Jonjo O’Neill and Tony McCoy’s powers of persuasion ultimately ensured Albertas Run was able to successfully defend his title in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
The 10-year-old had impressed in the same race 12 months ago, but a heavy fall at Ascot and a no-show in the King George meant the gelding was on a recovery mission on his Prestbury Park return.
Owner Trevor Hemmings had been keen on a tilt at glory in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup in the weeks leading up to the Festival, and he was even a declared runner for the blue riband at the final 48-hour stage.
But O’Neill managed to convince the Grand National-winning owner otherwise and this was the number one target.
Always travelling strongly in the hands of champion jockey McCoy, Albertas Run (6-1) set sail for home heading down the hill for the final time.
The likes of J’y Vole and Rubi Light were waiting in the wings to challenge, while favourite Poquelin and the patiently-ridden Kalahari King took closer order heading towards the final fence.
It was the latter who came from out of the chasing pack to throw down the most sustained challenge on the run to the line, but McCoy and his willing partner found plenty to hold on by a length, narrowly avoiding a protester who ran on the track in the process.
“He’s done brilliant to come back from that fall earlier in the season, but Jonjo has done a lot of work with him and AP (McCoy) told me he would win this race if we ran him,” Hemmings said.
“You can’t say anything when a man like AP tells you that, so I thought I’d put him to the test.
“I love Cheltenham very much. There are a lot of good tracks in the north, but coming here is something different. This is the peak of all racing and it’s marvellous.”
It was the second winner of the day and the Festival for McCoy following his earlier triumph on board Noble Prince in the Jewson Novices’ Chase.
“I’m beginning to feel like Ruby Walsh having ridden two winners here,” he said.
“Jonjo has been really sweet on him in the last week or so but Trevor (Hemmings) was really keen on running him in the Gold Cup – thankfully Jonjo twisted his arm.
“This was the right race for him, he won it last year and has now won four Grade Ones.
“He stays so well so I got him going down the hill as I had to make it a test. When he’s in that sort of mood and he gets into that rhythm, it will take a fair horse to get past him over this trip.”