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Grand National win didn't make me a better jockey but it was a relief, says AP McCoy

 

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AP McCoy collecting the trophy

AP McCoy collecting the trophy

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AP McCoy lifting the trophy after the presentation with comedian Peter Kay

AP McCoy lifting the trophy after the presentation with comedian Peter Kay

Getty Images

At last: AP McCoy aboard Don’t Push It en route to winning the Grand National in 2010 after 14 unsuccessful attempts

At last: AP McCoy aboard Don’t Push It en route to winning the Grand National in 2010 after 14 unsuccessful attempts

Getty Images

AP McCoy collecting the trophy

Victory in the 2010 Grand National aboard Don't Push It may not have defined Sir AP McCoy's remarkable career - but it will always remain a milestone moment among his many achievements.

After 14 failed attempts, the now-retired 20-time champion jockey finally claimed victory in the Aintree marathon that eluded such riding greats as Peter Scudamore and John Francome, to fill what had been until then a glaring omission on his decorated CV.

Though the Moneyglass man can reflect fondly on a victory that helped him capture the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award eight months later, it was a success he did not think would materialise at the time, given the horses he had to select from for owner JP McManus.

He said: "I'd had 14 goes before on many really good horses that you thought might win like Clan Royal, Blowing Wind, Dark Stranger, Challenger Du Luc. In all honesty leading up to it I never thought there was a Grand National horse out of the four JP horses going there.

"Arbor Supreme was a horse I just didn't fancy, though I'd fancy him as a Grand National horse more now than I would have 10 years ago as you don't have to jump as much.

"King Johns Castle hadn't run well since finishing second in it two years earlier so I couldn't really fancy him. Can't Buy Time won a handicap at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, but he never struck me as a horse classy enough to win a Grand National, although he was in form.

"The only thing I suppose Don't Push It had was that he won a handicap chase at Aintree the season before and he was always a horse that had a bit of class."

With the format of the Grand National having changed in recent years and more suited to those with that sprinkling of class, McCoy knew in Don't Push It he had a horse that had the quality, if getting his tactics right at the business end.

He said: "I won a novice chase on Don't Push It at Stratford in 2006 and I remember telling JP going to the November meeting at Cheltenham that year he was more or less a good thing and he got beat. I thought I was an okay judge, but looking back it was Denman that beat him three-quarters of a length.

"I think he had one little reach through the whole race, I don't think there were any anxious moments, but no matter how well I was going I was always going to aim for the Elbow to be taking it up.

"There were four in line at the second-last - Don't Push It, Hello Bud, Big Fella Thanks and Black Apalachi.

"I thought I was hanging on to enough that if I just keep niggling away and keep him with those other horses then I could suss out which was going best, then challenge."

As it transpired it would be Black Apalachi that would stand in the way of giving McCoy the success he had long craved - and trainer Jonjo O'Neill victory in a race that had escaped him as a jockey.

McCoy said: "The thing about Black Apalachi is that I knew he had been in the front end for a lot of it. I just thought the way the race had been run I would have been disappointed if I couldn't have got past him. He was brave, but thankfully I managed to get past him."

For McCoy - who received a knighthood in 2016 - it was a triumph that delivered an overriding sense of relief more than anything else.

He said: "There was a lot of fulfilment I suppose, but maybe a lot more relief and that is because I hadn't won a Grand National, whereas I had been lucky enough to win most of the other big races.

"The thing of coming back in is the whole excitement and jubilation of winning the Grand National - there is no other like it, walking back into the winner's enclosure at Aintree. That's what it's all about as you want to win all the big races.

"The Grand National is probably the most famous horse race in the world and I was glad I won it. I would have been disappointed had I not won a Grand National. Did it make me a better jockey? No, it didn't, but it's nice to say I won it.

"I later won Sports Personality of the Year and I got to play golf with Tiger Woods at JP's tournament and apparently it was a draw (to see who played with who), so maybe it was a lucky year."

McCoy was keen on the chance of Burrows Saint in the great race this year, but equally full of respect for Tiger Roll and his rider Davy Russell, who for now have been denied their chance at joining Red Rum in the history books with a third Liverpool triumph.

He said: "I'd have gone for Burrows Saint, I just thought having won the Irish Grand National last year he'd have plenty going for him. But for Tiger to have won two Grand Nationals, you have to be tough to be that good. Sometimes the tougher it is, the better it is for them.

"You talk about jockeys and horsemen and very rarely do you get someone that's both. Davy is one of the few that is.

"He's top class and as cool as a cucumber. You wouldn't want anyone else to ride him."

Belfast Telegraph