THE incomparable career of AP McCoy can only be placed in proper perspective by rewinding the sporting clock back to 1995.
This was the year when Nelson Mandela celebrated South Africa’s rugby World Cup win in a Springboks jersey; Pete Sampras overwhelmed Boris Becker in the Wimbledon men’s singles; Jonathan Edwards leapt to a triple jump world record and a little-known rider by the name of Anthony Peter McCoy was beginning to rewrite horse racing’s record books.
Yet, having succeeded the mercurial Richard Dunwoody as champion jockey at the culmination of the 1995-96 season, McCoy has still to surrender his hard-earned title.
Neither longevity, nor bone-crushing injuries that are too numerous and painful to list, have diminished the resolution of a sporting phenomenon who is on course to win his 20th successive title next April.
The most successful jump jockey in history, the mercurial McCoy has ridden 288 – and counting – victories since that momentous day at Towcester on November 7 last year when he became the first jump jockey to record 4,000 career successes courtesy of a never-say-die ride on Mountain Tunes.
Yet he is still not satisfied. Asked to sum up 2014, racing’s patron saint of lost causes told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview: “Not too bad. Okay, it’s not been a brilliant year, but it’s been okay. I’d give myself seven out of 10. Something like that.
“The highlights would be Jezki winning at Punchestown and Thomas Edison in the Galway Hurdle.
“It’s the first time I‘ve won it for ‘the boss’ (JP McManus). It’s the richest handicap in Europe and means a lot.”
Prompted further, the 40-year-old cites two successes for trainer Jonjo O’Neill – Taquin du Seuil’s victory in the JLT Novices Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when McCoy’s battered body was contorted with pain and novice chaser Holywell’s Grade One success at Aintree.
“It’s not a very good list,” he mocked. It clearly rankles McCoy that there was not a standout winner, even though virtually every other rider in the weighing room would happily swop positions with ‘the champ’.
The Cheltenham Festival was particularly challenging. He missed winning rides on Jezki and More Of That in the Stan James Champion Hurdle and Ladbrokes World Hurdle respectively because he had opted to ride My Tent Or Yours and At Fishers Cross instead.
Previously, McCoy’s mood would have been black for the remainder of the National Hunt Festival. Now he admits that fatherhood – he and his wife Chanelle are the proud parents to Eve and Archie – has helped to provide a greater sense of perspective.
“But it’s not easy,” he added.
McCoy was speaking during an exhausting round-Britain tour in the pursuit of winners that has become routine to him. He was at Doncaster eight days ago (two wins), Cheltenham last Saturday (one win) before heading to Southwell on Sunday (one win).
He then jetted to Glasgow for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show – he took the trophy in 2010 after Don’t Push It’s Grand National win – to support his compatriot Rory McIlroy. He was irked that the golfing genius lost out to Lewis Hamilton, and was too polite to also point out that it was the Formula 1 champion’s first world title since 2008.
However, McCoy still made it to Ffos Las in Wales for Monday’s meeting (one win) before making the long journey to North Yorkshire where Catterick’s card on Tuesday yielded three triumphs and helped to improve the champion’s mood. The treble included the ironically-named chaser If In Doubt. Hesitant at an obstacle on the first circuit, the horse was fired at the fence second time around and answered McCoy’s urgings.
He refuses to call himself a perfectionist and yet he still remembers the races that got away rather than the 4,000-plus that he has won. It also hurts McCoy that the prospect of riding a record 300 winners in the 2014-15 season is beyond him because of injury.
The relentless rider was still on target when he brought up his 150th success of the campaign aboard Goodwood Mirage at Wetherby in mid-October, but the ashen-faced McCoy was a sad sight. He had struggled to do justice to the horse in the finish and the pain was self-evident when he returned to the weighing room. The jockey’s frailty and vulnerability showed. He was no longer super-human.
Grimly, he conceded that the culmination of his collarbone, shoulder and other injuries – his left arm was hanging almost limply – were such that he could not continue riding, not even in a ‘walkover’ later in the afternoon after his mount was left with no opponents.
He concedes that he should not have been riding.
“I still had a realistic chance of riding 300 winners. It wasn’t the brightest thing to be doing,” he admits. “You will get very few chances to break a record like that and I thought it was possible. I was in a lot of pain and shouldn’t have been riding, but there you go. I would do it again tomorrow if I had to, though.”
McCoy has always been motivated by targets – and will be the first to retire from the saddle if he can no longer be champion. “That hasn’t changed,” he says.
In the meantime, he is focused on winning a 20th successive title. He also says he would like to win a World Hurdle on the aforementioned More Of That and a Queen Mother Champion Chase on Uxiandre. He says the former will have to improve for his recent Newbury run, and subsequent wind op, while the latter is a realistic challenge in “a wide open year” because of Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy’s injury setbacks.
Victories in these blue riband races would give McCoy the satisfaction of having won all four of Cheltenham’s blue riband races in the iconic green and gold hoops of his patron JP McManus following the Champion Hurdle win of Binocular (2010) and Gold Cup triumph on Jonjo O’Neill’s ill-fated Synchronised (2012).
“JP, he loves his racing and he loves his horses,” said the rider. “He is also a very ambitious man. Don’t be fooled by the fact that he is a very generous type of man.
“Don’t get the two confused. You don’t become as successful as he has become in business without being ambitious.
“Jonjo, he is brilliant at preparing horses for Cheltenham, and staying chasers in particular. It was a great piece of training to win a Welsh National, and then a Gold Cup, with Synchronised. We don’t often talk about tactics. He knows that it won’t happen again if it doesn’t work.”
McCoy is still reluctant to contemplate retirement, even though a 20th title would provide some statistical satisfaction to a career like no other.
Unlike the 2013 National-winning rider Ryan Mania who recently quit the sport because he did not get a buzz out of being first past the post, the record-breaker’s resolution is steadfast – despite the travelling, dieting and injury toll.
“The one thing you’ve got to be is happy, and I am,” he observed.
Asked for the best piece of advice afforded to him, he noted: “I get advice every day. Some I take, some I don’t. It’s part of the sport, but you never stop learning. The day you do is the day you lose your edge.”
In essence, this is AP McCoy’s DNA. To him, coming second is for losers and constitutes failure. End of story.
The AP McCoy story...
NAME: Anthony Peter McCoy.
DATE OF BIRTH: May 4, 1974.
PLACE OF BIRTH: Moneyglass, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
CAREER WINS: 4,228.
FIRST WIN: Legal Steps at Thurles on March 26, 1992.
MAJOR MILESTONES: 1,000th winner: Majadou, Cheltenham, December 1999;
2,000th winner: Magical Bailiwick, Wincanton, January 2004; 3,000th winner: Restless D’Artaix, Plumpton, February 2009; 4,000th winner: Mountain Tunes, Towcester, November 2013.
MAJOR WINS: Grand National (Don’t Push It, 2010); Cheltenham Gold Cup (Mr Mulligan, 1997, Synchronised 2012); Champion Hurdle (Make A Stand, 1997, Brave Inca, 2006, Binocular, 2010); Queen Mother Champion Chase (Edredon Bleu, 2000).
championships: The top conditional in 1994-95, McCoy became champion jockey for the first time in 1995-96 and has not relinquished the title. He is on track to secure a 20th consecutive championship next April. His best season was in 2001-02 when he rode 289 winners.
HONOURS: McCoy won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year accolade in 2010. He also received an OBE in the 2011 New Year honours for services to racing. He has also won 20 Lesters from the Professional Jockeys’ Association, more than any other rider.
4,228 - Number of winners AP McCoy has ridden in his career. He passed the 4,000 mark in November 2013.