National recognition for racing's persistent champion

Even the numbers fail to do justice to AP McCoy's career.

He has won 3,288 races – more than any other jump jockey.

He has endured 695 falls, each a potentially career-ending injury.

He won the Grand National this year, his sport's defining race.

And, just as admirably, he is one of the country's most approachable and humble competitors.

The world of racing needs no introduction to Tony McCoy, whose success means that he is universally known by his initials 'AP'.

Yet, because the enduring 36-year-old is not a showman, he is still largely unknown to the wider world of sport – one reason why he has been repeatedly overlooked for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award.

McCoy does not mind. Winning drives him, not recognition, and he will be more perturbed that today's high-profile Ascot card has fallen by the wayside – and a ride on dual World Hurdle victor Big Buck's – than the fuss surrounding tomorrow's BBC celebration when the public vote for their 2010 sporting hero.

"People in racing know who I am," McCoy told the Yorkshire Post recently. "I've just wanted to be the best – I've never sought recognition. When you are No 1, there's only one way to go – down."

It is a philosophy admired by Sir Alex Ferguson, the longstanding Manchester United manager, who was taken aback by the crowd's reaction at the Preston North End game that he was watching when McCoy ended his Grand National hoodoo aboard Don't Push It.

"He couldn't believe the atmosphere at the ground, people were listening on the radio," said McCoy who, to Ferguson's chagrin, is a diehard fan of United's great rivals Arsenal. "We have met and he compares me to him. He told me the expectancy becomes more difficult when you are a winner. People expect you to win all the time."

But while McCoy says that he is "embarrassed" by all the attention and does not deserve to be ranked alongside tomorrow night's luminaries, the sporting statistics – and magnitude of his incomparable achievements in the saddle – suggest otherwise.

How many other Sports Personality contenders have been champion for 15 successive years? None, although darts player Phil Taylor has won 15 world titles – his first success came in 1990 before McCoy had ridden his first winner. Yet McCoy's reign as champion jockey now spans 780 consecutive weeks; in comparison Roger Federer enjoyed a 237-week unbroken run at the summit of world tennis.

How many top athletes sweat 24lb a week in order to compete? None. While many bulk up on calories prior to events, McCoy starves himself.

How many competitors have broken 22 bones – and still come back for more? None. McCoy's list of injuries is enough to make you wince – his middle and lower vertebrae; both shoulder blades; both collarbones; ribs, ankle, cheekbone, leg and those fractures that he kept secret to avoid being stood down by the medics.

How many won their sport's outstanding event this year? None, though Ulsterman Graeme McDowell's US Open golf success is meritorious.

And how many professional sportsmen are so generous to their rivals, whether it be free lifts in the car, a bed for the night or a hospital visit?

It is difficult to think of anyone, and McCoy pointedly told me recently that he would be "very disappointed" in himself if his National victory changed him as a person.

Even though Richard Dunwoody, the three-times champion jockey, sent McCoy a tongue-in-cheek text from Antarctica when his friend rode his 3,000th career winner – an achievement that did not merit inclusion on last year's Sports Personality shortlist – and asked why it took him so long, the explorer hopes horse racing's fraternity will back AP.

He also praised Racing for Change for using McCoy's National success to galvanise interest in the sport, including the imaginative use of 200 cardboard cutouts. "I doubt AP will lose too much sleep if he is beaten, sad though it would be," said Dunwoody, who rode the great Desert Orchid.

"There are those who will say that Phil Taylor is the greatest darts player of all-time and he deserves as much recognition as AP. That's fair enough. But no one else on the admirable list of British sporting stars puts their body on the line as AP has done nearly every day for the last two decades. A call voting for him is the least he deserves."

It is a standpoint shared by top jockey Aidan Coleman, 22, who is tipped by many to be a future champion. His first major success came at Newbury two years ago aboard Jaunty Flight when he beat McCoy in a tight finish.

He takes up the story: "I'd never spoken to him before. He pulled up and the first thing that he said was 'well done'. He wins with dignity; he loses with dignity. He first became champion jockey when I was seven. That puts it in perspective. Is it personality tomorrow night? Or achievement?

"To me, it doesn't matter – he's a great professional athlete because of his dedication and the sacrifices he makes.

"You only have to see him emerge from the sauna before racing to know what he goes through each day to stay at the top.

"Yet he's getting better – and he's still the one we all have to beat."

It is why, says Coleman, AP McCoy deserves to join the greats who have won Sports Personality of the Year.

"He does not know when he is beaten."

How many sportsmen can you say that about?

No let-up, not even at christmas

THE sacrifices Tony McCoy makes are illustrated by his Christmas Day menu.

Breakfast will consist of a cup of tea, with skimmed milk and two sugars, plus two slices of wholemeal toast.

The jockey will then take a hot bath for an hour to sweat out up to 4lbs to help keep his weight down to 10st 10lbs for Boxing Day racing.

Lunch will consist of just 597 calories – three thinly-sliced pieces of turkey breast, one spoonful of cabbage, three Brussels sprouts and a splash of gravy, washed down with a glass of diet 7-Up.

Later, he will have a second cup of tea, with milk and two sugars, and then sweat in the bath for another hour.