On its grandest stage, the paragon of his sport had gradually become its paradox. But now, at long last, the jockey routinely saluted as the best in history will no longer hear quite so many whispers that he is not even the best of his own generation.
Tony McCoy would have given his right arm for either of the wins in this race that had first announced and then confirmed Ruby Walsh as the modern master of these fences. In a man who cheerfully embraces the inevitability of broken bones every day of his professional life, that is not even a figure of speech.
As things turned out, this time it was Walsh who broke an arm, barely an hour before he was due to partner Big Fella Thanks, the morning favourite, in the big race. And that was perhaps the only quibble McCoy might have found in the exorcism of one of the Turf's most notorious curses. To have had his foil, his friend, among the group who broke clear of the pack might have completed the sense that his destiny had some definitive moment in mind. Instead Big Fella Thanks was ridden by another man who had long ago sampled the elixir he craved, Barry Geraghty. But the moment of catharsis was absolute.
Make no mistake, the National had gnawed mercilessly at McCoy's self-regard. Yes, he could pretend to shrug his shoulders over 14 previous attempts to decorate those 14 consecutive championships with the one race that means something beyond his parish. He could say, like every housewife, that Aintree was just a lottery, and add that his previous mounts had largely lacked the competence to make their own luck. But he knew the insidious reality. He knew that some within the game took a different view.
It was muttered that the disparity between his Aintree record and that of Walsh disclosed a fundamental deficiency lurking beneath his overwhelming statistical supremacy. This was a race for artists, men like Walsh or Paul Carberry or Timmy Murphy; even unprecedented courage, fitness and aggression were not enough without that extra silkiness, that extra stealth.
When he finally retired, McCoy would perhaps be best remembered dismounting his 3,000th winner in a Stygian downpour – on a Tuesday at Plumpton.
Not any more. And that is what caused the rock to melt. That is why McCoy's eyes filled with tears as he pulled up Don't Push It. He did not need the National to remind the man in the street – in his immediate, characteristic expression – that he is "supposed to be a good jockey". They certainly didn't need telling in the betting shops. Public fidelity was the sole source of a huge gamble that astonished the pundits who had thought so little of Don't Push It – whose trainer, Jonjo O'Neill, and owner, JP McManus, were also in search of a first National win to add to their otherwise impressive National Hunt resumés – that McCoy, routinely tormented by the same questions every time he returns here, had largely been left alone.
And, to be fair, those who ride against him every day did not need telling either. It is pretty safe to assume that Walsh betrayed little sign of the pain he was feeling as the paramedics wheeled him off the track on a stretcher; but it is more than possible that McCoy's own tears, of joy, were reciprocated in a nearby hospital bed. For here is a man whose phenomenal professional attributes are matched by commensurate decency, integrity and modesty.
Just about the first thing McCoy said was that his two-year-old daughter, Eve, might now be proud of him when she grows up. Apparently she adores Walsh, and is irrepressible when he comes to stay. Even in his own household, it seems, Walsh dilutes McCoy's dominion. In every other one, however, up and down the land, nobody else will be disputing his right to the laurels.
The first four
1. Don't Push It, AP McCoy 10-1 JF
2. Black Apalachi, D O'Regan 14-1
3. State Of Play, P Moloney 16-1
4. Big Fella Thanks, B Geraghty 10-1 JFReuse content