Saint Are a value threat to a Grand send-off for Tony McCoy

Legendary jockey looking for a fairytale career finale on Shutthefrontdoor at Aintree

 Saint Are, ridden by Dougie Costello, finished ninth in the Grand National at Aintree two years ago.   Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Saint Are, ridden by Dougie Costello, finished ninth in the Grand National at Aintree two years ago. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

When it comes to racing fairytales, fate can have a nasty habit of falling at the last. But the vast swell of popular support for Tony McCoy to finish his landmark career with a Crabbie’s Aintree Grand National victory on Shutthefrontdoor is backed up by unsentimental form credentials that could have some bookmakers pondering whether or not to shut their doors before 4.15 today.

Even allowing for how a win for McCoy in the sole race the general public religiously tune into every year would be huge boost for jump racing’s long-term fortunes, a combination of the sport’s most famous personality allied to a justifiably warm favourite represents something of a perfect storm for bookies who are predicting a near €70 million loss if the fairytale result actually happens.

Gruelling test

Whether it is 100-1 winners or false-start fiascos; the impossibly romantic tales of Aldaniti and Red Rum, not to mention McCoy’s euphoric 2010 victory on Don’t Push It, the National has a habit of throwing up storylines that would be dismissed as implausible anywhere else.

And on its own terms, the claims of McCoy and Shuththefrontdoor as likely winners are more obvious than anyone else’s.

Last year’s Irish Grand National winner has run just once since then but for a horse rumoured to be potential Gold Cup class in future, the combination of him on 11.2, and McCoy having his 20th and last National ride, is clearly attractive.

But with McCoy pledging to stop immediately if he wins, and not persevere to the end of the season in two weeks’ time, the layers to this National story go much deeper.

Since first riding in the race in 1996, the 40-year-old Co Antrim-born jockey has redefined the sport he has illuminated for two decades. Only once since then, in 1997, has he missed the National, just another startling statistic among so many which testify to McCoy’s remarkable longevity. He has rewritten the history books in a manner that would have been previously dismissed as impossible and fundamentally altered the nature of his sport.

It’s in such a context that a weight of emotion and expectation will swirl towards today’s 4.15 start and only the most hopelessly unimaginative won’t feel stirred at the prospect of as neat a storybook finish as this most unpredictable of races is capable of producing. However Shutthefrontdoor’s trainer Jonjo O’Neill summed up the more prosaic reality when he admitted: “We’re going there full of confidence: but you’ve got to be realistic – it is the National.”

It isn’t the brutal National O’Neill rode in eight times without once finishing but it is still a fearsome test and considering the last three winners have been 33-1, 66-1 and 25-1, the prospect of relying on a short-odds favourite which the public is likely to make even shorter through sheer weight of once-a-year fivers and tenners makes a value alternative to Shutthefrontdoor seem sensible if unromantic.

Proven master

Gordon Elliott

Paul Carberry is older than his friend McCoy, but gives no sign of retiring yet and is a proven master around Aintree, having famously scored with Bobbyjo all of 16 years ago.

His sister Nina is on First Lieutenant while Jim Culloty has both the topweight Lord Windermere and Spring Heeled as he tries to become just the sixth man to both ride and train a National winner.

Considering how so much Aintree pedigree will be on show, it might look unusual to side with a jockey who has yet to finish in six National rides or a horse whose last win was at lowly Catterick on a Monday.

But the combination of Galway-born Paddy Brennan and Saint Are could yet fill the role of spoilsports at a big price.

Saint Are was ninth two years ago but looks a transformed character since moving to trainer Tom George and will love quicker ground conditions. Along with Rocky Creek and Balthazar King he looks a value threat to McCoy’s, and racing’s perfect result.

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