03/11/2015 11:24AM

McCoy seeks third win in Cheltenham Gold Cup


CHELTENHAM, England – Perhaps it is fitting that jockey A P McCoy will ride his final Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday on a 9-year-old gelding named Carlingford Lough. Both started their careers in Ireland and are at the top of their games.

McCoy, 40, will retire at the end of the steeplechase season in late April, the date of his final ride yet to be confirmed. He is on course to win the British steeplechase jockey title for an unprecedented 20th consecutive year. He has won more than 4,300 races, an all-time record.

McCoy is so popular among steeplechase fans that all his mounts will be well backed at Cheltenham Racecourse on Friday, largely on a sentimental basis. More than 67,500 are expected – the event having sold out last week. While Carlingford Lough was the fifth choice at 10-1 on Wednesday in an 18-horse field for the $825,000 Gold Cup, he will be an immensely popular winner if successful over 3 5/16 miles and 22 fences.

McCoy has won the Gold Cup twice – with Mr Mulligan in 1997 and Synchronised in 2012.

There is even a race named in McCoy’s honor on Friday – the final race of the four-day meeting is the $135,000 A.P. McCoy Grand Annual Challenge Cup, a handicap chase at 2 1/16 miles. McCoy’s mount was not confirmed Wednesday, but he is expected to ride Ned Buntline.

The Gold Cup field is led by Silviniaco Conti, the 3-1 favorite who won the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park outside of London on Dec. 26. A 9-year-old gelding, Silviniaco Conti will be ridden by Noel Fehily for trainer Paul Nicholls. Fehily has never won the Gold Cup; Nicholls, Britain’s leading steeplechase trainer, has four career wins in the race, most recently in 2009 with Kauto Star.

This will be the third Gold Cup for Silviniaco Conti, who fell in 2013 in a race won by Bobs Worth and was fourth last year behind Lord Windermere.  Nicholls said on Wednesday that Silviniaco Conti was plagued by ulcers earlier in his career.

Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere are part of Friday’s field but are winless this season.

There is support for Holywell, who won a minor chase at Kelso Racecourse in Scotland on Feb. 12, his fifth career win in 10 steeplechases. Holywell won a handicap chase at this meeting last year and now races in tougher weight-for-age company.

Aside from Carlingford Lough, Ireland’s best chance lies with Road to Riches, who won consecutive Grade 1 races in the final months of 2014 – the Champion Chase at Down Royal in Northern Ireland in November and the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in December.

Dodging Bullets wins Queen Mother Champion Chase

Nicholls won Wednesday’s top race with Dodging Bullets (9-2) in the $525,000 Queen Mother Champion Chase at two miles.

Ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, Dodging Bullets was third for most of the race and moved into contention with three fences remaining, about a half-mile from the finish. He took the lead two fences from the wire and finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of 33-1 Somersby, who was 1 3/4 lengths in front of 18-1 Special Tiara in third.

Dodging Bullets was bred by the famous flat jockey Frankie Dettori, who attended the race.

“It was different for me,” Dettori said in the winner’s circle. “I’m usually on the animal. It was pretty nerve-wracking.”

Dodging Bullets, a 7-year-old gelding, races for a partnership led by Martin Broughton. The Champion Chase was the third consecutive win for Dodging Bullets, who won Grade 1 races at Sandown Park in December and Ascot in January. Nicholls said that Dodging Bullets has been fitted with a tongue tie for those races and has improved with maturity in the last year.

“He wouldn’t have handled that before,” Nicholls said of the tongue tie. “It’s all worked out.”

Two former winners of the race were well beaten. Sire de Grugy, the 2014 winner, finished fourth, while Sprinter Sacre, the winner in 2013, was pulled up in the stretch.

Sprinter Sacre was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat after failing to finish a race in December 2013. He returned to racing in January of this year, finishing second to Dodging Bullets. Trainer Nicky Henderson said after Wednesday’s race that Sprinter Sacre would undergo tests to see if he bled. He stopped short of saying Sprinter Sacre would be retired.

“His heart is fine,” Henderson said. “It’s disappointing, of course. We took a massive step backward today.”