Racing: Aintree tumble fails to break McCoy's National confidence

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The Independent Online

Tony McCoy's record of 289 winners in a season two years ago may never be beaten and the country's leading jumps jockey is already well down the path to his ninth consecutive championship.

The Irishman has ridden 2,054 winners, including victories in the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, yet not one of them has been in the most famous race in the world, the Grand National. As McCoy prepared for today's Aintree showpiece, yesterday's racing at Liverpool provided further evidence why even the tallest talents sometimes fail to find the sunshine on Merseyside.

McCoy was the most celebrated of 15 victims - more than half the field - in the only contest of the day run over the big fences, the Topham Chase.

The flashpoint of the race was the 10th fence, perhaps the most notable in all of racing, Becher's Brook. McCoy took his chances down the more perilous inside and paid for his daring as the rather badly named Iznogoud stumbled and sent his partner over the reins with a full somersault before hitting the Merseyside turf.

Six other jockeys joined him and McCoy found himself in the middle of a thrashing mêlée of fallen horses. He may ponder that he is fortunate to be lining up at all for the 157th Grand National today. Fellow Topham casualties Mick Fitzgerald and Carl Llewellyn must pass the doctor this morning to ensure their participation. All the Topham horses returned home without serious injury.

McCoy's chosen method of transport today is Jurancon II, one of seven runners saddled by Martin Pipe. The multiple champion trainer has also had his share of disappointments here. Of the 66 runners saddled by the Somerset man, only one has won, Miinnehoma 10 years ago.

That is at least one better than his jockey. McCoy has had seven rides since Chatam fell over in 1995 and has completed the course only twice, when Blowing Wind was third in 2001 and 2002. The outlook, though, remains positive. "I seriously believe Jurancon has a big chance," the jockey said yesterday.

"I know that I've ridden horses that have been favourite or thereabouts for the last four or five years, but I genuinely believe this one has got the right sort of credentials. He's won two Grand National trials and he was very impressive at Haydock last time, so he's entitled to be there or thereabouts as favourite."

Yet that is the horrible beauty of Aintree. Its unique geography means there is no entitlement, no respect for the natural order of elsewhere. "Any race over the National fences," Jim Culloty, the winning Topham jockey, said, "is in the lap of the gods."

They have not smiled on previous giants of the saddle round here. For all their achievements away from Aintree, the great riding triumvirate of Terry Biddlecombe, John Francome and Peter Scudamore could not muster a single National between them.

The chances of McCoy, who will be 30 next month, keeping out of that club are diminishing by the year. "Of course he will be disappointed if he finishes without winning a Grand National, but he understands that there is no certainty in a National, no divine right," Richard Dunwoody, a former rival and fellow Ulsterman, said yesterday. "He just hasn't been on the right horse yet. He's had some good rides, been placed, he's won over the fences, but it just hasn't happened on National day. It might happen tomorrow for him because he's on a horse with decent form, but personally I can see a couple in the race to beat him. I wouldn't be backing Jurancon II.

"All you can do is aim to get as good a ride as you can every year, then make sure you keep your own mistakes to a minimum. That's the jockey's job. After that, at Liverpool, there is a thing called luck."