'I'll never forget this day" - tearful AP McCoy doesn't get win but Box Office farewell
Tony McCoy had to settle for third aboard Box Office on the final ride of his career in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle at Sandown.
The crowds cheered McCoy from the moment he entered the paddock to mount the 5-2 favourite, applauding him the past the stands on the way to the start of the two-and-a-half-mile heat.
Another shout of approval heralded the start, with McCoy settling Box Office towards the rear in the early stages before he started to manoeuvre across the track as the race began in earnest.
However, despite travelling well three flights from home, the Jonjo O'Neill-trained runner found little under pressure and had to settle for a place behind Brother Tedd (9-1).
A tearful McCoy said: "It's amazing. I've been so lucky all my life. I'll never forget this day."
McCoy was mobbed by fervent racegoers upon his return from the track, where he was given a hero's welcome.
"It's been a very emotional day and thanks to everyone for coming," he said.
"It's fantastic, it's very special.
"I would like to thank all the racing public for coming here.
"It's a day I'll never forget."
O'Neill joked: "The way he rode that, he'll never ride for me again!
"He's the greatest man in the game. He's good to work with, a true professional .
"What I can say does not justify how great he is.
"We will not see the like of him again.
"He's a fantastic guy so we could be talking all day about him.
"He's a great professional to work with, brilliant horseman, a great jockey - just a great all-rounder and ambassador for the sport.
"You name it, he's done it. He knows all the horses, the form, how they should be ridden. If he has ridden them before then he'll say if we should change tactics.
"He's brilliant to work with and he knows the ground and the tracks. His experience is invaluable really.
"We'll never get the likes of him again. We had a couple of big moments, obviously the Grand National and the Gold Cup.
A brilliant day for @AP_McCoy he's raised the bar so high over the years in every respect racing will be a very different place without him— BarryJGeraghty (@BarryJGeraghty) April 25, 2015
"His 4,000th winner (Mountain Tunes) at Towcester was also fantastic.
"He got a kick out of that and it was an unbelievable achievement for a jump jockey.
"For me, he's the greatest of all time and always will be," the trainer told RacingUK Radio.
Winning rider Richard Johnson has continually finished runner-up in the title race to McCoy and paid an emotional tribute to his long-time rival and friend.
He said: "It's a sad day. He's been one of my best friends for a long time.
"It's great to ride a winner but it's an amazing day for him, he's the one we should look at today.
"He's been a great friend and to work with, I couldn't sit next to a better fellow.
"Twenty years of good memories and we will still be friends for a long time."
McCoy admitted he had endured a sleepless night ahead of his final hurrah.
He said: "I have kind of been getting used to it over the last couple of weeks and that is the reason I haven't ridden much over the last couple of weeks - to get me used to retirement.
"Last night was probably the only time in 40 years that I have not slept and I am a very good sleeper."
The 40-year-old's departure marks the end of his long domination of the National Hunt sphere, which yielded 31 Cheltenham Festival winners as well as two Gold Cups and one famous Grand National success.
McCoy bows out having been crowned the leading rider for the last 20 seasons, with the trophy awarded for one final time before his ride in the Celebration Chase earlier in the afternoon.
A total of 4,357 career winners have been banked since he first struck gold with Legal Steps at Thurles in March 1992, with Capard King giving him a final triumph at Ayr on April 17.
He has set reams of records during that time, most notably posting an incredible 289 winners in the 2001-2 season, surpassing Sir Gordon Richards' long-standing record of 269 victories in the process.
McCoy said: "I've been very lucky and very blessed to have the life I've had.
"What I'd say to the young lads in the weighing room is to enjoy every minute of it.
"I'm a little embarrassed by everything's that's gone on and I feel very privileged.
"I wish it could go on a little longer.
"I'm sure someone will beat them (his record-breaking achievements) but I hope it's not any time soon."
McCoy has yet to announce what he will do next, but admits his next challenge will be transitioning to life outside of the weighing room.
He said: "The biggest regret is that I don't have any qualifications.
"Training is not an option and I don't do comebacks.
"I have been in racing so long it will take a little while to get out of that regime and start to eat like a normal person.
"From my own personal point of view, announcing it when I did was the best thing for me."
McCoy is a renowned Arsenal fan and hopes to make a few more trips to the Emirates Stadium now he is no longer required on track every weekend.
He said: "The last time I had an Arsenal season ticket I only went to about two games. I seem to go more often when I don't have one.
"The club have been very good to me in getting me tickets sorted when I want one."