Grand National: Tony McCoy dreaming of grand finale

Tony McCoy and trainer Jonjo O'Neill with Aintree hope Shutthefrontdoor. Picture: PA

Tony McCoy and trainer Jonjo O'Neill with Aintree hope Shutthefrontdoor. Picture: PA

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Tony McCoy will achieve a racing fairytale if he can bring the house down and win the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree on what would be the final ride of his record-breaking career.

The soon-to-be 20-times champion jockey announced in February this was to be his final season in the saddle and has since said he would call it quits on the spot if he won the National.

For a man who has made a career out of breaking records, it is not beyond the realms of possibility the Jonjo O’Neill-trained eight-year-old he rides will complete his part of the job.

Having won the Irish Grand National last season, Shutthefrontdoor is a strong form contender in his own right and has been the ante-post favourite for months on a tide of McCoy sentiment.

With McCoy now entering the final throes of an unbelievable career, he has finally allowed himself some time for reflection.

“Sometimes I feel sad about it. There’s days when I wish it wasn’t coming to an end, but the reality of it is it is coming to an end,” he said.

“I know deep down it’s the right thing. It’s very deep down I have to go, but it is the right thing.

“Pretty much all my life, since I was a child, I’ve been able to do what I’ve loved doing.

“It’s going to be very different not being able to do it any more. I’ve been very lucky to ride for very successful people. I think that definitely helps you along the way.

“It’s going to be very difficult when my valet, Chris Maude, and all the lads bring my gear round to the horse and say, ‘Here you go, you’re finished’. That’s when the reality is going to hit home, that I’m not going racing any more.

“I’m just trying to keep things as normal as possible and do my job. I can leave the worrying until after I walk out of here on Saturday night.”

With his professional head on, McCoy feels he has a serious chance of going out on an extraordinary high with a second National win, especially as Shutthefrontdoor is trained by O’Neill, who is so good with staying chasers.

“Jonjo has prepared him for the race and is very happy with him,” said McCoy.

“He’d have liked to have got a run into him, but he had a few little problems with him in Christmas and January so he didn’t get the chance to run him.

“He’s happy with the way he’s going and he’s brilliant at preparing horses for those big staying chases.

“The Grand National is the most famous race in the world and we were lucky enough to win it with Don’t Push It, but, on the whole, Jonjo as a trainer has a very good record with horses that have run in it and it would be nice for that record to get even better.

“Jonjo is a great man and a great trainer and I’ve been very lucky to ride for him for ten years. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.

“He probably gave me the two greatest days of my life in racing in winning the Gold Cup with Synchronised and the National with Don’t Push It.

“I’ll be forever grateful to him and he was the one who made me ride Don’t Push It.” Bookmakers are dreading the thought of the damage that could be done by McCoy.

David Williams of Ladbrokes said: “A win for McCoy is our nightmare scenario.

“Shutthefrontdoor could easily be the best-backed horse we’ve ever known in the Grand National. We’re scared even to think about it.

“More often than not Aintree throws up a host of stories but this year there’s only one show in town. The entire race revolves around one man and one horse.

“We reckon it will cost the industry £30 million if McCoy wins, but that could be conservative.”

With McCoy fever having gripped a nation, a number of horses have not quite had the attention they might otherwise have had, including last year’s hero Pineau De Re, whose trainer Dr Richard Newland is full of hope he can put up a bold defence of his crown.

Not since the legendary Red Rum in 1974 has a horse won back-to-back runnings of the world’s most famous steeplechase and despite a mixed time of things in the intervening 12 months, Newland believes he has been seeing the right signs of late.

The Worcestershire handler, who has a second chance in Royale Knight, said: “Pressure comes from personal expectation.

“We’ve had so many well wishes from friends who booked their tickets for the day back in January and I’ve just been praying we’d have a horse there for them to go and see.

“Both of the horses seem in really good form and all we can do is get them there in one piece on Saturday.

“The rest is up to the horses and the jockeys.

“Certainly for us, Pineau De Re’s win was the story of 2014. It was just an incredible thing to happen.

“It was astonishing the reaction locally in Worcestershire after we won last year – most people seemed to have backed him.

“For John (Provan, owner) and myself it was a dream to have a Grand National runner and to have the winner was just the best.

“This time last year I was hopeful. He had run once over the fences and had fallen in the Becher Chase, so you couldn’t be overly optimistic. But we had bought the horse with the National specifically in mind and knew we would almost certainly get in the race.

“He subsequently ran very well at the Cheltenham Festival and I remember speaking to John and saying we have not just got a National runner, we could have a National winner.

“The plan was always for Pineau De Re to come back again. It is obviously an impossibly difficult challenge as no horse has won back to back for over 40 years. Pineau is a superb horse and it is a great privilege to train him. I am sure he will run a very good race.”

NATIONAL FOUR

1 Spring Heeled (25-1)

Jim Culloty’s charge will love the ground and distance, and has been specially trained for Aintree.

2 The Druid’s Nephew (12-1)

Had a fine Festival win last month and will not be inconvenienced by the drying ground.

3 Shutthefrontdoor (15-2)

AP McCoy’s mount is sure to go close with luck in running.

4 Balthazar King (12-1)

Second last year. Gave Cheltenham a miss to be kept fresh for this.

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