Grand National Jockey Profile – Tony McCoy
Considering that Tony McCoy will probably be the greatest jump jockey in the history of the sport of horse racing, his record in the world’s greatest steeplechase can be described as frustrating.
You have to go back to 1995 when aged 20, McCoy took his first ride in the race for old boss Martin Pipe on the 1991 Hennessy Gold Cup winner Chatam. The pair made a bad mistake at the third fence but had got into a decent rhythm before getting too close to the 12th fence and falling heavily. The following year, he got the ride on Deep Bramble for Paul Nicholls who looked to hold place claims until sadly breaking down on the run to the second last and was pulled up. Thankfully, the horse was saved but he never raced again.
Over the last twenty years, the only year McCoy has missed is 1997 when suffering concussion in a fall so therefore he had to miss out but he returned in 1998 when partnering the enigmatic character Challenger Du Luc who beforehand had thrown away a King George. David Pipe, son of trainer Martin said at the time: “We’ll know our fate early on. He’ll either love it or hate it.”
He got as far as the first fence where he turned a somersault.
The 1999 season saw McCoy look to have a very realistic chance on the fancied Eudipe who had strong form in staying handicap chases including the Scottish National when second to Baronet and also in the Hennessy Gold Cup to easy winner Teeton Mill. He was travelling well enough on the heels of the leaders when sadly taking a fatal fall at second Becher’s. The turn of the century had McCoy riding his first favourite in the race in Dark Stranger who had won the Mildmay Of Flete at the Cheltenham Festival but his effort was short-lived as he blundered at the third, shooting him out of the saddle.
In 2001 the heavens opened, deeming the ground almost un-raceable and with Martin Pipe deciding to race an incredible 10 runners, McCoy had plenty of choice. In the end, he went for Blowing Wind who was then subject to a gamble. They jumped off towards the outside looking for the better ground and was up in the first half dozen, out of trouble early on with the carnage taking place behind him. He was travelling strongly passing the stands with a circuit to go but at the nineteenth was wiped out by the riderless Edmond. McCoy and Ruby Walsh who rode Papillon both decided to remount, which meant McCoy finally completed the course in the race, finishing third to Red Marauder.
The pair returned seeking revenge in 2002 and were sent off 8/1 favourte. The horse had cruelly denied his jockey a victory in the Mildmay Of Flete having stayed on powerfully to beat Lady Cricket in the dying strides. The faster ground counted again Blowing Wind but he ran another solid race when again finishing third behind Bindaree. His final two rides for his old boss Martin Pipe were on the fancied pair of Iris Bleu and Jurancon III but both failed to complete, the former blundered his way round before making a shocking error at the Chair where McCoy decided to pull him up and the latter took a tumble at the fourth fence.
At the end of the 2004 season, McCoy signed a retainer for JP McManus and ever since, he has always worn those green and gold silks in the race. His first ride was on the Aintree legend that was Clan Royal. Having finished in the runner up spot in 2004, Jonjo O’Neill’s yard has been under a massive cloud throughout the 04-05 season with a virus in the yard but Clan Royal made it back to Aintree and was fancied again to go well.
However, he was extremely keen and McCoy had no choice but to let him stride on with over a circuit to go. Going down to Becher’s, he had two loose horses pestering him. The first of those Merchant’s Friend decided to run across the fence which lead the second Take The Stand to go with him, the latter carrying Clan Royal out of the race in cruel fashion.
With O’Neill’s yard in much better form in 2006, Clan Royal came into the race in flying form having won his preparation race over hurdles. They managed to keep a lid on his enthusiasm but a false start didn’t help his cause. McCoy managed to settle him in midfield but a shocking error at the nineteenth knocked him back. Another mistake at the Canal Turn didn’t help his chances but he came there with his chance going to the second last before being outdone by Numbersixvalverde who had appreciated the overnight rain and market rival Hedgehunter.
In 2007 McCoy chose the Francois Doumen trained L’Ami who had shown some useful form including when fourth in the previous year’s Gold Cup and had almost beaten Kauto Star at Newbury in the AON Chase but he never really landed a blow when tenth behind Silver Birch.
The following year, McCoy was back riding for Jonjo O’Neill on an Irish National winner Butler’s Cabin who looked a thorough stayer. He made a bad mistake at first Becher’s but on the whole jumped really well until second Becher’s when up amongst the leaders travelling strongly, he landed too steep and paid the penalty. In 2009 he returned and was sent off as favourite, but jumping errors put paid to a winning challenge and he could only finish seventh to Mon Mome.
Having tried and failed on 14 occasions, time was running out for McCoy. In the run-up to the 2010 renewal, he had the choice between the pair of Can’t Buy Time and Don’t Push It. O’Neill knew who he wanted McCoy to ride, forcing him to flip a coin several times before it landed on Don’t Push It. On the day, there was a nationwide gamble as he opened up 25/1 and was sent off 10/1 joint favourite with Big Fella Thanks.
The rest as they say, is history. Settled in mid-division, the horse jumped brilliantly apart from one slight error five out but he never looked in trouble as he powered past long time leader Black Apalachi after the final fence to finally put to bed the McCoy/O’Neill/McManus hoodoo in the world’s greatest steeplechase. Don’t Push It returned to retain his crown in 2011 but the weight told late on when a brave third to Ballabriggs and Oscar Time.
A year later, it was probably one of the lowest moments in McCoy’s career. Having partnered Synchronised to win the Gold Cup a month earlier, they came to Aintree with several questions to answer. Would he jump round? Would he have recovered enough? Sadly, he unseated McCoy on the way to the start but was caught and allowed to take his chance where he was caught out by the drop at Becher’s Brook. He galloped away loose but sadly suffered a fatal injury further round the course.
His last two rides in the race have been for Irish trainers who have won the race in Ted Walsh and Martin Brassil. The first coming on Colbert Station who ran far too free before unseating McCoy at the Chair and last year on Double Seven who made a handful of mistakes but was still there at the finish when third again for McCoy behind Pineau De Re.
It’s looking likely that in 2015 he will be riding Shutthefrontdoor for regular trainer Jonjo O’Neill. Can he ride his second Grand National winner on his farewell appearance in the race?