AS an eye-witness to nearly a century of turf history, the venerable Sir Peter O’Sullevan – the ‘voice of racing’ – is ideally qualified to place the record-breaking AP McCoy’s 4,000 wins over jumps into perspective.
Now 95 years young, he does not believe the record will be broken. He would not bet against the 18-times champion jockey eclipsing the all-time record of Sir Gordon Richards on the Flat by taking his winning tally to 5,000 races. And he can think of no greater ambassador for racing.
The legendary BBC commentator offered his considered appraisal to the Yorkshire Post after McCoy telephoned Sir Peter in the aftermath of his record-breaking ride on Mountain Tunes at Towcester on Thursday to offer him the mud-splattered boots which carried him to a famous victory and made headline news.
Along with the saddle that Tom Queally used when winning all 14 races on the now retired Frankel, McCoy’s boots will be auctioned later this month at the annual lunch of the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust which continues to raise funds for six racing and animal welfare charities.
Sir Peter, who says he was “humbled” by an “incredible” gesture, believes McCoy’s celebration had uncanny similarities with the reaction of Richards – the winner of 4,870 races – when he finally won the Epsom Derby in 1953 on Pinza.
“What struck me, as AP pulled up, was an instant colourful recollection of Gordon pulling up 60 years ago in 1953,” he said. “He had won the Derby at his 28th and final attempt, and had been champion 26 times. It was a very human moment.
“With the back of his right hand, he wiped a tear from his left eye. I thought AP did exactly the same, replicating the gesture. He very sweetly rang me on his way back to Lambourn from Towcester and I asked whether it was an illusion on my part. He said it was a very emotional moment.
“You cannot compare generations, or codes of racing, but AP’s dedication – and his bravery – are absolutely exceptional. What characterises him most is that determination and commitment to winning every possible race that he can.
“There is quite a corollary with Sir Gordon Richards. As well as their respective records, they were born under the same star sign (Taurus), which is amazing, 70 years apart – Sir Gordon on May 5, 1904, and AP on May 4, 1974. The application of both was absolutely spectacular and unshakeable. Of course they are very different disciplines, Gordon was on the level and AP more arduous over the obstacles, but they were both quite exceptional.”
As always, Sir Peter is right to point out this symmetery. Until Thursday, McCoy said his proudest achievement had come in 2002 when he passed Richards’ record 1947 tally of 269 winners in a season.
Sir Peter believes McCoy is more relaxed since he married his wife Chanelle and started a young family – it was his daughter Eve’s sixth birthday yesterday. He also says the champion’s 2010 Grand National win on Don’t Push It has had a liberating effect.
He ialso s firmly of the opinion that McCoy retains the appetite to continue riding. His application is obsessive,” he added. “Nothing is impossible. He has treated his body with absolute reverence to give him the best possible chance. Tremendous.”
As for McCoy, he said retirement was a non-starter as he returned to the cut and thrust of racing at Southwell yesterday when Forthefunofit came second to the Noel Fehily-ridden No No Romeo.
With a motion tabled in Parliament raising awareness about the jump jockey’s status as one of Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen, he admits to having finally achieved contentment.
“There are any amount of people around who don’t think I’m the best jockey, but I’ve got to a stage now that I’m happy with what I’ve done – at last,” he said. “I could never have ridden 4,000 winners without loving my job and If I ever get to the point where I’m not loving it, I’ll stop. But, at this rate, someone might have to tell me when to stop.”
That he achieved the magic milestone aboard Mountain Tunes heightened McCoy’s sense of satisfaction. The gelding is trained by regular ally Jonjo O’Neill and competes in the green and gold silks of JP McManus, to whom McCoy has been retained for nine years. He said: “This race might not have been the biggest, richest or best I’ve ever won, but it was fantastic how it happened – riding a horse in the gold and green silks of JP that is trained by Jonjo O’Neill. Doing that means as much to me as the actual number and, not that you can stage-manage these things, I was determined that it was the way it should happen.
“Someone was saying I was also the most experienced jumps jockey ever because I’ve had the most rides. But never a day goes bywhen I don’t learn something new and the person who reckons any different is wrong. There is no place for arrogance or complacency in racing because you are up there one minute and on your backside the next.
“ It’s a tough game and longevity needs a lot of luck. You need targets in life and, luckily, I have a few left.”