AP McCoy has ridden his last race in Yorkshire. With no rides today at Wetherby, this county’s final National Hunt meeting of the 2014-15 season, racegoers will not get another chance to witness the 20-times champion jockey in action locally before he hangs up his riding boots.
His final win in the county came aboard the JP McManus-owned and Jonjo O’Neill-trained Milan Bound at Doncaster on February 18 – when McCoy got the better of Richard Johnson, his great friend and perennial rival, in a thrilling tussle to the line. It has been a recurring theme, as the runner-up readily attests.
McCoy’s final race in Yorkshire was not the most meritorious of an illustrious career that has seen him dominate his sport for two decades; Benefit Cut was a well-beaten fourth of five runners on Town Moor on February 28.
And although Wetherby’s flagship Charlie Hall Chase will always be a very small omission from an incomparable CV, McCoy was invariably required to ride at Ascot or Down Royal on the day in question, the champion will never be forgotten on the region’s racetracks.
There are so many memories, not least a stirring battle at Wetherby several seasons ago – the names of the horses are irrelevant – when McCoy and the aforementioned Johnson took part in a supreme battle of wills up the length of the home straight that ended in a photo-finish (and in the champion’s favour).
There was his indefatigability when he suffered serious facial injuries, including bad cuts and gashed teeth, in a hideous fall from Mr Watson while cantering to the start at Wetherby in November 2012. After foregoing any anaesthesia during an emergency visit to the dentist so he could ride at Ascot the next day, he promptly hacked up at the Berkshire track aboard My Tent Or Yours – a subsequent Champion Hurdle second.
Wetherby was also the scene of a bittersweet day last October. Although the 41-year-old recorded the 150th winner of the season when helping Goodwood Mirage over the line, he was in so much discomfort from bone-breaking shoulder injuries that he gave up his remaining rides.
It brought to an end any hopes of McCoy ending his career by riding an improbable 300 winners in a year, an outcome that he regards as personal failure rather than an occupational hazard in one of the most attritional and dangerous sports of all.
More recently, there was his masterclass in this year’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster when he conjured a winning run out of the lightly-raced If In Doubt who only consented to his jockey’s urgings at the 13th fence.
And, finally, no one at Catterick on February 8 this year will forget the warmth of the ovation afforded to jump racing’s most successful rider when partnering the unheralded Dewala to a comfortable victory.
The 4,325th win of McCoy’s career, it came just 48 hours after he shocked many with his intention to retire as the undefeated 20-times champion jockey at the end of this season and he could not have been more hospitable as he posed for photographs – by the number one sign in the winner’s enclosure – and signed countless racecards.
It is hard to think of a top-class sportsman who has conducted themselves with so much dignity over such a sustained period of time.
No request, however inconvenient, has ever been too small for this ultimate role model who had to starve his body of food on most days in order to make his racing weight.
Slightly embarrassed by the adulation, it was an early foretaste of the sporting public’s desire to celebrate their hero’s career in style – appreciation which reached a crescendo at the Cheltenham Festival when the unfancied Uxizandre won the Ryanair Chase before McCoy was clapped all the way to the start of his very last race at jump racing’s premier meeting.
All eyes will now be on McCoy when he lines up in next month’s Crabbie’s Grand National and looks to emulate Don’t Push It’s career-defining success of 2010.
He has already said that he will retire instantaneously if he prevails on Irish National winner Shuthefrontdoor or in-form Cheltenham winner Cause of Causes.
“It would be nice if it happened,” said McCoy earlier this week.
“I am sorry for all the failures I have had in the Grand National over the years and this will be the last time I let anybody down, but hopefully I will go out on a high and shut the front door behind me.”