Happy ending for McCoy's Aintree story as fate smiles on celebrated trio
Published 12/04/2010 | 05:00
MORE often than not the winner's enclosure after the Grand National is a sanctuary for the sport's smaller men, its famous racecourse in the suburbs of Liverpool a slaying ground for Goliaths.
It is a place where David annually comes out on top, where, for a day, the minnow rises to the top of the food chain.
It does not conform to proverb either. Its lucky-dip characteristics mean that practice does not necessarily make perfect, that good things do not always come to those who wait.
However fate selects her National winners, history suggests she often handicaps the sport's champions with a 7lb penalty before they start. In this one race Lady Luck has a habit of entrusting her charms to lesser men.
But, at last, on Saturday three of the biggest names in the last 50 years of the sport combined with one of their least likely candidates, a mentally and physically fragile horse called Don't Push It, for the most popular Grand National win since Bob Champion recovered from cancer to win on Aldaniti in 1981.
Racing is desperate for some of football's fame and fortune and here, a couple of miles from the city's other iconic sporting landmark, was an Anfield-like reception for a horse and jockey.
On this one occasion, however, the appreciation, though partly pocket-inspired after Don't Push It was backed into 10/1 joint-favouritism, was more for what the 70,000 crowd regarded as a phenomenal man capping 15 years of extraordinary achievement than his trusty steed.
Owner JP McManus, jump racing's greatest benefactor past, present and probably future, trainer Jonjo O'Neill, first as an enormously popular champion jockey and then as a trainer, and AP McCoy, the about-to-be 15 times champion jockey, had an aggregate of 62 failed attempts at winning the race between them.
Finally, certainly long after the trainer had given up hope of winning it, it all came together like the climax of some great symphony. There was something deserved about their victory as the National's unfailing ability to pick a winner with a good story struck again.
The quiet, reserved McManus is best known as a legendary gambler and racehorse owner but there is a Robin Hood quality about him. In some of the more unlucky, downtrodden corners of Ireland where fortune has not looked so favourably on people, he is renowned for his boundless charity.
In 1993, when the race was voided after the false start, morale at Aintree was at its lowest ebb. Sackfuls of abusive mail arrived on a daily basis. As a gesture of goodwill, the organisers decided to refund the owners of all 40 runners with their travel expenses.
For Irish runners this amounted to £2,000. Three days later, a letter arrived from McManus' Martinstown Stud returning the cheque and saying that he had had a good day and that he could not possibly take it from them. From that moment morale picked up again as the Aintree executive realised that among those still supporting the race after its darkest hour was a decent man.
As a jockey, O'Neill never got further than the Canal Turn in seven attempts. He has survived cancer, so from his perspective, the dawn of each new day is more important than the outcome of a horse race. But in his scrapbook of racing moments, winning the National for his long-time patron, friend and landlord might surpass even the day when he won the Gold Cup on Dawn Run.
For McCoy, though, this was everything, the crowning achievement in a glorious, record-breaking career and the instant when, almost too late, the sporting community outside of racing finally twigged him.
All three gave a wonderful lesson in humility after the race. They are among the most successful men in the sport but they are characterised by modesty. McManus paid homage to the race, O'Neill said that he did not actually train the horse but that Alan Berry, who looks after the horse, did.
Meanwhile, in the weighing room, when McCoy was finally allowed to change out of his breeches, Gold Cup winning jockey Paddy Brennan patted the 'Champ' on the back. "He's finally won the Grand National," he announced. "There's hope for us all." (© Daily Telegraph, London)