AP McCoy still counting his blessings five years on from retirement

Sun 26 Apr 2020

They say time flies, but it scarcely seems two minutes, never mind five years, since Sir Anthony McCoy bowed out of the saddle.

Fittingly his farewell came on a horse called Box Office. The only thing the script got wrong that afternoon on April 25, 2015 at Sandown is that the Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding did not win.

For winning is was what McCoy did best – 4,348 times over jumps in Britain and Ireland to be exact, plus another 10 on the Flat.

Born in County Antrim in 1974, McCoy broke virtually every record there was to be broken – and his iron will meant he bounced back from every adversity injury tried to throw at him along the way.

He won all the races that mattered and was crowned champion jockey 20 times – every year he was a professional.

McCoy said: “It’s very difficult to believe it is five years – some days I think it goes slowly, but on the whole it’s good and I’m very lucky.

“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. 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.

“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 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.”

While McManus knew McCoy’s plans, the rest of the racing world certainly did not.

So it came as a seismic shock when he announced on television immediately after riding his 200th winner of the season at Newbury on Mr Mole on February 7 that the following few months would be his last in the saddle.

“It was a hard thing to get out of my mouth, but it had to come out,” said McCoy, speaking as an ambassador for William Hill.

“There was a bit of a farewell parade and all that – it wasn’t my idea but I think it was the right idea. I think going to Sandown on the last day of the season and announcing I was retiring, I don’t think the sport was going to get the best out of me – and it helped me mentally.

“I got it out and was on a detox if you like for the last six weeks or two months. I was weaning myself off riding.”

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 2001/2 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.”

Memories are very nearly too many to mention, but that 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 was brilliant and winning the Gold Cup was brilliant, but that’s definitely the one.”

Many point to McCoy’s incredible effort in getting Wichita Lineman up to win at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival as perhaps the definitive ride of the Ulsterman’s career.

But he said: “I think Wichita Lineman would probably be about third maybe. I’d have Synchronised ahead of him in the Gold Cup. Synchronised was in the Gold Cup, Wichita Lineman was a handicap, as great as it was. Synchronised was in the biggest race of them all.

“There’s a lot of horses I wouldn’t have minded another go on, but I wouldn’t have liked to have been having another go on Synchronised and been trying to do the same again.

“Probably that’s not even close for JP and if I said what was the second best he’d be even less happy – maybe Pridwell, when he beat Istabraq because he beat the best hurdler there was in his prime.

“It was two and a half miles at Aintree on soft ground, but he still beat him. I can see why Wichita Lineman (could be considered his best), but tactically I wouldn’t want another go on Synchronised and Pridwell and think I can do a better job. There’s a very good chance if I had another go I’d end up not winning.”

McCoy firmly believes being champion one day is something every up-and-coming rider should aspire to over jumps.

He said: “It should be every young jump jockey’s dream – 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 jockeys’ championship, they’re involved in an international business, they’re working for international operations.

“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?”

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