James Lawton: Binocular reveals the tunnel-vision of Tony McCoy
If Binocular was the horse that maybe should have been named Lazarus, what was the man on his back, A.P. McCoy?
You might have thought there could be no fresh defining of the rider who so long ago announced himself as the greatest jump jockey of them all.
But then you knew you were wrong when the man from County Antrim delivered yesterday's brilliant Champion Hurdle winner with a ride that might have come straight from the equine heavens.
It was a performance so beautiful it might have been sculpted. It was so efficient it could have been the work of a computer.
Binocular ran through all the layers of doubt that filled the valley with a wonderful rhythmic stride and that turn of hoof which is always the mark of exceptional champions. But no less phenomenal was the masterful handling of McCoy.
It left Jonjo O'Neill, who once filled this valley with a similar awe with his epic Gold Cup ride on Dawn Run in 1986, shaking his head in wonderment.
Earlier, in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle McCoy had ridden the O'Neill-trained Get Me Out of Here to its absolute limits before surrendering to Richard Johnson on Menorah.
On Binocular, though, there was never the faintest gust of concern about the outcome. O'Neill said: “AP couldn't win on Get Me Out of Here because the horse wasn't quite good enough. But in the Champion Hurdle we saw something like a perfect marriage, a champion travelling well all the time and a jockey who rode the perfect race.
“Now I know it sounds ridiculous, that it shouldn't really be possible, but I actually believe he is getting better. How can he do that after all these years?
“Because he still wants it more than anyone, and is still prepared to do everything he has to do to get the right results. He is a genius — and he is also inexhaustible.”
McCoy's need to win has, of course, been documented in plenty of detail since he arrived to claim a British jockey licence and unparalleled success 14 years ago.
We know about the absorption of a whole catalogue of injuries. We know of his willingness to go into a cold chamber at temperatures down below minus 100degrees centigrade to fight injury and perform at this ultimate test of National Hunt riders, an ordeal that in recent years has provided relatively mean pickings for a man with more than 3,000 victories.
Yesterday, though, he was again the king of the valley.
He had a brief conversation with his most formidable Cheltenham rival, Ruby Walsh, coming down the hill before the final push to the line.
“I said to Ruby, ‘how am I going?' and he replied that Khyber Kim was cantering behind but (I should) send Binocular on. It's hard to win at The Festival. I don't think in recent years I have as torrid a time as everybody thinks. But winning this is everything. I think finally the real Binocular showed up. Today when I jumped two hurdles it was though I was riding the horse for the first time, really riding.
“I'm so happy that the horse has done this because I have always thought, ‘everybody is knocking him’ but I know something is stopping the real Binocular being as good as he can be. I was just so hoping everything would come right and when it did it was a better feeling than I have ever had on a horse.”
That seemed pretty much another triumph for McCoy's mind — and spirit — over a body that has rarely given such evidence of the demands made upon it so relentlessly.
He came into the winning enclosure with his arm upraised but as soon as he stepped down he reached for a bottle of water from a member of a broadcasting crew.
Plainly dehydrated, he was suffering still another levy on the obsession for winning that last weekend at Sandown persuaded him to ride Qaspal to victory in the Imperial Cup at his lowest weight in years, 10stone 3lbs, three lbs less than his normal weight.
“He sits in a bath for hours, boiling off an ounce or two. It is something he accepts as part of his life” said one admirer. “What the price of winning, he is prepared to pay it.”
It used to be said that Lester Piggott survived on Havana cigars and the driest champagne.
Yesterday, though, Tony McCoy was happy enough with his bottle of water.
“The great thing is to win,” he declared. “You know I'm not as miserable as you think I am. Sometimes you get despondent when a horse isn't showing his best, and then something like this happens and everything makes sense.”
To AP McCoy, that is. It is the logic of a man who has still to set a limit on his desire to win.