Donn's Articles » AP McCoy, Grand National

AP McCoy, Grand National

It took nine minutes and four seconds for Don’t Push It and AP McCoy to scale the 30 fences and cover the four and a half miles that took them from the starting line at Aintree to the winning post yesterday in the 2010 renewal of the John Smith’s Grand National. However, in truth, the Ulsterman’s journey to Aintree’s hallowed winner’s enclosure took a whole lot longer than that.

It was always an anomaly that didn’t sit squarely. The best sportsmen win the best prizes, the best jockeys win the best races, that’s the way the world works. It shouldn’t be any other way. AP McCoy is the most successful National Hunt jockey of all time. He burst through the 3,000-winner mark last season and is busy setting about reaching 4,000. He has been champion jockey every season since he turned professional 15 years ago, none of his peers has even come close to de-throning him during that time. He was even champion conditional the year before he turned professional. He is the personification of success in a pair of breeches. The absence of McCoy’s name on the Grand National roll of honour is the Jules Rimet Trophy without Brazil, the Claret Jug without Woods. Yesterday at Aintree, order was restored. McCoy hit the sweet spot, and he soared.

Fourteen previous attempts saw him go close, sometimes agonisingly so. In 2002 he travelled well for most of the way on the 8/1 favourite Blowing Wind, but could not match Bindaree from the second last and faded to finish third. In 2006, he was sent off the 5/1 joint favourite on Clan Royal, he travelled well for much of the way, but again faded to finish third. And remember, it was in 2005 that he and the very same Clan Royal were carried out by a loose horse at Becher’s Brook second time when they were tanking, six lengths clear of their field. Another chance gone, wait another year.

That’s the thing about the Grand National, it comes around just once a year. You have one chance every 12 months to win it, with its 30 fences and its 40 horses and the absolute reliance on luck in-running that sails in her. You have to get on the right horse for starters, then you have to avoid the inevitable carnage, and you have to ride a race that gives the horse the best possible chance of winning. You need all of the pieces to fall into place so that the equation works, and you only get one chance every year to do it.

The latter part was all down to McCoy yesterday, no question. Don’t Push It dripped with sweat as they circled at the start, often the outward sign of equine anxiety, but if his rider was nervous or anxious, you couldn’t have told from his demeanour, nor from the ride that he gave his horse that dripped only with confidence.

However, the jockey did get some help from trainer Jonjo O’Neill for the former part of the equation. Unsure of which of the two O’Neill-trained, JP McManus-owned horses he would ride, McCoy asked the trainer to flip a coin. Can’t Buy Time or Don’t Push It. Can’t or Don’t, the rider wasn’t sure. Jonjo said Don’t, so AP did. JP said that he wouldn’t mind getting a lend of the coin that Jonjo used.

It was also a first Grand National for O’Neill and for McManus. Jonjo never managed even to complete the course as a rider in seven attempts, and he and JP perhaps came even closer than McCoy did in 2004, when Clan Royal and Liam Cooper were just caught by Amberleigh House after they had rounded the Elbow.

For the trainer and for the owner, a man who puts more into the sport than anyone else ever has or anyone else ever will, according to McCoy, it was just desserts. For AP McCoy, it was completion.

Could and Did.

© The Sunday Times, 11th April 2010