National day of deliverance
For AP McCoy, the long wait for National glory is finally over, writes Ian McClean
JP McManus must have quietly cursed his luck when his first-ever Aintree Grand National runner Deep Gale got no further than the first way back in 1982. Little did he know then that Lady Luck would continue to haunt him by visiting misfortune on his next 32 runners spread out over nearly as many years right up to the present day. Or yesterday, to be more precise.
However, when one of yesterday's four shots at glory, King John's Castle, refused to start as the tapes went up, jump racing's biggest owner could have been forgiven a repeated sense of foreboding that the sport's most famously coveted prize would elude his grasp for yet another year.
The owner of yesterday's National winner Don't Push It was in good company as racing's most famous showcase had also succeeded in eluding both AP McCoy and Jonjo O'Neill -- O'Neill as both jockey and trainer. As a jockey Jonjo never even completed the course from eight attempts, and his 14 attempts at training the winner have counted for nought. AP McCoy, probably the greatest National Hunt jockey in history, is merrily galloping away to his 15th consecutive jockey's championship but the one gaping hole on his CV was the accolade he most wanted to win. AP without the National is like Borg without Wimbledon or Nicklaus without the Open. And AP knows it.
Jonjo's quest to win the National had started in the Seventies, JP's in the Eighties and AP's in the Nineties and the longer they failed the more vital it became -- the more it really mattered. But the more it mattered the more the light of possibility appeared to fade and the more the monolithic triumvirate began to doubt. JP described how once "he couldn't sleep for days before the National" but nowadays "I just let it creep up on me". Like mercury, the more you chase these it the more it eludes you. He admitted to approaching yesterday "more in hope than expectation". The definition of a cynic is someone who doesn't want to be disappointed one more time and each dealt with their inner cynic in different ways.
AP rationalised by making light of it and diminishing its importance. But you could tell the truth of the thing by the eruption of uncontrollable joy when Don't Push It surged clear up the Elbow from the hapless Black Apalachi.
We get justifiably jaundiced by the often shameless self-indulgence witnessed on Oscars night, but McCoy's outpouring through the tears in the immediate aftermath was pure heart. His thank-list ranged from Billy Rock back home (who started him) to his near three-year-old daughter Eve who he now hoped "will be proud of me when she grows up". You can break more records and ride more winners than any jumps jockey in history and be champion every year you've competed for 15 in a row -- but it takes winning a National to make your daughter proud. That's just how much it meant.
JP wasn't untouched by emotion either describing the moment as "very special" while Jonjo paid the achievement the ultimate accolade by declaring himself "speechless". It is no secret that AP agonised over which of the Jonjo pair to ride and paid a debt of gratitude to Jonjo for prevailing upon him to choose Don't Push It over stable-mate Can't Buy Time. Jonjo claimed he tossed a coin, but AP was adamant he kept tossing it until it came up Don't Push It. The appropriately named Can't Buy Time departed at the Canal Turn.
Daring to believe it would ever happen was the hardest, with AP beginning to resign himself to the possible moniker of "Greatest Jockey never to have ridden the National winner". That title he can happily hand back to John Francome, or perhaps Peter Scudamore who claims he would trade a good chunk of his many winners for the privilege of a solitary National. JP didn't relax fully even within yards of the finish claiming he was thinking back to 1956 (Devon Loch) and all sorts, including ensuring the jockey remembered to weigh in amongst all the euphoria.
McCoy's belated appearance on the Aintree Roll of Honour has seen his odds tumble for BBC Sports Personality of the Year this year. The trophy presentation was delivered on behalf of John Smiths by comedian Peter Kay. I doubt McCoy will have celebrated finally laying the National ghost in Phoenix Nights style last night; or that he will be too concerned about his odds for a public popularity contest. Yesterday he finally arrived at the summit of his own private Everest, accompanied by those that mattered. And that's all that matters.