AP McCoyon what it takes to build one of the most competitive careers in sport
AP McCoy and, right, holding the champion jockey’s title with his wife Chanelle and children Eve and Archie
He may have retired in April, but AP “Tony” McCoy has never been busier. There are promotional duties to attend to: a new biography – Winner: My Racing
Life - is currently available from all good bookstores. Between signings, there are premiere screenings of Being AP, an engaging documentary account of the horse racing legend’s final season. The 41-year-old has, additionally, taken up a new post as a racing pundit for Channel 4.
Cheltenham’s Open, an event he has attended every year since 1992, is suddenly a strange, unexplored territory.
“Last weekend I saw places on that course that I’ve never been before in my life,” he says.
“I had to look for the toilet. I didn’t know where to get a cup of tea. Somebody always brought me a cup before. The geography is totally different. For 20 years, I went to Cheltenham, I didn’t have to look at anybody, I sat in my own little room. And I’d come out every half hour for a horse race. It was grand.”
In a career spanning more than two decades, the Antrim -born champion raced more than 16,000 times and won on more than 4,300 occasions, wins that included the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase, and the Grand National. Does he miss the thrill of the turf? Hell, yes.
“Shit. I’d love to be out there. I’m better on a horse. I sat there at Cheltenham thinking: they’re getting all the thrill of it. I’m talking about it. Where’s the thrill in that? But I like sport. And I love horse racing. Watching it and talking about it is better than nothing. Most people don’t get that opportunity. It’s not the same, obviously. It doesn’t replace going out. It may be the next best thing.” He smiles: “Maybe.” Tony McCoy is moving slowly today, following a car collision the day before. Happily, the horse racing legend is still in one piece; it’s more than can be said for his Porsche: “Complete write off,” he says drily. “That’s my thrill done for the week.”
He is, of course, accustomed to the occasional tumble. His list of career injuries includes a broken leg, an arm, an ankle, both wrists, shoulder blades, several vertebrae, collar bones, cheekbones and every last rib. His lungs were punctured several times and his teeth have been repeatedly replaced.
It’s a dangerous sport. But there are, as McCoy notes, plenty worse: “I’ve met those young Dunlop lads up North a few times. And I know the young Laverty lads. They’re neighbours of mine. I went to Silverstone to the Moto GP to watch Eugene (Laverty) this year. I think he was doing 220 mph. And I’m thinking that’s proper speed. But then I think what Michael Dunlop and them are doing is fu**king nuts. They’re doing 150 on a road with walls either side of you. That’s what you call bottle.”
Maybe. But at least bikes don’t have a mind of their own.
“I suppose that is a difference witha horse,” says McCoy. “It certainly does have a mind of its own. And some of them have more of a mind of their own than others. But most of the time the danger doesn’t come from your own horse. It comes from what’s going on around you. A lot of my bad injuries were caused by other horses rather than my own horses. They landed on me or they kicked me. I broke every bone I had to break that way.”
I wonder about McCoy and horses. Is he some kind of horse whisperer? Are sugar-cubes and carrots exchanged? How does he account for his success in the saddle?
“Over the last 20 years I rode in something like 17- or 18,000 races. So you’re talking 700 or 800 races a year on average. And some years over a thousand. So maybe a third of the horses I rode in those races I might never have seen before. And I might never see them again. But it’s like a lot of sports. You can have form. You can have done all your homework. You can have ability.
“But at the end of the day a lot of it comes down to instinct. Horses are like people. I always approach them like I would a person. Some of them are nice. Some are kind-natured. Some aren’t very good but they try so hard and they’re likeable. Some of them are horrible. In attitude I mean. They’d look back at you and kick you. Some hate being bullied. Others actually quite like it. You kind of have to feel your way into it and find the right way to get them to perform. At the end of the day you’re asking them to run as fast as possible for you. And there are different ways of doing it.”
Conventional wisdom tells us that at 178cm (5ft 10in), Anthony Peter McCoy is too tall to have been a jockey. But it seems entirely in keeping with McCoy’s gritty determination that he wasn’t going to let a little thing like size get in the way. “Believe it or not when I started I was actually quite small,” he recalls. “I didn’t grow until I broke my leg at 18. And from there I got big and heavy. At 16 I was really small and weighed six stone. But after the break I was off for four months and for some reason I grew. I am quite big for a jockey. But with a jump jockey you can be a little heavier. You couldn’t be my size as a flat jockey. Frankie Dettori, for exam-
ple, would be 5ft 5in and maybe 8½ stone.”
Being AP, the new film by Anthony Wonke, charts McCoy’s journey from looking physically sick upon hearing the word retirement to, well, retirement.
“I told myself five years earlier that if I was lucky enough to win the jockeys’ championship 20 years in a row that it’s a dangerous sport and it would be the right time to retire. That way people would have respect for me. That people would think it was the right thing to do. And that I wouldn’t be one of those sports people who carry on long after they should. Being 40 or 41 as a jump jockey is old. I think sports people are often the last people to realise they’re not as good as they once were. I wanted to get out when I was still performing pretty well and when, numerically, no one was close to taking the jockey championship off me.”
He pauses: “If I’d have carried on and some young lad had won the championship off me this year I would have felt all the other titles were meaningless.”
McCoy may be an Arsenal fan but that idea – that all his previous wins and accolades might be rendered meaningless by a single slip – puts him in a class of sports people that includes Roy Keane.
“I get Roy Keane,” nods McCoy. “The difficulty I suspect that Roy Keane has is that he expects everybody to be like Roy Keane. I’m one of them stupid people, if I was sat beside Roy Keane I’d think: ‘I can be better than you are; I can work harder than you’. I can see where he’s coming from. Exactly. The problem is that not everyone has the standards he has. And you can’t instil it. Not everyone has that attitude and obsessiveness to be better than anyone else. But I can’t see why everyone doesn’t want to be better. I can’t for the life of me think why everyone isn’t like Roy Keane.”
In the film, McCoy’s wife Chanelle describes him as selfish. Is there a kinder, gentler Tony McCoy since retirement? Is he putting the bins out?
“Definitely. When I was riding I was like a robot. I did this because it was my hobby when I was a kid. But then I was lucky enough to be successful at it. In a bad way it just became about winning. It was statistical. Win. Win. Win. That’s what makes you happy. But only for a short time.
“I watched a film about a heroin addict once and thought ‘that’s what it’s like for me’. Except I’m chasing the winning post. In some sad way I don’t have the purpose to be like that any more. And I miss that. I miss torturing myself. I miss driving myself. But I’m nowhere near as selfish as I was. ”He grins: “I’m a complete yes man now.”
Horses are like people. I always approach them like I would a person. Some of them are nice. Some are kind-natured. Some aren’t very good but they try so hard and they’re likeable. Some are horrible