Wednesday 23 August 2017

Push comes to shove for McCoy again

Tony McCoy. PA
Tony McCoy. PA

Tony McCoy is growing increasingly confident as Don't Push It bids to become the first horse since the legendary Red Rum to taste glory in back-to-back renewals of the John Smith's Grand National.

The 15-times champion jockey looked destined never to win the Aintree spectacular after 14 unsuccessful attempts, but that hoodoo was brought to an end 12 months ago as Don't Push It powered clear on the famous run-in for a pulsating victory.

That triumph propelled McCoy into the public domain and he picked up the coveted BBC Sports Personality Of The Year award later in the year as recognition came from a wider audience for his prowess in the saddle.

As is typical of the man, McCoy is keen to look forward rather than reflect on past glories, and sees no reason why Don't Push It cannot once again make his presence felt on Merseyside.

His efforts over hurdles since that National victory hardly inspire confidence, but his jockey believes there are signs that Jonjo O'Neill's gelding is ready to produce his A-game at just right time once again.

"Last year was the best day of my racing life, but that was a year ago and it's more important now to win," said McCoy.

"I thought he ran very well in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham last time, it was a definite sign of progression, his best run of the season.

"The way the handicapper has compressed the race means that horses that have a lot of weight have got a better chance of winning.

"Red Rum was the last horse to win the National back-to-back (in 1974) and if he could do it, it would be as great a feat, and probably a better feat for him to win it this year than it was last year.

"His preparation has been as good as last year, if not better. He seemed to take to the fences and the course last year and I'm hoping he's the sort of horse who can come back and do it again."

O'Neill is similarly optimistic of Don't Push It's chances this weekend.

"He's got a little bit more weight, but if he goes there in the same frame of mind that he did last year he's got a great chance," said O'Neill.

One horse that has really grabbed the headlines in recent weeks is the Paul Nicholls-trained What A Friend, part-owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

The eight-year-old brings arguably the best form of all into the race having finished fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Ferguson will not be in attendance as he will be overseeing a crucial match in the Premier League title race against Fulham at Old Trafford.

"He has a good chance. You need luck in the National. You hope he gets round first of all," said Ferguson.

"You hope he gets round safe. That is the most important thing. He is a good horse. There are a lot of obvious dangers in the race but we are hopeful."

Asked if he will be monitoring events at Aintree, he said sarcastically: "How am I going to be in touch? The game is going on. The players would really appreciate that.

"Me watching the National when they are in the middle of a match. We could be drawing at the time or only be one-up. No, no. I won't be in touch."

The Midnight Club represents the formidable team of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.

The 10-year-old bids to follow in the hoofprints of former stablemate Hedgehunter, who won Fairyhouse's Bobbyjo Chase en-route to Aintree in 2005.

Walsh, the rider of Hedgehunter and also Papillon in 2000, said: "I've had my eye on him for the National for a long time. You'd like him to have a bit more experience than he has, but there's nothing we can do about that."

Sam Waley-Cohen is already enjoying a spectacular year having tasted Gold Cup glory with Long Run and now he will bid to become the first amateur jockey to win the National in over 20 years when he partners Bobbyjo Chase third Oscar Time.

Waley-Cohen said: "It's been a pretty extraordinary few months and something just to enjoy and relish.

"Coming into a race like this, you just want to enjoy it, especially when you are on a horse that you believe in."

No name is more synonymous with Aintree and the National than that of McCain.

Ginger McCain was the man responsible for legendary three-time winner Red Rum and his son, Donald, has a big chance of upholding family tradition with Ballabriggs.

McCain said: "You never know if horses are going to take to Aintree or not. You need a horse who gets the trip, but you also need a horse to travel as well.

"There'll be one or two of these four-mile chasers who won't see which way they've gone after the first two miles.

"I'd like to think he'll be bang there crossing the Melling Road and what happens after that, we'll find out."

Dermot Weld sent out Greasepaint to be second in successive years in the 1980s and this year he is represented by Paddy Power Chase winner Majestic Concorde.

"I'm hopeful (he will take to Aintree). You just don't know, he's a very good horse, he loves to jump and he put up a super performance at Leopardstown," said the Rosewell House handler.

"He's the class horse in the race if things went his way. Luck is the most important thing of all."

Backstage has had an extraordinary preparation having won two point-to-points since the turn of the year, but his trainer Gordon Elliott, who saddled Silver Birch to win the National four years ago, could not be more confident.

"Backstage is bombing, but it's the Grand National so you do need a lot of luck," he said.

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