Don't Push It sets the boundaries as lord of Jackdaws Castle domain

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The Independent Online

In all the celebration over Tony McCoy's Grand National victory, anyone might be forgiven for thinking that the riding legend jumped the 30 fearsome Aintree obstacles all by himself. But yesterday, the other half of the centaur partnership stepped forward to remind folk of his part in the adventure last April. Don't Push It was at home to visitors at Jackdaws Castle stables. And beware, his name is his watchword.

In personality and attitude, the 11-year-old gelding is as cranky and awkward as his jockey is pleasant and straightforward. In fact, it is a case of meet the focker. "Fockwit," grinned his trainer, Jonjo O'Neill, "is a very good word to describe him. But all the good ones have a quirk; they're probably not any good if they haven't."

Don't Push It is Garboesque in his habits. He hates other horses and hates people. His living quarters are not conventional; his domain is a large shed in a paddock, with only six Jacob sheep for company. He hates going into a stable, hates being clipped, will snap and barge at those attending him. But, as is usual in these situations, those closest to him will not have it that there is any real malice there. "He's not nasty," insisted O'Neill, "he's just a big, strong, moody loner. But he is a headache."

Yesterday, Don't Push It condescended to parade alongside his stablemates Synchronised and Can't Buy Time, the trio being the yard's provisional squad for this year's John Smith's National. A size bigger than his two comrades, the tall, lengthy gelding stalked round the huge indoor arena, with amateur rider Alan Berry, who has the daily management of him, in the saddle.

All went well, if on something of a knife-edge, until it was time for him to be adorned with the big-race sponsors' green victory blanket and pose for photos. Then, his dignity clearly affronted, he began to stamp and complain, with eyes narrowed and ears back and it was clearly time for him to be alone once more.

Don't Push It nearly always takes his exercise solo, ahead of the herd. The training strip at Jackdaws Castle is fearsomely steep and the views from the top yesterday morning glorious; the Cotswold landscape depicted below from a Wallander palette of subtle greens, browns and greys under a pale sky.

And as Berry steered his charge smoothly up the testing ascent, the horse's limbs powerfully grabbing the ground, it was clear that for all his tantrums, this is a serious athlete. "He is an arse to handle and be around," said Berry, "really quite difficult. But we'd like to have 10 more arses just like him."

Don't Push It is recovering from a tweaked muscle in his back and should be ready for racecourse action again in a couple of weeks. O'Neill would like him to have at least one more run, preferably over fences, before Aintree in April, in addition to the two hurdles outings he has already had this term.

"First time out he was mad fresh and too revved up," said O'Neill. "Next time we were far happier with him. But we need to get more runs into him; he came back from his summer holiday in Co Limerick as fat as a broodmare. He's always had little things go wrong – he's had a kissing spine and various leg problems – and it's a matter of trying to get everything right with him and hope that coincides with a suitable race.

"And then, you've got to hope he's in the right mood. On the way to the National we thought we were doing fine, and then he downed tools at Cheltenham. We went to Aintree on a wing and a prayer, but in the race he took to the place immediately, AP said he loved it from fence one. Second time, though, who knows? He could be quite capable of jacking it in."

Jackdaws Castle is a magnificent, state-of-the-art establishment near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, upgraded by Don't Push It's owner, J P McManus. The horses, most of them perfectly normal, lack nothing in care. The facilities include a circular equine pool, busy yesterday with those requiring exercise without impact. Sadly, there was no Synchronised swimming.

Paul Nicholls revealed yesterday that blood tests on Kauto Star after his defeat in last Saturday's King George VI Chase had revealed a low-grade infection. "He'll have a course of antibiotics and a few easy days," the champion trainer said.

Turf account

Sue Montgomery's Nap

Private Equity (1.20 Lingfield) Too keen on his return from a long absence in a slowly run contest and should settle better today.

Next best

Tito Bustillo (3.30 Taunton).

One to watch

Bold Sir Brian (L Russell) Should make his mark in novice hurdles in the North.

Where the money's going

Petit Robin is vying for 7-1 second favouritism with Ladbrokes for Saturday's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Jimmy Ryan (1.50 Lingfield)