legendary commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan has hailed AP McCoy as racing’s ultimate hero as the 20-times champion jockey prepares to bow out of the sport at a sell-out Sandown today.
Racing’s record-breaker has two rides – Mr Mole and the aptly-named Box Office – in front of 18,000 spectators, who are hoping to see the 40-year-old end his incomparable career on a winning note.
Mr Mole appears in the Grade One Celebration Chase (3.15pm) which has been renamed in McCoy’s honour. Today’s race is no formality –the seven runners include former Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sprinter Sacre, who will attempt to rekindle his form of old when partnered by work rider Nico de Boinville in a race for the first time.
North Yorkshire jockey Brian Hughes, who has just enjoyed a career-best season, also hopes to spoil the script when he partners the veteran Somersby, who showed his liking for Sandown when finishing second in last December’s Tingle Creek Chase to Dodging Bullets.
The form was then upheld when Dodging Bullets and Somersby battled out the finish of this year’s Champion Chase, with the former just getting the better of Hughes’s gallant mount in a thrilling finish.
Significantly, McCoy’s final ride, Box Office (4.25pm), is owned by his boss, JP McManus, and trained by his great supporter Jonjo O’Neill, who trained the jockey’s 2010 Grand National winner Don’t Push It.
These men mean so much to the champion that it was never McCoy’s intention to seek outside rides for the final two races on Sandown’s show-stopping card.
“I am looking forward to certain things: having breakfast every day and not standing on a weighing scales every day; not getting in the car some days for seven or eight hours regularly, a couple of times a week; not spending seven days a week literally travelling. Things like that, I’m not going to miss,” said a contemplative McCoy.
“But I’m not complaining, because I also wish I could do it for another 20 years, that’s for sure.”
However, on a day of plaudits and presentations, it is the words of 97-year-old O’Sullevan that will have a special resonance.
“What makes AP very special is his absolute focus, his dedication, his application, his absolutely single-minded approach to the sport.
“I think it is his determination to give of his best all of the time that has made him, as much as his ability, the hero of so many people,” he said.
“It is a very difficult thing day in day out when you are facing horrible injuries, very unfavourable weather and everything is conspiring against you. To remain as actively devout almost, but certainly devoted, to success is something that requires enormous application and he has application in abundance.
“He is a very brave man and a very articulate man. He is an amazing man to put his body through what he has put it through to succeed and not just on the big occasion but on any occasion. He is a serious hero in his own right.”