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Brilliant AP has always been big box office success

By Jon Freeman

This is it. No ifs or buts or maybes this time - win or lose, Tony McCoy will be retiring after his two rides at Sandown's jumps season finale today, bowing out as champion jockey for the 20th year in a row and taking the silver trophy home for keeps.

First he will ride Mr Mole in the AP McCoy Celebration Chase, the race named in his honour, and then take his final curtain call in the handicap hurdle on the appropriately named Box Office, in front of a sell-out 18,000 crowd.

Mr Mole, with his history of anti-social behaviour, is not exactly the ideal partner to invite to such an important party. He used to be called quirky - racing's polite way of saying he is not to be trusted - and one wonders whether he will have the good manners and sense of occasion to behave himself on a day that really matters.

To be fair, this season he has looked a reformed character, three increasingly impressive wins elevating him into the best company, but even then he was reluctant to start in one race and he seemed to find it all too much of a bother when tailed off in the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

If there is to be one last hurrah in this race for an old warrior coming to the end of his career, but still capable of delivering the goods, it may be for Somersby (3.15 Sandown), a veteran McCoy has ridden in the past, but now partnered by his fellow Ulsterman Brian Hughes.

Somersby has never become the champion he promised to be, but invariably brings his 'A' game to the big occasions. He has won once and finished second three times on his four starts at Sandown and has also been runner-up in the last two Champion Chases.

If Sprinter Sacre were back to his best, he would eat both Somersby and even a well-behaved Mr Mole for breakfast and become a second wonderful story of the day, but based on the evidence of his poor Cheltenham showing, he is nothing like the horse he was and probably never will be again.

So if Mr Mole has the sulks, can Box Office complete the fairytale ending or is a bet on this young hurdler, also carrying the green and gold colours of McCoy's employer and friend JP McManus, merely sentimental?

In fact, Box Office (4.25 Sandown), twice a winner in France, has run with considerable promise on three starts for Jonjo O'Neill and should appreciate this step up in distance.

Box Office's race, the Bet365 Handicap Hurdle, was originally the final contest on the card but was brought forward to enable Channel 4 to broadcast live McCoy's last ever race.

After that McCoy gets to keep the champion jockey trophy to mark his 20 successive titles, while Arsenal legend Ian Wright will also make a special presentation to the Gunners fan.

Normally, the Bet365 Gold Cup would take centre stage.

It is still a cracking contest, even without McCoy riding in it, and a great chance for Newmarket trainer Lucy Wadham to win the most prestigious prize of her career with Le Reve (3.50 Sandown) and have 10 minutes in the limelight before McCoy mania resumes.

Sandown seems to bring the best out of Le Reve and Wadham has resisted the temptation to run her stable star at the spring festivals, waiting instead for the race that looks tailor-made for him.

The 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Ulster-bred Bobs Worth, much like his stablemate Sprinter Sacre, is an old champion in need of an old spark, while smart hunter chaser Paint The Clouds has a lot going for him.

Vics Canvas is an interesting outsider from Ireland. He didn't jump a fence in public until he was 11, but has made his presence felt in these competitive staying chases, bolting up in the Cork National before finishing a close third in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.

These tricky Sandown fences will test him, but the booking of Ruby Walsh catches the eye and, after all, this is a day for old-timers.

Belfast Telegraph


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