Sunday 24 September 2017

Hold The Back Page: Man of steel an example to us all

Eamonn Sweeney

Tony McCoy can't be compared to Lester Piggott and Vincent O'Brien. He's just a normal mortal ploughing a few fields round the countryside. They were geniuses.

No. Hang on a second. Put down the whip. They're not my words but those of McCoy himself. However, it's fair to say that this is an extremely rare instance of the man who rode his 4,000th winner on Thursday when Mountain Tunes won at Towcester getting something completely wrong. Because if Tony McCoy isn't a sporting genius, it's hard to see who qualifies for the accolade.

What that statement does prove is that McCoy's modesty, like everything else about him, is exceptional. And so is his enthusiasm when he asks, "How many people are lucky enough to go out there and get paid to do their hobby." In a world where sportsmen are forever going on about the sacrifices they make and the pains they endure, the man from Antrim whose pain and sacrifices have been real rather than metaphorical always opts to count his blessings rather than complain.

You couldn't blame McCoy if he did dwell on the dark side. Very few people perform their day's work with an ambulance driving along behind them, knowing that sooner or later they're going to end up inside that ambulance. Even the most talented rider in the history of jump racing has had to fill out his pain schedule.

McCoy has broken his tibia, his fibula, his ankle, both his wrists, both his shoulder blades, both his cheekbones and his collarbone. Five years ago, a fall at Warwick left him with two fractured vertebrae. There were grave doubts about his future but eight weeks later McCoy returned to the saddle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The pain hasn't been restricted to the racecourse. McCoy is five foot ten-and-a-half inches tall but maintains a racing weight of slightly over ten stone through strict diet and spending two hours a day, six days a week, in either a hot bath or sauna. "I'll treat myself to a steak a couple of times a year," he says, "but it'll sit in my stomach for days. My body can't deal with it."

The life of a jump jockey is as tough as it gets for sportsmen. McCoy was made aware of this at the age of 17 when he broke his leg after a fall while at the stable of Jim Bolger where he began his career as an apprentice. The subsequent weight gain caused him to opt for National Hunt rather than Flat racing. He has gone on to rewrite the record books.

He has 4,000 winners when only two other jockeys in history, Richard Johnson and Ruby Walsh, have topped 2,000; 18 British champion jockey titles in a row where seven was the previous record; 289 winners in the 2001-2002 season when Peter Scudamore is the only other jockey to top 200. He did it once, McCoy has done it six times and had 200 winners exactly in 2004-2005, shortly after he'd gambled on leaving the all-conquering Martin Pipe stable and joining up with JP McManus.

These achievements are as remarkable as anything in sport but what is also remarkable is that McCoy has maintained his modest and equable demeanour throughout. That the toughest competitor of all in the toughest sport of all has never seen the need to attack, humiliate or shout and roar at other people should be a lesson for us all.

Sunday Independent

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