Obsessive, tough, the greatest — the real McCoy
“You’re not tough enough to be a jockey,” Irish trainer Jim Bolger told a teenage Tony (AP) McCoy — seldom has a remark been taken so to heart and over 20 years later he bows out as perhaps the toughest rider of all.
The 40-year-old Northern Irishman — who rode his first winner Legal Steps aged 17 for Bolger — retires on Saturday as champion jockey for the 20th time, 12 more than the previous recordholder Peter Scudamore.
However, it is an even more remarkable statistic given his list of injuries down the years.
Here is the man himself reeling off his medical record in an interview: “I’ve broken bones in my ankle.
“I’ve broken my tibia and fibula, I’ve broken my wrists, I’ve fractured a couple of lower vertebras, I’ve broken both shoulder blades, both my collar bones, my cheekbones and all my teeth are not mine anymore.”
“I think the pain threshold has got better, the falls are part and parcel of the job,” he told Channel Four recently.
“With regard to injuries and recovering half the battle is mental, you have to get into the right frame of mind to recuperate.
“My most difficult injury really was this season as I really thought I would ride 300 winners (which would have been another record) and then I got injured.
“I was, as they say, in a dark place for several weeks.”
Jonjo O’Neill, one of his closest friends and a provider of many of his winners who trains for McCoy’s chief retainer JP McManus, describes the jockey as being obsessive and stubborn.
“When AP couldn’t ride or walk you knew he was dying,” O’Neill told The Guardian.
“The ribs, the collarbone, the shoulder were all fucked. I kept saying: ‘For fuck’s sake take a week off and it’ll heal. It just needs some time.’
“But he was going for 300 winners and you couldn’t tell him anything. It was in his head — 300, 300, 300. You couldn’t blame him.”
Ever mindful of his good fortune to have been able to profit from what he disarmingly describes as “a hobby” he reflects on those less fortunate.
“Of course there are the equine fatalities (most notably Synchronised who only weeks after they combined to land ‘the blue riband’ The Cheltenham Gold Cup he had to be put down after breaking his leg in the National),” McCoy told Channel Four.
“However, there are my
col- leagues, some — too many — who lost their lives, or were seriously injured.
“I remember a while ago I was sitting waiting at the traffic lights in Newbury and I was informed a colleague had died of his injuries. I just sat there and burst into tears.”
In the eternal search for the greatest ever there will be those who vouch for the style and panache of the late Terry Biddlecombe, John Francome and Richard Dunwoody or the drive of Scudamore and O’Neill, but the statistics don’t lie.
Apart from 20 jockeys titles he holds the record for most wins in a season — flat or jumps — 289 set in 2002 — he surpassed Dunwoody’s record for total winners over jumps of 1699 also in 2002 and has amassed over 4000.
As ever McCoy — who also became the first jockey to win the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2010 after he at last won his first Grand National, on Don’t Push It — is self deprecatory about his numbers.
Dropping Off a Cliff
“I’d like to think I’ve got better,” said the father of two, whose wife Chanelle has been a major influence on his career and decision to retire.
“But statistically I’ve got worse since 2002!”
McCoy, who admits some of the sacrifices he made to succeed in his goal were tough especially leaving home at 15 and not being around to see his younger sister grow up, has a surprising choice for one of his best rides when one considers the plethora of great horses he triumphed on.
“I think Pridwell’s defeat of Istabraq ( owned by McManus) in the 1998 Aintree Hurdle was one of my best rides.
“He had a mind of his own and I think if he’d been a human being he’d have ended up in jail.”
While he will now have plenty of time to watch his beloved Arsenal, O’Neill thinks initially retirement will be tough for him.
“It’s like dropping off the end of a cliff. What is he going to do? How will he replace the intensity?” O’Neill, who battled cancer when he retired in 1986, told The Guardian.
“He’s just going to go woommmfff (O’Neill mimics stepping off a cliff). How do you handle that? How do you get used to that?”
McCoy for his part believes he could have gone on — “although it could have resulted in divorce!” — but is happy enough to say farewell.
“I’m very lucky to have lived the life I wanted to live,” he said.
“It could have been a very sad life otherwise.
Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, makes a tee shot on the fourth hole during round one of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic presented by CTBC at the Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco, California on Thursday, April 23.