03/12/2015 11:20AM

Uxizandre, McCoy team up to win Ryanair Chase


CHELTENHAM, England - He needed 13 tries, but champion jockey A.P. McCoy scored his first winner of this week’s Cheltenham Festival when Uxizandre led throughout Thursday’s $470,250 Ryanair Chase at 2 1/2 miles at Cheltenham Racecourse.

McCoy, the 19-time champion steeplechase jockey who is retiring next month, was winless on the first two days on Tuesday and Wednesday of the four-day festival for hurdlers and chasers, and with his first two mounts on Thursday.

Uxizandre (16-1) was allowed to set his own pace for the first two miles of the Ryanair Chase. With three fences remaining, he was challenged by the 5-1 shot Ma Filleule, the only mare in the field of 14. Uxizandre quickly repelled the threat and pulled clear through the uphill finish to win by five lengths over Ma Filleule, who finished three-quarters of a length in front of 5-2 favorite Don Cossack.

“I was a bit worried about his stamina and whether he would see out today’s trip, but he jumped fantastically and was always going forward, which got a lot of the others in trouble,” McCoy said.

McCoy was warmly received from the crowd as he guided Uxizandre down a lengthy path in front of the stands toward the winner’s circle. He later spoke about the excitement of riding Uxizandre and how his career is winding down.

“The thrill this horse gave me – I will miss riding a horse like this that run away with you all the way and jump like stags,” he said. “It has to happen at some point, so it’s a bit sad, but we will worry about it this time next year.”

On Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup program, the final day of the festival, McCoy has five mounts, including Carlingford Lough in the Gold Cup.

Uxizandre, a 7-year-old French-bred gelding by Fragrant Mix, races for J.P. McManus and trainer Alan King. Uxizandre has won 7 of 17 starts. The Ryanair Chase was his biggest win, and an opposite result from his last start when he unseated jockey Barry Geraghty at the final fence when beaten in  in a chase at 2 1/8 miles at Newbury Racecourse on Feb. 7.

McCoy, 40, has not announced the date of his retirement. Uxizandre was his 31st winner at the Cheltenham Festival and the 4,336th of his career.

* Thursday was a day for frontrunners in major races.

Cole Harden (14-1) set a comfortable pace and won the biggest race of his career in the $450,000 Ladbrokes World Hurdle at three miles.

Cole Harden, ridden by Gavin Sheehan for trainer Warren Greatrex, led by four lengths after the first of two circuits. He was in front by three lengths at the last hurdle, and held off a mild threat from 5-1 favorite Saphir Du Rheu to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Zarkandar was third, 6 1/2 lengths behind Cole Harden.

Cole Harden, a 6-year-old gelding by Westerner, ended a three-race losing streak in the World Hurdle, the sixth win in his 13-race career.

Earlier in the program, Vautour (6-4 favorite) led throughout the $180,000 JLT Novices’ Steeplechase to earn a place in the future-book for the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup at odds of 6-1. Vautour, ridden by Ruby Walsh for trainer Willie Mullins, won by 15 lengths for his eighth win in 11 starts.

The 6-year-old Vautour races for American-born Rich Ricci, and his wife Susannah. Rich Ricci is a former investment banker in London.