Main picture: PA
AT the 15th attempt, Tony McCoy – the first jumps jockey in history to partner 3,000 winners – added the most sought-after of successes to his haul on Saturday as Don’t Push It finally gave him glory in the Grand National.
In the same way that the Derby had continually eluded Frankie Dettori before the amiable Italian won on Authorized in 2007, the world’s most famous jumps race had stayed agonisingly off 14-time champion McCoy’s otherwise flawless CV. All that changed at 4.28pm on Saturday, as tears flowed down the Irishman’s cheeks at Aintree after Don’t Push It’s thrilling victory.
McCoy’s previous 14 fruitless attempts at winning the race, which had yielded only a trio of third-placed finishes, did not deter punters who gambled the Jonjo O’Neill-trained runner from a morning price of 20-1 into 10-1 joint favouritism along with Big Fella Thanks.
Don’t Push It made stealthy progress as the race unfolded, challenging for the lead jumping the second-last, and gradually reeled in Black Apalachi rounding the Elbow to pull five lengths clear.
State Of Play finished well 20 lengths further back in third with Big Fella Thanks another three lengths adrift in fourth and last year’s Scottish Grand National hero Hello Bud in fifth.
“I’m being a big wuss. It means everything to me to win the Grand National,” McCoy said, who was in tears afterwards. “I always thought I would win as I always believe that everything will happen.
“Everyone on the street knows the National as it is a people’s race and from a jockey’s perspective that is why it is important. After a mile I wouldn’t have swapped him for anything else, and I don’t just mean horses, as he had totally taken to it.
“I’m delighted for my mum and dad as they’ve been great for me throughout the years, and for my wife, Chanelle, and my daughter, Eve, who is two and a half.”
Daughter Eve was alongside a jubilant McCoy at O’Neill’s Jackdaws Castle stables yesterday as the winning team celebrated their stunning success. But ever the professional, McCoy was back in the saddle for three rides at Southwell hours later, making the trip well worthwhile when he won on Aberdale – trained, appropriately, by O’Neill.
McCoy had partied long into Saturday night to mark his first National win, but not a drop of champagne passed his lips. “I didn’t get home until 5am and have only had a couple of hours sleep,” said the 35-year-old. “I had a few Red Bulls to keep me awake, but this is a surreal feeling. If I liked the taste of champagne I might have had some, but I don’t even like the taste.”
Don’t Push It is owned by McCoy’s paymaster general, JP McManus, who like the jockey was breaking his duck in the big race – after sending out 33 individual losers in his green and gold hooped colours since his first runner, Deep Gale, fell at the first fence in 1982.
McManus must have feared drawing another blank when another one of his four runners, King Johns Castle, refused to jump off, planting his heels and standing at the start as the other 39 runners thundered towards the first. His attention would soon switch to the progress of McCoy on board Don’t Push It, who rode a textbook race, staying out of trouble then delivering his winning run with perfect timing.
“I’m delighted for JP as he’s the best supporter this game has ever had and ever will have, and I’m very privileged to ride a Grand National winner in his colours,” added McCoy.
The winner was found by his racing manager, Frank Berry, and McManus was keen to pay tribute to his whole team. Speaking from the interview room, he said: “I have never been in this room before and it is quite a nice experience. To win the National is great, but to win it with Jonjo and AP is special. This is wonderful for Jonjo and the staff at Jackdaws Castle. AP deserved to win the race and I am pleased it was on one of mine.”
The racing world and media at large have joined to celebrate McCoy’s achievements. He has twice been in touch with his close friend Ruby Walsh, whose bid for Grand National glory ended when he fell and broke his arm earlier in the afternoon, forcing him to miss the ride on Big Fella Thanks.
And he even took a call from Frankie Dettori who rang with his congratulations having put to rest his long-standing Derby ghost.
No more tears were present yesterday morning, but McCoy was uncharacteristically emotional when chatting to the television cameras on pulling up. He added: “Crossing the line I could not believe it. Martin Pipe and Ted Walsh were two of the first people to congratulate me. They are two of the biggest people in jump racing and to see the joy in their faces made me emotional. It was very special.”
It was very special for racing too. McCoy truly deserved his day as a National winner – it was long overdue.