Be the best or what’s the point? AP McCoy’s lays down challenge to jockeys

SIR AP McCoy has reflected on his racing career five years after the 20-times champion jockey retired from the saddle – and challenged every up-and-coming National Hunt rider to follow his incredible example.

Sir AP McCoy acknowledges the crowds after his farewell wide on Box Office at Sandown five years ago.

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He rode a record 4,358 winners and had been due at Sandown today to present the championship trophy to North Yorkshire jockey Brian Hughes.

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However, racing’s lockdown means that 34-year-old Hughes – the first jockey other than McCoy or outgoing champion Richard Johnson to win the title race in a quarter of a century – will have to wait for the formal ceremony.

Sir AP McCoy sheds a tear after his final ever ride at Sandown five years ago.

And while Box Office – McCoy’s aptly-named final ride – was not a winning one, the racing legend has few regrets.

“I’m one of those very lucky people who got to do what I loved forever, and in terms of my riding career I got the perfect ending,” reflected McCoy, who did subsequently win the Leger Legends charity race at Doncaster.

“I’m not really one to look back, so I haven’t looked back on it that much, if at all, but I think the way it all worked out is for the best.

“Time moves on, racing moves on and someone else takes your place. If I looked back and thought ‘I should have done another year, I should have done another year’, I’d still be riding.

This was the scene at Sandown when Sir AP McCoy dismounted Box Office five years ago.

“I knew after winning 15 jockeys’ championships that it was possible if I stayed in one piece I could win another five, but every sportsperson has a time limit. There hasn’t been one yet that hasn’t.

“I’d told JP McManus about it (being his last season), but no one else. I’d won the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown (in 2014) and went back down to the house that night with him and I told him it would be my last year.”

If there was unfinished business, it was McCoy’s quest to ride 300 winners in a season. His best was the 289 he set in the 2001-02 campaign, but for a long way it looked like his last year might be the one.

He said: “I actually probably thought I was going to do it in my last year riding. I rode my fastest 150th winner and was well ahead of where I was in 2002 when I rode 289 winners.

“Then I got injured at Worcester. I don’t have too many regrets, but if I had one that haunts me a little bit – because I knew then, even if no one else knew, that there wasn’t going to be any more.

“I knew when I was in Worcester that evening when I hit the ground injured, even though I tried to ride again a few days later or whatever, I knew when I hit the ground it (300) was over.

“For a week or two weeks after that fall I was emotionally drained. I was so mad at myself for letting it happen.

“I was still going to retire, but it would have been the best way to retire.”

That 2001-02 record-breaking season saw him beat the tally of 269 set by Sir Gordon Richards and stands above everything else in McCoy’s eyes.

He said: “Breaking Sir Gordon Richards’ record will always be my greatest achievement, nothing is even close. Lots of people win the Grand National and lots of people win the Gold Cup, but lots of people don’t break Sir Gordon Richards’ record.

“Winning the Grand National (Don’t Push It) was brilliant and winning the Gold Cup (Mr Mulligan and Synchronised) was brilliant, but that’s definitely the one.”

McCoy says every up-and-coming NH rider should aspire to be champion. He added: “I get that Flat racing is a little different. I get that Ryan Moore or Frankie Dettori are not going to be involved in the championship, they’re involved in an international business.

“But in terms of jumps racing, every young jockey riding over jumps should want to be champion jockey. I’ve heard a few say in the last couple of years we’ll see how it goes or we’ll do our best for connections and if they’re happy I’m happy – forget that, do you want to be champion jockey?

“Of course you do. You don’t have to say it in an arrogant way, but you have to have a bit of devil, a bit of oomph and think why can’t I be (champion)?

“You’re not boasting and saying you’re going to be, but you’d like to be and aim to be because that’s the best you can be. If not, why are you taking part?”

It’s a fair question.

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