Plus ça change. He has finally got the monkey off his back, but the horses are going to have to wait a bit longer to get Tony McCoy off theirs. Yesterday the man who will shortly be confirmed as champion jockey for the 15th consecutive season celebrated the emotional climax of his career – and one of the modern sport's defining moments – by riding the winner of a maiden hurdle at Southwell.
This, however, was not quite a case of getting back on the treadmill. From now, everything will be subtly different. Previously, while McCoy remained consumed by the Turf's most notoriously unrequited passion, heretics had perceived in his serial failures at Aintree some latent, damning flaw. They reckoned that his riding lacked the restraint and insouciance that had long ago earned wins for contemporaries such as Paul Carberry, Barry Geraghty and above all Ruby Walsh. For all the relentless quantity, the quality had a dimension missing. But the unforgettable success of Don't Push It in the John Smith's Grand National has certainly satisfied his own craving, and will perhaps stifle those doubts, as well.
Reunited with Don't Push It at Jackdaws Castle yesterday morning, McCoy showed characteristic humility in acknowledging his next destination as a fitting one. "It's Southwell, I'm afraid, that has made me lucky enough to be champion 14 times," he said. "And if it wasn't for places like Southwell, I probably wouldn't be in a position to ride horses like this one."
Though the experts had largely given up on Don't Push It, the man in the street was rewarded for his fidelity to the champion. McCoy was astonished to see his odds tumbling in the minutes before the race. "Oh no," he thought to himself. "If this doesn't win, I'm going to have to listen to the same old thing all over again.'"
But he soon found an infectious confidence in Don't Push It. "Even after five or six fences, he felt like a horse who was going to get round – no matter what I did, or what he did. I said to myself that provided nothing silly happens, and I keep this lad on his feet, he's definitely got a chance."
Two of the first to congratulate him were Martin Pipe, the former trainer with whom he once shared a prolific partnership, and Ted Walsh, Ruby's father and himself a master horseman. "I couldn't believe the joy in their faces," McCoy said. "There aren't too many bigger names in jump racing, and when I saw their delight, the emotion took over."
And it soon suffused the whole course. The acclaim for the winner must have been nearly without precedent in the race's venerable history, and even his arrival for the press conference prompted applause and tears. Ruby, of course, had broken an arm barely an hour before the race. "I saw him in the evening, as he was leaving to go back to Ireland," McCoy said. "And as much as he had a broken arm, he still gave me a big hug. That's the pure highs and lows of being a jump jockey for you."
McCoy will be 36 next month but has long vowed only to quit as and when he is no longer champion. Had Saturday altered the conditions for his retirement? "Funnily enough, a lot of the lads were asking me that last night," he grinned. "Especially the younger ones, like Paddy Brennan, Tom Scudamore. Seriously, I do hope that one day I wake up and say: 'Come on, you're not as good as you were – don't be making a fool of yourself by going on too long.' But I've got a funny feeling something is going to have to drag me down and show me."
Not all went according to plan this weekend, however. Yesterday Merseyside police confirmed that McCoy had been fined £30 for using his mobile while driving away from Aintree.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Nap Oh Khee (4.30 Folkestone) Hughie Morrison is notably adept with fillies of this type. Bred for middle distances, she steps up in trip for her handicap debut after cottoning on nicely during her education in juvenile maidens.
Next best Nibani (4.50 Windsor) A well bred colt who laid down a good foundation for his career when keeping on for fourth in a decent maiden at Newmarket last autumn.
One to watch Anne Of Kiev (J R Gask) seemed to enjoy a sixth furlong on the sand at Wolverhampton the other day, moving sweetly when short of room at a crucial stage but running on to be beaten only half a length by Mo Mhuirnin.
Where the money's going
Odds-on defeat for Fame And Glory on his comeback at the Curragh yesterday did not alarm his trainer Aidan O'Brien, but William Hill eased him to 12-1 from 10-1 for the Arc.Reuse content