By Ian Chadband
LIVERPOOL (Reuters) - A giant illuminated image of Tony McCoy beams out from Liverpool's famous Liver Building this week as the Grand National, Britain's most iconic horse race, stands in thrall to the man with a claim on being the nation's greatest sportsman.
McCoy, the 40-year-old jump jockey from Northern Ireland who has broken seemingly every bone in his body as well as every record in the book, is favorite to win Saturday's 168th edition of the race aboard Shutthefrontdoor in what will be his record 20th and final National ride.
After a peerless, fearless career, McCoy, about to be crowned champion jockey for the 20th successive year after riding over 4,350 winners, will retire at the season's end later this month -- but if he wins his second National on Saturday, he promises to quit there and then.
As the three-day race festival began on Thursday, Liverpool seemed to be swooning to McCoy-mania, with the great man's image being projected across the Mersey, alongside the proclamation: "The Greatest Jockey, the Greatest Race."
On Thursday, before a mixed day which saw him win the day's big prize, the Aintree Hurdle, on Jezki and then take a fall in a later race, he was inducted into the racecourse's Hall of Fame as fans queued to scrawl their own tributes on a "Thank you A.P" signature wall.
An inevitable national punt on a McCoy win could conceivably cost bookmakers £50 million, an idea which tickles him.
"That would be nice, probably one of my greatest achievements if I could end my career by costing the bookmakers a lot of money," he told Reuters at Aintree on Thursday.
Saturday, though, inspires mixed emotions in him. "In some ways I really, really want to win the Grand National; in other ways I don't really, really want to retire.
"But retirement is going to happen in the next two-and-a-half weeks anyway, so it would be a really nice way to bow out, to win the most famous horse race in the world.
"And I've spent all my life dreaming, so I may as well dream for another couple of days that could happen."
The only problems are the competing dreamers in the 40-runner, 30-fence marathon, like Nina Carberry, who is seeking to become the race's first woman winner on First Lieutenant and who demonstrated her readiness by piloting On The Fringe to victory in the Fox Hunters' Chase for amateurs over the Grand National fences on Thursday.
(Editing by Martyn Herman)