'I only count winners -- not falls'
Tony McCoy escaped to Barbados to recover from his latest nasty injury, but it was not like paradise: "If you asked me whether I'd rather be riding around Plumpton, I'd rather have been riding around Plumpton all day long."
Winter's iron man opened the door to his Berkshire home yesterday in mellow form, despite a week of agitation that sprang from speculation about his future. Parts of National Hunt racing seized on a newspaper headline -- "I can't bear the thought of another fall" -- to ask whether the 16-time champion jump jockey could see the end of the road.
This interview will bring no relief to his pursuers. McCoy's backside will be the target in the goggles for the rest of the gang for a good while yet.
He returns on Key To The West in a bumper at Warwick today, just 27 days after he broke ribs and punctured a lung in a fall at Taunton on December 30.
McCoy talks a lot about getting "smashed" -- but not in Lambourn pubs. The Barbados trip was to the resort owned by JP McManus, the Limerick millionaire owner who retains him, for the "sea and sun," to speed his recuperation.
"That's not being disrespectful to such a nice place," he adds, while saying he would rather have been at Plumpton. "I went there for a reason."
It was 11.0 and McCoy had just returned from riding work at Jonjo O'Neill's yard. Stacked around his home were the trophies from 16 years of dominance. "I saw my doctor on Monday and he could see the callousing around the bones. He didn't think the bone would get back together as well as it has," he said.
"I feel you need to get yourself back. It's like the sooner you get back into it the better you heal. If I can ride tomorrow and ride a few each day it'll progress, like a footballer coming back and playing 10 or 15 minutes.
"If I'd said over the years, with all the injuries I've had, that I wouldn't come back until I'm 100pc, I'd never have got back. When I broke my back, I was back on a horse seven and a half weeks later. If I was to tell you I felt 100pc right, I'd be lying."
He relives without self-pity the Taunton fall from Laudatory: "Ah, look, it's part of the job. It hasn't really bothered me. A day or two afterwards I thought, 'I know that horse couldn't land on me any harder than he did'. I thought, 'fair play to him, he managed to smash me'.
"He made a mistake and I ended up hanging round his neck and bringing him down on top of me. On the ground I thought I was a bit winded, a bit sore, but found it quite hard to breathe when I got back up.
"I punctured my lung and broke about seven ribs. When I did it, I thought, 'ah, I've only broken a couple of ribs, I'll be all right in a few days'.
"When I went into hospital I thought I'd get out that evening, but ended up staying for three days. I came home and literally lay down for a week."
Does this episode belong in his top five of painful crashes? McCoy says: "Not really. I wouldn't compare it to my back at Warwick or even the fracture of my wrist at Galway. That's worse because it takes longer to heal. That's how I rate injuries: the time it takes to get over them. The time out."
McCoy says he was "joking" when he said he could have stayed on the beach for another month and swats away the idea that a new fear of falling stalks his days.
Not going soft, then? He smiles. "It's not that you can't bear another fall. I have them all the time. The worst thing that could happen would be a bad fall that would set me back another few weeks -- that'd annoy me mentally more than physically. That'd wreck my head -- for being stupid.
"Anyone who's a jump jockey and thinks he's not going to get injured is on drugs. It's part of the job -- you're always going to get smashed. It would be more mentally stressful for me than it would anyone else. I look at Robert Thornton who's been off with a broken arm and he's missed Saturday winner after Saturday winner. That's a killer.
"I'm very lucky that I love what I do. I've never thought of it as work. I've never done it for the money. I don't feel like I'm going back to work tomorrow. I feel like I'm going back to doing what I like doing."
After nearly four weeks out, McCoy has less of his usual hardness. The adrenalin is not flowing. But it will. The obsession is apparent in his own analysis of what drives him on: "I don't know which is stronger: the thrill of winning or the fear of failure. I don't know which one affects me most. I don't know where the middle is."
The exile is nearly over. Irritation has dropped away: "I'd be a little worried if one fall suddenly made me realise, 'oh my God, this is dangerous.' I can't bear the thought of that."
So, how many falls has he had? "I haven't a clue. I've ridden 3,651 winners, if that's any good to you. I don't count the falls. I count the winners." (© Daily Telegraph, London)