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Don't Push It V The Grand National


There’s a reason that The Grand National steeplechase is the biggest horse race in the world: it’s the hardest. Before last year’s race, I’d had14 previous attempts, in which I had once finished third, but never actually won it. It doesn’t matter how many other cups you’ve won; you don’t have a divine right to win The Grand National.

You can’t have a lucky ride, either; your horse needs to be the best. And for my 15th time [last year], I had the choice of two horses: Can’t Buy Time and Don’t Push It. It was actually the trainer [Jonjo O’Neill] who subtly pointed me in the right direction — I asked him to toss a coin and he kept tossing it until it came up as Don’t Push It.

The hurdles at Aintree are some of the biggest in racing. There’s nothing more testing for a horse — the course is four-and-a-half miles long and has 30 fences. Jumps seem to take an age to get over and you can’t break concentration. It’s mentally challenging.

It’s an aggressive race, too. Every jockey is buzzing; understandably so, when you take the size of the crowd into consideration. You’ve got to block it out, because you need to hear what’s going on directly around you. Those noises can make all the difference.

When Don’t Push It set off, my first thought was about keeping safe and steady. Falling at the first hurdle is a terrible thing and it’s happened to me in the past. You don’t want your race to be over before it’s even begun. Fortunately, he was jumping well.

It’s a fast pace early on and the next five or six fences are crucial — they tend to be where most of the fallers go down. I kept a decent speed with the rear of the pack for the first 10 fences and, while not holding off, I knew Don’t Push It had more power in reserve for when he needed it.

At the 25th fence, I started to push harder — and the horse started to effortlessly power past everyone. After the 26th fence, I was joint-fourth with Big Fella Thanks — the joint-favourite with Don’t Push It at the start of the race — and, going over the final fence, I’d caught up with the leader, Black Apalachi [above right]. It was then clear to onlookers that Don’t Push It [above left] was going to snatch the win.

A few tears crept out when I knew that I’d won it. It was the biggest win of my career, and the same goes for the horse.

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