AS the one and only AP McCoy hangs up his saddle at Sandown today after a career that saw him break as many bones as records, he remains incredibly modest about his achievements.
“From the start of my career until now, I wanted to get better, but I was never as good as I wanted to be,” said the rider who will be crowned champion jockey for a 20th successive year in an attritional sport where calamity and serious injury is an ever-present danger.
Yet, as McCoy looks back at a career that saw him suffer a heavy fall for every four winners ridden, he hangs up the saddle in the knowledge that his strike-rate at Catterick, a bread and butter track in North Yorkshire, was superior to the 44 other racecourses in Britain where he competed.
The 40-year-old also retires with his sport’s greatest luminiaries united in their praise for the longevity of a genius whose like will never be seen again...
Harvey Smith, Bingley show-jumping legend and 2013 Grand National-winning trainer:
“Persistence, dedication, whatever big words you can use. He never gave up. I’ve known him ever since he started and came over to Toby Balding’s in the 1990s. He’s just gone from strength to strength and is riding as well now as he has ever ridden. He’s what we call a ‘ring jockey’ – he saves his best for the racecourse. To stick at it for so long is unbelievable. I’ve got on well with him and he’s ridden for me and Sue. I once said to him: ‘You are a hard man’. He said: ‘Not as hard as you’.
“I did 40 years show-jumping, he’s been champion jockey for 20 years, but I didn’t have the falls and abuse that he has put his body through. It should definitely be Sir AP McCoy. You can’t give the man too much – there is no award too big for him.”
Jenny Pitman, pioneering Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning trainer:
“What makes AP so special? His dedication to the job, the fact that he could ride a horse and assess it in the blink of an eye. When he rode for me, he would ring up in the morning and ask about the horse. He would then phone in the evening and give his feedback. And then he’d call two days later, having given it more thought.
“His attitude was totally obsessive, and he had an iron constitution as well. I have watched him get smashed into the ground and flinch myself. Half-an-hour later, he was back riding – an extraordinary human being.
“Doing the job he has done, all the falls and still coming back day after day, I always thought National Hunt jockeys were a bit crackers but he’s crackers with knobs on.
“However he wasn’t obsessive to the point he lost respect for his animals. Quite the opposite. Let’s hope he is not lost to the sport – he is an example to everyone in all walks of life.”
John Francome, seven-times champion jockey and Injured Jockeys’ Fund president:
“You don’t get anywhere long-term unless you have an affinity with racehorses.
“You have to understand what makes them tick – left-handed, right-handed, good ground or soft, those that need a smack up the backside or a pat on the neck.
“Three things sum up AP McCoy – he’s incredibly determined, as hard as nails and bright as a button. Any ride any day of the week, he treated them all the same – whether it be a Gold Cup or a seller on a wet Wednesday at Wetherby.
“Every time he had a ride, he treated it like as if it was the Cheltenham Gold Cup and that is why he was so popular – and so successful. Champion jockey for 20 years, I can’t think of anyone in any sport who has been so dominant for so long – not even in snooker or darts.”
Peter Scudamore, eight-times champion jockey:
“You think how jockeys compare with other sportsmen. People like (John) Francome were overshadowed by Flat jockeys like Lester Piggott, but AP’s determination and longevity is respected across all sport and culminated with his BBC Sports Personality of the Year win in 2010.
“It was always a battle in our day to be champion, but AP has been so dominant. I suppose his best ride had to be Synchronised in the 2012 Gold Cup from a hopeless position.
“It’s a tough one – he beat my son Thomas and The Giant Bolster on the run-in – but there’s some comfort that it took the ride of a genius to beat them.
“I’ve heard the story that the valet John Buckingham, who won the 1967 National on Foinavon, gave McCoy my old boots when he first came over from Ireland and said: ‘You’ll have to go some to fill these – they were Peter Scudamore’s.’ I don’t think anyone knew how AP was going to turn out.”
Henrietta Knight, Gold Cup-winning trainer and widow of champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe:
“It says it all that his winning ride in the 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase with Edredon Bleu, who I trained with my late husband Terry, didn’t make AP’s list of top 10 racehorses in his career.
“It was a quite incredible ride – Edredon would not have won with anyone else in the saddle. That day, the horse never made a mistake and was so quick away from his fences. He was headed after the last by Direct Route, but he got back up.
“It was a very tense time waiting for the result of the photo-finish. I watch the replay now and wonder how Edredon Bleu won. Terry adored AP – he was his favourite jockey – and they had great fun. When he won, he told AP that he had to curtsy when he received his trophy from the Queen Mother. AP was new to this. He went up and performed this perfect curtsy to Her Majesty.”
Richard Johnson, 16-times runner-up to AP McCoy and the second winning-most NH jockey in history:
“Believe it or not, I have enjoyed riding against him. He has been a great friend and a great rival, but I think we have both helped each other to be successful.
“You get frustrated when you ride a winner, and AP then rides two, but it has been great to ride against him. In all the years, we have never fallen out. We have a similar mindset – we both give 110 per cent every day and if you work really hard, that is all you can do.
“Having been champion for 20 years, it would be very easy to think you are above everyone else but AP has never changed. The great thing about AP to me is he’s the same today as when I first met him.
“ For any young jockey starting off, or the general public outside the weighing room, he has time for everybody. He has made a massive difference to the weighing room, and the professionalism of the sport. It is going to be a sad day – racing will not be the same.”
It is a sentiment that will be shared by the whole of racing – and sport.
One of the all-time greats of world sport, it is testament to AP McCoy that he hangs up his saddle with this testimony from the legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson who told The Yorkshire Post: “He goes with the best accolade and that is the success never changed him.”
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