THE legendary AP McCoy says he has “no regrets” as he prepares for his final tilt at the Crabbie’s Grand National – and possibly his last ever ride in horse racing.
The 40-year-old, who rides the heavily-backed Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor in today’s big race, has indicated that he will retire on the spot if the JP McManus-owned chaser is first past the post and emulates Don’t Push It’s victory in 2010.
If not, McCoy – the only jump jockey to have ridden more than 4,000 winners in the sport’s history – will bring his unrivalled career to a close at Sandown in a fortnight’s time when he will be crowned champion for a 20th consecutive season.
He has become the face of this year’s National, with images of McCoy being beamed from iconic Liverpool landmarks like the Royal Liver Building.
Bookmakers have suggested that they will have to issue profits warnings on Monday if Shutthefrontdoor wins – the horse is likely to be the shortest-priced favourite since Red Rum went off at prohibitively short odds of 7-2 in 1975 and up to £200m is likely to be staked on the race.
“There’s days when I wish it wasn’t coming to an end, but the reality of it is it is coming to an end,” said McCoy with characteristic candour last night.
“I know deep down it’s the right thing. It’s very deep down I have to go, but it is the right thing. Pretty much all my life, since I was a child, I’ve been able to do what I’ve loved doing.
“It’s going to be very different not being able to do it any more. I’ve been very lucky to ride for very successful people. I think that definitely helps you along the way.
“It’s going to be very difficult when my valet, Chris Maude, and all the lads bring my gear round to the house and say, ‘Here you go, you’re finished’. That’s when the reality is going to hit home, that I’m not going racing any more.
“I’m just trying to keep things as normal as possible and do my job. I can leave the worrying until after I walk out of here on Saturday night. I have mixed emotions because I would love to win the National, but I don’t want it to be my final ride. I really don’t want to retire, but if I win the race I’ll do retirement after that.
“I’ve been very lucky to have ridden more winners than anyone else, but I’ve also ridden a lot more losers. You never stop weighing up whether it has gone wrong or right.”
With his professional head on, McCoy feels he has a serious chance of going out on an unbelievable high with a second National win.
Even though Shutthefrontdoor has not raced since beating Sue Smith’s Vintage Star at Carlisle in November, McCoy has absolute faith in the training abilities of trainer Jonjo O’Neill, who enjoyed so much success as a rider with the likes of Great Habton’s Peter Easterby.
“Jonjo has prepared him for the race and is very happy with him,” said McCoy. “He’s brilliant at preparing horses for those big staying chases.
“The Grand National is the most famous race in the world and we were lucky enough to win it with Don’t Push It, but, on the whole, Jonjo as a trainer has a very good record with horses that have run in it and it would be nice for that record to get even better.
“Jonjo is a great man and a great trainer and I’ve been very lucky to ride for him for 10 years. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. He probably gave me the two greatest days of my life in racing in winning the Gold Cup with Synchronised and the National with Don’t Push It.”
O’Neill has not had a straightforward season, enduring a dearth of winners in December and January, but he has emerged from the quiet spell and feels it could be a blessing Shutthefrontfdoor did not run on soft ground in the winter.
“It took a while to find where the problem was, but once we did it was easy to treat,” said the Jackdaws Castle handler. “He had a bit of a runny nose and the horses weren’t flying at the time, so we put it down to a lot of things.
“He wouldn’t have run much before Cheltenham as the ground was terrible, so we were not that worried. The only thing you would say is he lacks a little experience, but I think he is quite clever and pretty accurate.
“Hopefully, going to Becher’s the first time, having gone over the first three or four, if he has taken to it, he will run a blinder. He’s in the best form I can possibly get him. I used to build three or four National fences every year but one year we didn’t and that was the year Don’t Push It won so we haven’t since. We are going there full of confidence, but you have got to be realistic – it is the National.”
As for McCoy, he believes the three greatest threats will be posed by Neil Mulholland’s The Druids Nephew, the Paul Nicholls-trained Rocky Creek and the McManus-owned Cause Of Causes – the horse that the champion jockey could have ridden.
“He won over four miles at Cheltenham at the Festival. I’m hoping he doesn’t finish in front of Shutthefrontdoor but I do think he goes to Aintree with a big chance,” added McCoy. “I just hope I am on the right one.”
So, too, does everyone in horse racing – with the exception of the bookmakers.
My friend ‘the Champ’: Dominic Elsworth tribute, Page 17 main section.