TURF WARS

AP McCoyon what it takes to build one of the most com­pet­i­tive ca­reers in sport

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - Be­ing AP is out now on gen­eral release and is also avail­able to stream on volta.ie

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.

The thrill

“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.

Dif­fer­ent ways

“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

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