Beautiful weather and a summer atmosphere brought the National Hunt season to a glorious end at Sandown this weekend, and a photo finish in the Betfred Gold Cup reaffirmed Martin Pipe’s dominance in his rivalry with Paul Nicholls.
April showers and the waterlogged ground that had been responsible for many cancellations of race meetings in the previous weeks were a million miles away as punters’ demands for Pimms and strawberries were met with brusque reminders that this was a racetrack and not a polo field.
The Sandown Betfred Gold Cup (formerly the Whitbread Gold Cup) has long been considered the grand finale of the jump-racing season, and it was a spectacular event this year, with two relative outsiders battling it out in a furious finish.
Scotmail Boy, who had shortened incredibly to 6-1 joint favourite, set the early pace, with eventual winner Puntal (25-1) sitting tight behind him. Puntal gradually out-jumped the older horse, and with a challenge from King’s Mistral at the railway fences, battled on to reassert himself two out. Jockey Christian Williams shook up his mount, the Paul Nicholls-trained Royal Auclair, to chase the Martin Pipe-trained Puntal up the hill to the finish, but was beaten by the shortest possible margin, resulting in a photo finish.
Joint favourite Shardam failed to make the pace, and came in a lowly 13th, while Pipe’s main hope Stormez unseated Tony McCoy at the third fence. Montayral found the trip just too tough in this field, but held on to beat King’s Mistral into third place. Rule Supreme’s inconsistent jumping made his fifth place a good effort, and both Haut Cercy and Scotmail Boy were pulled up with leg injuries.
The trainers’ championship had been decided earlier in the afternoon, when Tony McCoy clinched victory for Pipe as he rode Korelo to a brave finish in the opening hurdle race. He left his greatest rival in second place, but Paul Nicholls was well over the £2million mark, and it was one of the most closely battled seasons in recent years.
It was a clean sweep for the Pipe stables, with Jamie Moore taking the conditional jockeys’ award and Tony McCoy (pictured) notching up his ninth jockeys’ championship. He rode 209 winners this season, the highlight of which was his 2,000th winner at Wincanton in January, making him the most successful jump jockey of all time.
Saturday was brought to a light-hearted conclusion in the final race of the day, the Betfred “The Bonus King” Flat v Jump Jockeys Handicap. Tony McCoy crowned his season with a decisive win on Lifted Way, leading the jump jockeys as they proved their versatility in this 1m14y flat race. The steeplechasers took first, second and fourth places, leaving leading flat jockey Kieren Fallon a good 15 lengths behind at the rear of the pack.