarm round a pretty promotional girl!”
He went on: “Hen has done a wonderful job with Best Mate, putting so much work into the horse and looked after him so well. You won’t see Best Mate now until the Gold Cup. This was only his ninthchase and we won’t burn him out, we want him to last for two or three more seasons.”