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The Unreal McCoy

Grand National winner Tony McCoy
McCoy looked to be in danger of joining the list of great jockeys to miss out on Grand National glory

By Frank Keogh
BBC Sport at Aintree

They call him the champ. Perhaps now they will call AP McCoy the greatest. The greatest jump jockey horse racing has ever seen.

Just as his boyhood hero Lester Piggott dominated Flat racing for decades, McCoy has set new standards in the National Hunt sphere.

And as he soaked up the cheers after finally winning the Grand National at the 15th attempt on Don't Push It, the 70,000 Aintree crowd saluted an all-action hero.

"Championy, Championy, olé olé olé," they cried around the winners' enclosure as the famously understated McCoy let the relief flood out and held the trophy he has coveted for so long aloft.

"The National is the people's race and to have won it at last is really special," said the 35-year-old Northern Irishman, who has ridden more than 3,000 winners in an epic career.

His wife Chanelle said: "I am just practically speechless. This means the absolute world to him.

"Our little daughter Eve is at home cheering. It has been an emotional day and for a man who doesn't get too emotional, this is a hugely emotional end."

Tony McCoy on Don't Push It

Don't Push It wins the Grand National

Among those watching was Aintree legend Ginger McCain, whose four victories as a trainer in the National included a record-breaking treble in the 1970s with the legendary Red Rum.

"You always get a fairytale at Aintree and you couldn't have written anything better," McCain told BBC Sport.

"It's not often you see AP McCoy get emotional but he was close to tears. It's one of the best results ever - not just for the National, but in the annals of any sport."

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls once told me he was amazed that McCoy had never won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. His odds for this year's honour have shortened considerably after this.

McCoy has ridden more winners than anyone in a season, on the Flat or over jumps, and has an iron will to bounce back quickly from injury as witnessed by his stint in an icy oxygen chamber on one recovery mission from a crunching fall.

Most of the racing fraternity call him by his initials - 'AP' for Anthony Peter.

But AP could have stood for Absolute Perfection as he gave Don't Push It a copybook ride around the 30 daunting Aintree fences to see off the challenge of game runner-up Black Apalachi.

It was not just about McCoy though. What made this victory all the more special was it also broke the National hoodoo of trainer Jonjo O'Neill and racehorse owner JP McManus.

"It was a nailed-on perfect result. This will do more good for the sport than any marketing campaign," added McCain.

"Jonjo, JP and AP are three of the very best men around, and this will go down as one of the best, best days."

Millionaire McManus retains McCoy as his rider, mainly for O'Neill at the Jackdaws Castle training base in Gloucestershire.

McCoy on his way to victory

Grand National - closing stages (UK users only)

O'Neill's path from jockey to trainer was interrupted by an 18-month battle with cancer.

And when he recovered, McManus - who himself overcame prostate cancer - installed him at Jackdaws where the owner has spent a small fortune on upgrading facilities.

The horses want for nothing, with top-of-the range gallops, an indoor schooling area and even an indoor swimming pool.

When I asked McManus how many horses he had in training, he found it difficult to be exact, but it is believed to number more than 200. He is jump racing's biggest supporter.

"There's no doubt that this was the race I have always wanted to win. The National is the National," said the quietly-spoken man from Limerick.

"I go back a long way with Jonjo, to 1980 when he rode Jack of Trumps in the Gold Cup, so we have had an association spanning the decades."

The renowned gambler confessed he did not have a penny on his mount, and even had a small late wager on a rival, Big Fella Thanks.

McManus wanted the win more for McCoy and O'Neill than himself, but it will have meant the world to him.

Earlier, his wife Noreen had told me: "I can't describe the feeling. We have always dreamed of this and thought it would never happen.

"We will cherish it for the rest of our lives."

As he took his seat at the National winners' news conference, McManus joked: "I've never been in this room before, it's quite a nice experience."

As the team of three so associated with his green-and-gold racing silks took their seats at the National top table, it seemed like justice had been done.

"As a trainer I've come close and hit the bar a few times, but I just thought we were never destined to win," said O'Neill, 57, part of a winning trio who would never shout about their own talents.

Don't Push It is a mercurial horse, a talent capable of pushing the great steeplechaser Denman all the way in his earlier career, only to subsequently struggle for consistency.

Consistency has seldom been a problem for racegoers' favourite Ruby Walsh, but when he was ruled out of the race with a broken arm after a fall in a race before the National, the public quickly latched onto another punters' pal in McCoy.

It's not often you see AP McCoy get emotional but he was close to tears

Trainer Ginger McCain

His mount's odds halved in the minutes before the off, crashing from 20-1 to 10s as bookmakers suffered a £10m drubbing.

"I noticed his odds had come in before the race but I didn't back him, I was just happy to see him deliver the goods," said McManus.

"It's just a very, very special day for us all. AP really deserved to win this race and I'm just so glad it was on one of mine."

Aged 35 in a game where 40 is seen by some as a turning point, McCoy had seemed destined to join the list of top jockeys, such as O'Neill, John Francome and Peter Scudamore, who ended their careers without a win in the race that captures the public's imagination like no other.

Scudamore said: "That completes his CV now. The Grand National is a very special race, and each little special moment like this just makes it even better."

Three years ago at the National meeting, I spent an interesting couple of hours at close quarters with McCoy, the mighty man from Moneyglass, County Antrim.

606: DEBATE
Honest Frank

He was funny and happy to banter about his beloved Arsenal, before taking time to make my racing-mad brother's day by picking up the phone to ring him.

McCoy is teetotal and probably murder to live with when he has a winnerless day, but has taken dedication to his sport to new levels.

He is patron of the Imagine appeal which helps sick children at the Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, and is almost reduced to tears every year he visits on the eve of the National.

At another local hospital, in Fazakerley, no-one will have been cheering louder as he passed the winning post than his great rival and friend, the Irish champion jockey Walsh.

Walsh often stays at McCoy's home in Lambourn, Berkshire, when he rides in England.

The broken arm Walsh suffered in his Aintree fall will have felt a little less painful as he realised his great buddy had realised his great ambition.



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see also
McCoy savours 'dream' Aintree win
11 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
McCoy ends wait for National win
11 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
Where they finished at Aintree
10 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
Grand National as it happened
10 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
Grand National photos
10 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
Walsh out of National after heavy fall
10 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
McCoy rides Albertas Run to glory
09 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
McCoy picks Grand National ride
08 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
McCoy earns landmark 3,000th win
09 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
McCoy's Grand National dream
09 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
McCoy's career - in his own words
09 Feb 09 |  Horse Racing
BBC racing coverage
09 Apr 11 |  Horse Racing


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